By Kenneth Ehigiator
After the storm that trailed Nigeriaâ€™s aviation sector, with the fatal crashes that were recorded in 2005 and 2006, and which served as a wake up call for the nationâ€™s aviation authorities, much efforts had gone into raising the level of infrastructure and navigational facilities at airports across the country. The argument was that some, if not all of the accidents and incidents,Â could have been averted, hadÂ there been no decayed infrastructure in the sector.
This, of course, led to the setting up of Air Marshal Paul Dike-led Presidential Panel on Aviation by Obasanjoâ€™s government. The panelâ€™s recommendation gave rise to the N19.5 billion intervention fund,Â meant to quickly fix safety critical areas in theÂ sector. BesideÂ this, government also gave some fillip to the total radar coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) project, which was abandoned some years after work on it started in 2003, by injectingÂ more money into it. TheseÂ and other moves were made to make Nigeriaâ€™sÂ airspaceÂ safer.
However, while all these efforts were being made, little or no thought was given to how airlines, the major drivers of the sector, could contribute to make safety of the airspace total. Regular auditing of airline operations had been seen to be a pre-requisite for safe airline operations, and that explains why such bodies as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and even the International Air Transport Association (IATA) ensure periodic scrutiny of the aviation sector and airlines. At the level of airlines, none could be said to have joined the league of big players if it has not embraced the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA).
IATA ensures that all its members are IOSA-certified and sees that as a sure way of promoting safety. The group had gone ahead to set eight critical guidelines for airlines to meet to qualify for IOSA. The guidelines include corporate organisation and management system; flight operations; flight dispatch and aircraft engineering and maintenance. Others are cabin operations; ground handling; cargo operations and operational safety. The rigorous process to attaining a pass mark in all of these often scares and discourages airlines from even attempting to go through the phase.
Although the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has started looking at making it mandatory for Nigerian airlines to embrace IOSA, asÂ recently indicated by its Director-General, Dr. Harold Demuren, at least one Nigerian carrier, Virgin Nigeria Airways (Nigerian Eagle Airlines) currently has its name on IATAâ€™s register as one driven by safety.
Although the airline acquired IOSA under an expatriate management team put in place by Virgin Atlantic Airways, its thenÂ core investor and technical partner, its current Nigerian-led management hasÂ also succeeded in revalidating it after its expiration. Every IOSA certification is valid for two years, after which the process for revalidation is begun afresh.Â Dr. DemurenÂ expressedÂ excitementÂ at the airlineâ€™s ability to retain its IOSA certification, saying â€œit is a good one, it is what we are praying for. For airlines, your safety level must be to a certain level and that is what IATA is doing through IOSA.
Iâ€™m very proud that Virgin Nigeria has achieved it; we thank God for it and we want more airlines in Nigeria to do same and help us attain and sustain a very high safety level.
But for the expiration of Bellview Airlinesâ€™ IOSA certification on 21 December 2009, Nigeria would have had at least two airlines on IATA register.Â With IOSA , Virgin Nigeria had been able to go interline and codeshare deal with some major airlines in the world, including Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and U.S. Delta Airlines.
Reacting to the revalidation of Virgin Nigeriaâ€™s IOSA, aviation expert and current Secretary-General of African Airlines Association (AFRAA), Mr. Nick Fadugba, told SaturdayVanguard on telephone from his London base that the development was a signpost of the international communityâ€™s high rating of Nigeriaâ€™s aviation industry, stressing that this would help compliment governmentâ€™s efforts at safety of the nationâ€™s airspace.
He said:Â â€œIt is a great achievement for Virgin Nigeria (Nigerian Eagle Airlines), especially con sidering the challenges faced by the airline at some point in time. The management should be commended, particularly knowing a Nigerian-led management was able to retain IOSA. What it means is that the airline is keeping safety on top ofÂ its agenda. We will encoura-ge all airlines in Nigeria to embrace IOSA in 2010.â€
Fadugba, who is also the publisher of African Aviation magazine in London, noted that without IOSA, there was a limit to how far Nigerian airlines could go in competing with the major carriers of the world, especially as government had begun designating Nigerian airlines to fly inter-continental routes.
Reacting in a similar vein, former Director of Operations of liquidated Nigeria Airways, Capt. Dele Ore, said no matter how tough it was for airlines to attain IOSA, airlines in the country should be encouraged to have it, as it represents a measure of standard of operations to internationally acceptable level.
â€œVirgin Nigeria being able to retain IOSA means that standard has not been lowered, even with the airlineâ€™s change of name and management. I congratulate them because the process is not an easy thing. Other airlines in Nigeria have no choice now but to embrace IOSA, as it is according to NCAA, it will soon become voluntarily compulsory for airlines in the country to have it before they can fly here,â€ said Capt. Ore.