By Â Kenneth Ehigiator
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has said the main hurdle left for Nigeria to cross to attain the U.S. Federal Aviation Administrationâ€™s category one certification was in the area of compliance and enforcement.
This comes as the federal government has secured a wet lease option to enable Nigeriaâ€™s designated airlines fly direct into destinations in the United States without attainment of the certification, which is a pre-condition for such operations.
Director General of the NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren, disclosed this in Lagos during the just-conlcuded training programme conducted by FAA officials to assist the regulatory agency in the preparation for Category one status.
The certification will enable Nigerian carriers fly into U.S. destinations to reciprocate Delta Airlinesâ€™ operations into the country, and Bellview, Arik Air and Virgin Nigeria had already been designated by the federal government.
Dr. Demuren said the nation had done very poorly in the area of compliance and enforcement, adding that until the NCAA demonstrates capabilities in this area, category one would unattainable.
He said: â€œ To get category one, we must demonstrate strict compliance with the requirements.Â That is what we are doing.Â For instance, one of them is the 8th critical element, which is compliance and enforcement.Â There is a further training we need to do and that is what we are doing.
â€œWe have a copy of Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations.Â Every airline must comply.Â If you fail to comply with the requirements, it will be a violation.Â But how do you handle that?Â This is where compliance and enforcement come in.
â€œSometimes, you see a grievous offence and there is a tendency for the DG, NCAA to use a sledgehammer to kill a ant.Â But with our legal team, it will be very difficult to show us how you handle such situation.
â€œThere are certain offences; there are certain actions taken, I want to be sure that they are within the law in doing this.Â This is very good for the industry, good for NCAA and good for all of us.â€
Continuing, Demuren said â€œif a crew flies without a license, what do you do?Â All those attract appropriate sanctions in the interest of safety.Â We must make sure we take appropriate sanctions in the interest of safety.â€
He said the NCAA had had to ground a foreign airline that was brought into the country with questionable safety and insurance certificates, stressing that the agency needed to convince the FAA that it could sustain this for category one to be attained.
Demuren said though insurance was no safety matter, the agency was taking oversight over it as serious as safety issues, especially in view of recent developments where some airlines have not been able to pay compensation to families of accident victims due to inadequate or, in some cases, absence of insurance.
â€œAlthough insurance is not a safety matter, you are not allowed to fly aero plane in public transport category without adequate insurance.Â In fact, our statute book, the law of Nigeria, all countries of this world, you are not made to operate any machine without adequate insurance.Â You must have insurance that is valid and pay compensation when due.â€
He said though FAA category one certification takes a minimum of five years to actualise, Nigeria was striving hard to attain it in November, just two years after the audit commenced.
Nigeria would join the league of five other African countries, including South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco and Cape Verde, with category 1 status.
Meanwhile, Aviation Minister, Mr. Babatunde Omotoba, who last week returned from a visit to the United States where he met with the Federal Aviation Administration(FAA), explained that further approval had been secured for the approved Nigerian airlines, namely Arik Air, Bellview Airlines and Virgin Nigeria which were designated on the US routes.
He spoke of collaboration between Nigeria and the government of the US on how to fast-track the growth and development of the aviation sector on issues bordering on safety and how to put aviation in the front burner of national development.
According to him, the meeting with FAA officials in the U.S. centred on how to achieve category one for the countryâ€™s aviation sector as well as check capital flight out of Nigeria.
He affirmed that with category 1 attainment for Nigerian civil aviation, about $35 billion will be retained of the huge funds repatriated out of Nigeria by foreign airlines..
â€œBecause you cannot be wrong supporting your own, government has decided to support Nigerian carriers with an ultimate approval secured for Nigerian airlines. We have secured automaticÂ approval from the department of transportation for three airlines: Arik Air, Virgin Nigeria, and Bellview Airlines to fly into the airlines.
â€œWe were also able to secure wet lease option for the three airlines which means tomorrow, if they want to start flying into the US , they can get an aircraft on wet lease in another country.Â With that, we can keep some money in the country, without,â€ the minister said.
On category one, he said the country was close to attaining it, having achieved 80 percent readiness.
â€œWe are very close, we are 80 per cent ready. The US is looking at eight elements, primary legislation, which we have attained, the issue of subsidiary legislation in civil aviation regulation, we have cleared that, we cleared structure and oversight function of the civil aviation authority, we are working seriously on that.
â€œWe are working on continued surveillance of civil aviation, even, personnel matters that are quality have been achieved. We have our target as November; we are optimstic, the only problem area is resolution of safety concerns, we need to get complaint in this area, and now we have secured training in this area, weâ€™re getting there.Â We believe that by November, we can get category one,â€ Omotoba said.
He further clarified that government is not selling any airport, but wants industry players to get along with the initiative of concessioningÂ airports, every staff issue will be addressed.
The unions have raised issues and they are being addressed. We will carry them along. â€œ
Director-General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, had said earlier in the day that the only area Nigeria needed to tackle was compliance and enforcement, which FAA officials are already tutoring their Nigerian counterparts on.