Despite recording 70 percent score in the recent safety audit by International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, the Rector of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, Alkali Modibbo in this interview with Prince Okafor, described the record as failure for the nation’s aviation sector, he also disclosed developments surrounding the alleged two missing Bell 206 helicopters from the college.
What is your take on the ICAO Safety audit?
The 70 percent that we got is not a pass mark by ICAO and aviation standards. Since we started flying, 75 percent is the minimum and in aviation, anything below 75 percent is a fail. I was there at the briefing. Everybody took it in good faith; the Ministry, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), NCAT, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and others, we took it in good faith.
Audit is not a witch hunt, but to help you put things right. The Director-General of NCAA and the Permanent Secretary were happy with what they even got because most of the problems we have are implementation of policies that we have on ground. Our policies are very good, but implementation of the policies is what we lack, but NCAA has woken up for the corrective action plans.
All I will tell Nigerians and every stakeholder is that it is good to have audits and if you have some open items, it will help you to close them and even do better. If you get things easily on a platter of gold, you will relax. The ICAO auditors will come back in another 18 months to come and see if we have closed the gaps noticed. In a nutshell, Nigeria is doing very well.
What’s your take on the alleged two missing Bell 206 helicopters from NCAT?
First and foremost, airplanes don’t get missing; if an aircraft takes off, it must land. In the process of landing, the aircraft would be asked so many questions of where it is coming from and going into. The two helicopters were acquired by the Federal Government about 12-13 years ago during the time of former President Goodluck Jonathan. It was purchased for the purpose of training pilots, but that kind of helicopters, you can’t use them for initial training of pilots. And what the college does is basic training.
The helicopters have jet engines and with jet engines, it is so expensive that an hour training would take you your entire Private Pilot Licensing (PPL) on the piston engine airplanes. So, the Ministry of Aviation decided to sell the helicopters and replace them with piston engine helicopters. The only way you can sell it and get your money back is by auction, which is the approved process for selling government properties.
The process started in 2019, we filed all the papers and requested for approval and evaluation from the ministry. The ministry wanted us to sell it by the bluebook rating, which is the new helicopter prices, but we cannot sell old helicopters using the bluebook pricing. So, we had to request the ministry to look into that issue and we told them that the aircraft have been with us for more than 10 years, redundant in the hangar. Yet, we maintain the helicopters annually to the tune of N500 million to sit in the hangar. So, after five years, we have spent about N5 billion in maintaining the two helicopters, yet we don’t use it for training or to source any revenue from it. It is a waste for the college because the helicopters must be serviceable all the time. For the 12 to 13 years period, none of the two helicopters reached 40 hours flying time.
We talked to the ministry and the minister agreed and approved the sales of the helicopters and we followed the due process. We wrote to the Ministry, requesting to the Ministry of Works to get valuers to evaluate the helicopters, which was done. The Ministry of Works sent this to approved Federal Government auctioneers who came over and the helicopters were auctioned and at the end of the day, the helicopters were sold to two different companies.
How much were the helicopters sold?
The helicopters were sold at about $600,000 each.
Have you replaced the helicopters sold with new ones?
Not yet, the process of getting new airplanes is not a switch you put off and on. You need to start writing to various government agencies. The Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development will write to the Ministry of Finance for approval and processes, which will take a while before you are able to buy the piston engine airplanes.
That money could have fetched us two Robinson R44 and two R22 helicopters, but I am sure the Federal Government will want to approve probably one R44 and one R22 because of the issue we are having with foreign exchange. R44 is a larger fashion of R22; the R44 has four seats and the R22 has two seats for training.
How has the absence of helicopters affected training of students at the college?
We have never trained anybody on helicopters at the college. Probably the past government didn’t seek advice from NCAT and when the government wanted to purchase helicopters for its agencies, it decided to include NCAT. The government then, acquired 10 helicopters for the Nigeria Police, bought for the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and others.
The government then considered two Bell 206 helicopters for NCAT.
If the government had involved NCAT, we would have told them the type of aircraft we can use for training, which is piston engine helicopters, but the Bell 206 you cannot use it for training. Nowhere in the world the helicopter type is used for training. It’s like you using a Boeing 737 aircraft to teach someone how to become a pilot, you don’t do that.