Aviation

May 25, 2024

That UK report on Air Peace!

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By Dickson Omobola

Earlier in the week, the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority, UK CAA, caused a stir with news that local airline operator, Air Peace, had breached certain safety regulations in the UK.

Expectedly, there is rising belief among many that the development was not borne out of genuine reasons, but a fresh move to spotlight the Nigerian carrier’s weakness in operating the lucrative Lagos-London route.

Even for some, the concern raised by UK CAA was described as a deliberate attempt to undermine the airline. For instance, an X, formerly Twitter user, Chuka Nduneseokwu, had written: “Of course, the British will do everything possible to bring Allen Onyema’s Air Peace down.

“They know that if given a fair playing ground, that the Ìgbò man will surpass BA in Nigeria. So they will play dirty to maintain Monopoly of the Nigeria-London route. Stay strong Allen.”

However, industry experts who spoke to Saturday Vanguard voiced concerns about the situation, stressing that the issue was not properly handled.

They faulted the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, for disclosing such information to the press, saying it was standard practice for civil aviation authorities to constantly exchange information without disclosure.

Leaking of correspondence

Principal managing partner at Avaero Capital Partners, Sindy Foster, told Saturday Vanguard that the actions of UK CAA were to be expected and given the explanation by Air Peace, it was perfectly understandable.

According to her, what wasn’t understandable was why  Nigerian CAA felt the need to leak the correspondence to the media.

She said: “What positive outcome were they hoping to gain by this breach of professionalism? Why did they not just discuss it with the airline as was expected of them? Why was their first action to run to the media, which in turn published a skewed sensational piece designed to shock the public and generate maximum embarrassment for their own local airline?”

Abnormal

Foster argued that safety reports and ramp inspections were a normal function of aviation in every country, saying what was abnormal was how it was received and handled by Nigeria.

“As expected, the normal outcome has been to blame the UK CAA, and generate another attempt at pitting the airline against the UK CAA or Gatwick Airport. However, given what we know about the two incidents regarding the runway, it was unlikely to be overlooked,” she added.

She further explained that the purpose of these reports were to prevent issues from reoccurring and for lessons to be learnt, noting that Air Peace had done the right thing by receiving and addressing the issues in the spirit it was provided.

Safety focused environment

“But, how NCAA received and reacted to the information gives me cause for concern. Aviation requires a transparent exchange of information between the parties, between airlines and the regulator, to create and maintain a safety focused environment. My worry is that this ‘them against us’, regulator against airlines stance we are seeing over and over in Nigeria, is not likely to produce a safety conscious environment. If crew or airlines cannot count on the regulator to be fair, and to operate within the normal rules of engagement it will destabilise and destroy the critical safety conscious requirement of the sector,” Foster stated.

Unprofessionalism

Rather than discussing the safety issue, she added that what should be the talking point for experts is “what is going on in the NCAA? Why are they constantly leaking information to the media?

Professionalism of the sector is being undermined by this behaviour. I doubt there is a single airline in the world which has not had something picked up at one airport or another around the world. NCAA probably writes to foreign airline CAAs as the need arises, but they don’t leak this correspondence to the media. It’s time professionalism was returned to aviation in Nigeria.”

Rigorous system

An aviation management consultant, Mr Babatunde Adeniji, on his part, urged Nigerians to jettison thoughts about a deliberate campaign to run Air Peace out of business.

According to him, the so-called price war was competition in action and the ramp check incident was not enough reason to doubt the operator’s safety.

Adeniji, who said aviation was  safety focused, argued that “to remain the safest means of travel, it has a rigorous system with continuous  improvement  processes  including but not limited to regular tests, inspections and audits. So we can learn and improve from it. This type of reports should, however, not be leaked as it is open to misinterpretation by those who may not understand what is at play.”

Conspiracy

He urged the citizenry to to shy away from victim mentality, saying domestic carriers that operated commercial flights to London in the past did so successfully for many years.

According to him, their flight termination was due to other issues, not the conspiracy being touted.

Wrong

“Again, I don’t buy Into conspiracies and can not speak to the motives of others. Air Peace, like any other human or corporate entity, will do well to imbibe this quote in their daily lives: eternal vigilance is the price of liberty or the equally famous version by Daddy showkey: shine your eye, look your back,” he cautioned.

Adeniji said the purpose of ramp checks as carried out worldwide, even by NCAA on foreign carriers, was to ensure and improve safety.

“It’s a standard private correspondence between the UK CAA and Nigerian CAA. They have the requisite training understanding and competence to use it properly. It is not meant for members of the public. I don’t know who disclosed it, but if it was NCAA and if they do not have a very justifiable reason for doing so, then it is wrong,” he concluded.

Information leakage

Meanwhile, Spokesperson for the NCAA, Mr Michael Achimugu, in a chat with Saturday Vanguard, said the UK CAA was not undermining Air Peace.

Achimugu said: “What the UK CAA did was to carry out routine ramp inspections, and they sent their findings to the NCAA which, in turn, wrote the airline for their comments. This does not mean that the airline committed a crime. The concerns raised have since been dealt with. Nobody is undermining anybody.” On how newsmen got wind of the issue, he said: “This would suggest that there was information leakage somewhere. I have no idea.”