A Decade of Aviation Regulation

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Chris Aligbe x-rays the activities of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority in the last 10 years 

The period under focus runs from 2006 to 2016.  Although the current Director-General of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Usman Murhtar, who assumed duties in October 2014 is still in his first tenure, this year marks a full decade from 2006 when Dr. Segun Demuren was appointed to run NCAA.

This ten-year history and analysis has become so cogent in the face of apparent amnesia that afflicts much of the comments, analyses and perspectives on civil aviation regulation and indeed on NCAA.
The present, they say, usually comes out of the past, while the future is a product of the present.  So, in a country like ours where there is either no history or there is amnesia about history; trend analysis, conclusions and projections are often flawed.  This is our predicament not only in the aviation sector but in virtually all aspects of our national life.

This unfortunate situation has been exacerbated by the removal of History from our school curriculum.  No wonder our children know nothing about the Nigerian Civil War, Lander Brothers, Mungo Park, Lord Lugard and 1914 amalgamation, let alone the great Empires of Benin, Oyo, Sokoto and IKanem Bornu or Nigeria’s great effort and sacrifice in the liberation of Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Apartheid South Africa.  This 10-year reflection on aviation regulation therefore, is an attempt to de-activate the present insipid analyses of various “Aviation Experts”, as well as provide historical facts and basis for genuine students of aviation studies with a view to engendering fair-minded incisive commentaries on aviation regulation trend in our country.
When Dr. Demuren was appointed by President Obasanjo in 2006, it was in an appropriate response to the fate of a bleeding nation whose aviation environment had been turned into literally, an Akeldama; the field of blood, where the trio of Bellview, Sosoliso and ADC airlines, between 2005 and 2006, killed over 340 Nigerians in the most fatal air crashes in the annals of our aviation history.

It was on the spur of the inconsolable sorrowful out-pouring of the Enemoh’s over their breadwinner, Mr. Enemoh of IPMA (Belview), the Ilabor’s who lost all their children as well as the 50 Loyola Jesuit College families, along with the Odukoya family of the scintillating preacher, Bimbo Odukoya (Sololiso) and the Maccido family of Sultan Maccido (ADC) all of whom led the pack in the three fatal air crashes.
The crashes were no doubt the immediate incentive for Demuren’s appointment. But a peep into fifteen years before Demuren (2006-1991) will reveal incredible decadence, impunity, arrogance of power, ignorance and declivity in a nation’s aviation history.  Milestones of this era, include, but not limited to the following:

Between 1991 and 1993, an Aircraft Leasing Company, International Aircraft Leasing Company (IALC), spent time and resources disparaging both the Nigerian Government and the aviation Industry at over 12 International conferences for failure to cause Barnax Airline to return 3 aircraft leased from it.  The leasing company had mischievously leased 3 Boeing 737-200 aircraft that were due for heavy maintenance checks only 3 months away to a Nigerian Generator Merchant, owner of Barnax Airline, who neither had an iota of knowledge of aircraft nor sought the assistance of aircraft engineers.  He thus could not operate.  Angered by this, he grounded the aircraft in Port Harcourt Airport and prevented the Leasing Company from repossessing them.  IACL in its three years of campaign of calumny, devastatingly damaged Nigeria’s image.  Capt. Joji, then Nigeria Airways Managing Director, engaged the company in a war of words in a Cairo Conference in 1992, and in 1993 I engaged them at Nick Fadugba’s conference in Nairobi.  But the damage had been done.  Nigeria had become a high risk country for leasing, and repossession insurance doubled.  Domestic airlines could no longer bear the cost of leasing healthy aircraft and so resorted to junks.  It took a law suit filed by Prince Tony Momoh, journalist and lawyer, now politician of the change mantra to enforce repossession of the 3 B737s.

Apart from Nigeria Airways, ADC, Belview, most other airlines – Okada, Albarka, Chanchangi, even Sosoliso and others resorted to BAC 1-11, Tupolev and Yakolev DC8, DC9, MD81 and MD82.  Nigeria became a grave yard for junk aircraft.  Such was the situation that Nsikak Eduok, Aviation Minister then, described Domestic airline aircraft as “flying coffins”.  And he was correct.  It was a period when airlines did not respect their internal procedures; did not respect the Minimum Equipment List (MEL), did not bother about pilots’ airworthiness and pilots meeting laid down requirements before taking command.  It was a period when pilots were induced with money to make as many landings as they could without regard to crew rest time rules.  It was a period that airlines cut corners, falsified records in their technical logs and told lies to NCAA about their operational and technical status.  It was an era when NCAA officials closed their eyes to infractions, even deadly infractions by operators.

It was a period when Ministers and politicians, personally or indirectly, certified aircraft airworthiness or directed issuance of AOC to non-existent airline.
Although Demuren did not have a direct personal experience with many of these, he however knew that so much had gone amiss with the industry.  Armed with aeronautical engineering degrees from two of the world’s best Universities – Kiev in Ukraine and MIT in the US, his earlier working experience at FCAA as well as a strength of character; on assumption of duty, Demuren set about addressing the critical challenges of regulation; a regulatory framework and appropriate manpower, both of which NCAA then did not have.

He first assembled tested professionals from within and outside the industry, and, strengthened by a palpable commitment of the industry as well as the honourable KGB Oguakwa led-National Assembly Aviation Committees and the aspirations of the citizenry, working together, Demuren produced the first regulatory framework document; the NCAA Act of 2006, for the regulation of the industry.

With the Act, Demuren began to build a strong foundation for the industry regulation.  Luckily for him, the government in its perverse wisdom, had liquidated Nigeria Airways in 2003 and threw into the job market, a generation of highly seasoned aircraft maintenance engineers, pilots and cabin crew.  Demuren harnessed many of these, who joined NCAA as contract staff, as veritable hands-on materials for casting the foundation.
For the next four years, Demuren settled down to turnaround the sordid image and reputation of the industry.

He was able to enforce the regulatory independence of the Authority to almost 100 percent level.  During the period, under him, Nigeria attained FAA Category 1 status which indicated a high safety record and procedures.  Also in a bid to address the Barnax Airline albatross, Demuren made great efforts to ensure that Nigeria not only acceded to, but also domesticated in time the Cape Town Convention on Mobile equipment to meet the set deadline.  Thus, he opened up access for Nigerian airline operators to lease or acquire more modern generation aircraft.  By 2009, FAA, ICAO and UK as well as European CAA have given up their reservations about the regulatory regime in Nigeria.
By 2010, Demuren’s successes had become global and dwarfed NCAA.  In fact, his name was coterminous with NCAA and even Nigerian Aviation and had become both a domestic and global brand.

Over these years, the focus of the NCAA was safety, safety, safety but nothing significant was done in the area of Economic Regulation and Consumer Protection.  Over these years, the Nigerian passengers’ rights remained some of the most abused by both domestic and international airlines.  Passengers had no reprieve from the negative impacts of monopolies, at the domestic level and market dominance, cooperative duopolies as well as price fixing by some legacy airlines at the international level.  The only dampers to these exploitations were African and Middle East airlines, particularly in the area of fares.  Not until 2010-11 when NCAA, taking a cue from the US and European regulatory authorities, discovered that the two British Carriers – BA and Virgin, for many years before 2006, fleeced their Nigerian passengers with hidden charges before NCAA came up with Civil Aviation Regulations (CAR) Parts 18 and 19.  Though the two airlines admitted the malpractice, they refused to refund their Nigerian passengers the way they did their US and European passengers, arguing that they did not infringe any Nigerian law which unfortunately was true.

Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations Parts 18 and 19 of October, 2012 for Economic Regulations and Consumer Protection respectively, were the response to the lacuna which BA and Virgin exploited to retain the huge proceeds from illicit and unfair charges.
By 2012, the politics of Demuren’s removal had assumed unimaginable dimension.  On the one hand were some political and industry stakeholders led by the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, canvassing for another four-year term for Demuren and, on the other hand, was a band of self-motivated political actors, both in the legislative and executive arms, pushing for his removal on grounds of unpliability.  At last, it was this last group that won as President Jonathan removed Demuren on grounds of their position.

However, in all the pro-Demuren campaign, one thing was clear; all proponents believed that the industry would collapse if Demuren exited.  The strongest among them was Obasanjo himself who said during Femi Ogunleye’s book launch: “I wonder what will happen if Demuren leaves NCAA”.  Many a stakeholder had this fear, which was extrapolated to the view that only a Demuren or a Demuren-type DG can run NCAA.  This view became a fixation for many analysts of today who are enveloped or enmeshed in a Demuren-nostalgia.  Such was the legacy of Demuren that today, all those who are fixated are engaged in an endless search for a kind of “philosopher-king” in any DG appointed to run NCAA, be it Akinkotu or Usman.  This group of analysts, who criticize DGs for either not being qualified or for being weak or for low visibility, tend to forget the process of building structures.

To build a resilient structure, you need concrete piles and slabs to ramp up the foundation.  Next, you need to understand the architecture and the building blocks required to realize the structure and ensure functionality.  Demuren had the first role while Akinkotu or Usman had the second role.  No doubt unarguably, Demuren acquitted himself irrespective of the DANA crash that put a black spot on a six-year accident free regulation.  The questions therefore to ask today are: Is our Aviation sector today less safe or safer than yesterday?  Is NCAA up to its regulatory responsibilities to the extent that our global safety records and reckoning are not just intact but are rising in profile?  What is the profile of oversight, enforcement and compliance in the industry presently vis-à-vis the past?  Shall our quest or focus be on a strong DG or a strong Institution?  For the purposes of analogy and for better understanding, we can observe this about the Nigerian nation; that our predicament today is the failure of post-first republic politicians till date, to build on the firm federalist foundation built by Awo, Sarduana, Tafawa and Zik.  Many world leaders of note have, in recent years, advised African countries to direct efforts and resources at building strong and resilient institutions and systems rather than strong leaders.  Unfortunately, this advice is not seeping into the perceptions of some of our present analyses of NCAA.

Today, Singapore and Tanzania present classic examples where politicians are successfully building on the strong foundations left by Lee Kuan Yew and Julius Kambarage Nyerere, respectively.  But our country is one of endless nostalgia of our destroyed and vanished foundation, no thanks to the pillage of our political actors from 1966 to date.
I have gone through the above seeming digression to establish the platform and indices for the x-ray of the NCAA, from 2006 to 2016.
Dr. Harold Demuren left NCAA in the aftermath of DANA crash and after the National Assembly Public Hearing on the crash, not for any wrong doing or guilt.  He left unstained.

Given where the industry was coming from, Demuren’s incredible success was such that it restored confidence to the travelling public.
Unfortunately, this positive state, unknown to Demuren, by 2011 had begun to breed complacency among some of his critical staff.  Old ways, they say, never die easily.  Some of these staff had managed to slip under Demuren’s internal supervisory radar as it were.  This became clear in the presentations made by both NAAPE and some other stakeholders during the NASS Public Hearing on DANA Air in June 2012.  One of the most convincing evidence was that following the appointment of the Obakpolor Technical Audit Committee by then Minister, Stella Odua, to carry out a comprehensive technical audit of all operating airlines, one of the operating airlines, fearing detection of infractions, immediately grounded operations and flew all its aircraft out of the country for maintenance, thus avoiding any audit.  It was this return to old ways of poor oversight, irresponsible waivers and illicit incentives which escalated between Demuren’s exit in 2012 to Usman’s assumption of duty in the last quarter of 2014 that will most likely account for the Associated Airline’s crash.

In fact, in one of the DANA Public Hearing Reports, it was stated, inter alia, that “stakeholders pointed out that the original zeal and commitment which drove the regulatory agency in the aftermath of the accidents of 2005/06 had waned drastically.  Allegations of favouritism, compromises, laxity and corruptions were leveled”.
Apart from airlines, doubts about NCAA sustained regulatory ability were overwhelming among pilots, engineers and other stakeholders.
For the 2years between Demuren and Usman, the industry suffered culpable unseriousness at the hands of both the Legislature and the Executive, both of which played chess games with NCAA for interests not altruistic.

First, it was the announced replacement of Demuren with Capt. Fola Akinkotu in October, 2012.  When Akinkotu was removed unjustifiably and without any reason in March 2014, after about 7months in office, the then Commissioner and CEO, Accident Investigation Bureau – AIB, Capt Usman Murhtar was transferred and appointed DG designate for NCAA.
From the exit of Demuren in 2012 to date, NCAA has been run by two substantive DGs and two Acting DGs, whose mandate are not only inferior but also unknown in law, the NCAA Act of 2006.
While Nkemakolam and Adeyileka, the two Acting DGs were not responsible for their sixteen months stay, combinedly, the periods however, experienced high political deals and battles, as well as phony promises that not only left so much bad blood whose arteries still exist in the system, but more important was the concomitant decline in regulatory effectiveness which, if had been left a little longer, would have re-awakened the inglorious vestiges of 2005/2006.

Akinkotu and Usman shared certain things in common.  They were duly appointed, screened and confirmed by the Senate.  Both waited for almost seven months each before being screened.  Both were victims of high wire politics and both were victims of industry spin-doctors who sought to truncate their appointments by disparaging them.  Both were presented to the public as not qualified, weak and unfit to run NCAA and could not step into Demuren’s shoes, even when Demuren took his shoes away.  Unfortunately, these views and figments stand incurably contradicted by the facts on ground about both Akinkotu and Usman.
As against the required qualification of 10years experience in aircraft piloting or Aeronautical engineering, among others as stated in the NCAA act of 2006, Capt. Fola Akinkotu qualified as an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer with A and C Licences in 1972 from NCAT, Zaria as well as two Aircraft Flight Engineers Licences, and by 1978, obtained a Commercial Pilot’s Licence.  In about 23years as an active Pilot, Akinkotu had flown F28, B727, DC9, BAC 1-11 and B737-300/500; clocking 12,652.5 flight hours.  These in addition to his vast exposure to various Management positions in the industry, the last of which was his role as Managing Director of the International Aviation College, Ilorin, where he was training Pilots; before his appointment as DG, NCAA at the close of 2012.  Akinkotu assumed duty after 7months, awaiting confirmation.  Sadly, he became a victim of grave injustice when just 7 months into his tenure, he was plucked out with no justifiable reason.  Thus, he had no chance to prove the marauding industry spin-doctors wrong.

With Fola Akinkotu out, the then President approved the appointment of Capt. Murhtar Usman, who as at then was the Commissioner and CEO, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) as DG Designate for NCAA.  Usman came in with rich professional background of over 30 years covering portfolios which include Airline Pilot, Flight Safety Engineer, Flying Instructor, Air Safety Inspector and Aircraft Accident Investigator and Management.  With training and qualifications from prestigious Professional institutions in Miami (CPL/IR and FE), Oxford (FI), New York (ATPL), USC (AAI) and (AHI), Singapore (SOI) and Cranfield (AAI), one would have concluded with certainty that Usman more than met the minimum 10year professional qualifications stipulated in Part iii Section 3 of NCAA Act, 2006.But that was not the case.  The same industry and political spin doctors who chased Akinkotu were on the heels of Usman, who they disparaged as unqualified, weak and not knowledgeable.  This is in spite of the fact that as Commissioner for AIB, Usman acquitted himself with the investigations he carried out on the Belview, ADC and Sosoliso crashes as well as DANA and Associated Airlines.

The Reports of these investigations contain over 75 infractions and causes (Belview 36, ADC 8, Sosoliso 6 and the rest shared by FAAN, NCAA, DANA and Associated) that, put together, is a compendium of classic references for students of airworthiness and safety oversight, regulations studies and research as well as historians of our regulatory imago and developments.
Beyond paper qualifications and requisite experience, when Usman assumed duty in October, 2014 after an unnecessary 7 months waiting period, he came with a knowledge and experience arising from the aforementioned culpable, albeit criminal infractions and fatal negligence; an experience which no NCAA DG before him, whether Engineers Haruna, Oyudo, Onyeyiri, Demuren or Akinkotun ever had.
Working with this experience, on assumption, Usman blocked all loopholes that allowed waivers and extensions of due maintenance, and pushed oversight, enforcement and compliance to great limits.
Since 2014, airlines, pilots, engineers and all other licenced professionals have come to realize that infractions and misdemeanors are no longer accepted as common place and the order of the industry; and as such will attract sanctions.  So far, as at June 2016, NCAA has raised over N60million from sanctions on defaulting airlines and professionals while some pilots have suffered suspension for one fault or the other.  Today, the safety and airworthiness levels are by far beyond the average global standards, such that air passengers in Nigeria can fly with confidence.
Further to this, in the last two years, NCAA has aligned Nigeria’s State Safety Programme with ICAO prescriptions.  NCAA has now extended its safety audit to aviation fuel vendors.  Since 2015, NCAA commenced the certification of airports beginning with Lagos and Abuja in accordance with ICAO specifications.

In response to some of the complaints made during the DANA Crash Public Hearing at the National Assembly, NCAA, in 2015 began the expansion and strengthening of Regional Offices in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Enugu with increased capacity in portfolios in Operation, Airworthiness and Licensing.  The objective is, apart from national coverage with concomitant quick response in emergency situations, the regulatory authority is now closer to airlines and operators can now process their requirements without needing to run to the headquarters in Lagos with its associated huge cost.
Also safety audit of airlines to ensure strict compliance with safety regulations has become a desideratum, thus heightening safety – oversight and surveillance.
Those who pin their analyses of a weak NCAA on nostalgic perceptions are irredeemably contradicted by the complaints of operators that NCAA regulations, enforcement and compliance demands are too stringent and hurting the economics of operation.  They are therefore asking for a relaxation in the areas of consumer rights protection, reduction of 50hours pre-certification test flight time, and Pilot simulator training from twice annually to once.

In 2015, NCAA reviewed its Civil Aviation Regulations in its entirety Parts 1 – 17 of 2009 and Parts 18 and 19 of October, 2012.  Each Part is now a separate document for easy reference and application.
The present rising Profile of NCAA has now been affirmed between March 2015 and March 2016 by four global institutions; American Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) which carried out Audit of MMIA and NAIA, Lagos and Abuja, next was the ICAO Security Audit in 2015 in which Nigeria scored 96.45%. This was followed by European Union Security Scrutiny of Nigeria’s aviation security system.  Capping these international affirmations is the ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) concluded by the global industry regulator – ICAO, in which along with FAAN acquitted Nigeria as ICAO put the country in the excellent score range.  This success came as a disappointment to those who desired and had concluded that Nigeria would fail the Audit so as to present a “Quod Erat Demonstrandum” (QED) for their avowal of a weak DG and NCAA.  This did not happen in spite of the fact that, two days to the arrival of ICAO Audit Team, some “field officers of mischief” over the night, cut into pieces the runway light cables FAAN laid preparatory to the Audit.  The idea was to procure failure.
Today, NCAA has four ICAO certified Safety Auditors which the global body uses as resource to carry out audits of other countries.  Also NCAA Head of Aeromedical – Dr. Wilfred Haggai now occupies the position of Technical Advisor/ Team Leader (TL) for ICAO/World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborative Arrangements for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA) in Africa, having been unanimously elected at the joint ICAO/WHO meeting.
If all these are not enough to convince doubting stakeholders about our high regulatory profile, what about the unanimous election of Nigeria into ICAO Council for the next 3 years in the just-concluded Annual General Assembly in Montreal in October 2016?  Could this have been done if our NCAA was weak and our regulatory competence decline?
In the area of Consumer Protection, in the last two years, the Directorate has done a great job enforcing the rules even in the face of intimidation, physical and verbal assaults of its officers.  As at August, 2016 NCAA has resolved over 8000 complaints.  And this is being done by many young officers at middle management levels while the many problematic ones, like Turkish Airlines are handled at the senior management levels.

Most unfortunately, the focus on the NCAA DG has detracted from acknowledging the successes in the last two years of his administration.  More importantly, it has failed to recognize the numerous staff of NCAA, from Directors to General Managers, DGMs, AGMs, Managers and various Unit Heads in all Directorates that contribute, with passion and commitment, to steady upliftment of NCAA profile, in spite of the obvious challenges of limited training opportunities and welfare arising mainly from paucity of funds and new government policies.  We should acknowledge these professionals as well as the milestones NCAA has recorded in the past two years.  This will enable us address the teething challenges of NCAA in the area of constant capacity building through funding, training and exposure as well as encouraging the regulatory regime to balance safety and technical regulations with economic regulation to ensure survival of the industry.
The challenges ahead are immense and cannot be helped by motives and motivations that are directed at persons for personal desires and objectives.

– Aligbe is Aviation Consultant