The Director General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Shuaibu Nuhu played host to the League of Airports and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC) at the Aviation ,NCAA Lagos Regional office, recently. The DG, while fielding questions from the Aviation journalists seized the forum to bare his mind on some critical issues and policy decisions taken to protect indigenous carriers and grow the Nigerian Aviation industry.
Some of the issues he addressed include the denial of Air Peace request for more landing slots into Dubai by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), introduction of Slot system in Nigeria, assessment of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Industry in 2021, expectations for 2022, Covid-19 protocol compliance, the aging technical work force of NCAA; new safety threshold ground handling rates; the impasse between Asky Airline and Nigerian passengers at Togo, etc.
THE IMPASSE BETWEEN NIGERIA AND THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Capt. Musa Nuhu in the course of the media chat hinted that henceforth, the Federal Government and NCAA will improve its protection of indigenous carriers, while the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) will be on reciprocity. These policy decisions became necessary following the unacceptable attitude and discriminatory policies of some States and Civil Aviation Authorities.
On the UAE-Nigeria impasse, the NCAA helmsman stated that“under the Bilateral Air Services Agreement(BASA) pre-COVID-19, Emirates was operating two(2) flights daily to Lagos, making 14 and another daily flight to Abuja, making it a total of 21 flights weekly. Under the same BASA arrangement, Etihad, another carrier from UAE, was making seven flights weekly to Nigeria. The United Arab Emirate was therefore making a total of 28 weekly flights into Nigeria.”
Air Peace Airline on the other hand was the only Nigerian Carrier out of the designated airlines operating to UAE because of the capacity of Nigeria, he explained.
In actual fact, Air Peace was operating to Sharjah because it had difficulties getting slots and other things to operate into Dubai. Air Peace has been operating three flights weekly to Sharjah since 2018 or 2019 being one of the Emirates covered on the BASA, Capt. Nuhu explained.
According to the Director General, when COVID-19 came, all flights stopped and Operations resumed a few months later. Unfortunately, the Operations were disrupted due to some protocols by the UAE. The Nigerian Government felt this action was discriminatory and consequently Emirates was stopped from operating into Nigeria.
It took negotiations for the flights to resume and after nine months, flights between the two countries resumed. So, Emirates sent a winter schedule, which was agreed pre-COVID-19; 14 to Lagos and seven (7) to Abuja weekly, he stated.
Capt. Musa Nuhu explained further that “Air Peace went to Sharjah and wanted to resume only three flights weekly because of their capacity, but initially, the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority(GCAA) claimed that Air Peace has been given two slots and kept telling us stories. After a few days, they came out to give only one slot to Air Peace into Sharjah and claimed inadequate slots for their action.”
On the reason why Air Peace was denied slots, he said the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority(GCAA) claimed that they cannot keep slots for Air Peace, which has stopped flying into their country. “Meanwhile, Emirates has stopped flying into Nigeria, yet we still gave them the 21 slots they requested for and here we are asking for three and they are giving us stories.”
According to the NCAA helmsman, he reported the matter to the Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika who in turn directed that they (UAE) be giving one slot also if that is all they are willing to give to us. One slot was therefore giving UAE in the interest of justice. In UAE, we have the General Aviation Authority (GCAA) and each of the Emirates has its own Civil Aviation Authority(CAA).
“Later, the Dubai CAA wrote to Air Peace and told the Airline that it has seven slots reserved for it at Dubai Airport. The CEO of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema showed the letter to the Minister and we said Air Peace is designated to outside Nigeria based on the flight rules and Emirates is designated by the UAE Government under the BASA arrangement. We then told them to write to Nigeria officially.”
While chatting with the Journalists, Capt. Nuhu explained that it is important to treat the matter officially; hence the Nigerian Government will be ready to allow the Operations start through the proper diplomatic channel.
He also disclosed that the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs has written to the Foreign Affairs of UAE to confirm officially if the letter was from them. “It is important to have this fairness and equity,” Capt. Nuhu stressed.
The Director General emphasized that government needs to protect Nigerian businesses and Air Peace is one of the designated carriers from Nigeria. “If we allow other airlines to come and take all the juicy slots, we are shooting ourselves in the leg,” he noted.
INTRODUCTION OF SLOT SYSTEM
The Director General assured that the Slot System which has hitherto been used to short change Nigerian carriers will soon be introduced here. In his words: “Believe me, we are working on that and it is going to be tit-for-tat. Let me use an example and I am not saying that is what we are going to do, but just as an example. If a Nigerian airline is going to the United Kingdom and they insist Nigerian airline must buy slots, then any British airlines that is coming into Nigeria will need to pay for slots too. It is tit-for-tat. If you tell me a particular airline from Nigeria cannot go to Heathrow because you cannot get slots, then their airline cannot come into Lagos.”
Capt. Nuhu went further to stress that it is going to be reciprocity. This is a situation where we strictly give back what we receive from others. “We cannot hide under the issue of slots to give unfair commercial advantage to foreign airlines over Nigerian airlines. We had made mistakes in the past, we have learnt from our mistakes and we are going to correct them,” he reiterated
ASSESSMENT OF NIGERIAN AVIATION IN 2021
The year 2021 was encumbered with so many COVID-19 related challenges globally. The world economy suffered a set-back and the aviation Industry was not an exception. However, it is on record that the Nigerian Aviation Industry is among the first to show signs of early recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic. This was due to the unwavering commitment of the Federal Government and the collective and well articulated efforts of NCAA and other stakeholders.
In a mood of excitement, the CEO of Nigeria's apex Civil Aviation Regulatory Authority, Capt. Musa Nuhu said that he is pleasantly surprised with the domestic aviation industry. “We certainly have recovered from COVID-19 pandemic. Not that we have recovered from the COVID-19 level, we have passed the pre-COVID-19 level. If you see the airlines from Nigeria, they have been getting clients. Right now, I have about 10 to 12 aircraft on wet-lease to fill the gap of the demands of the system,” he disclosed.
He said the industry has done fairly well. The domestic Industry is growing in a fantabulous state.
The Director General went further to mention some of the achievements recorded in the Industry within the year under review despite the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the world economy.
On Air Operations, he stated: “We have given a lot of Air Operators' Certificates(AOC) and we still have about 15 in the pipeline. We have airports popping up all over the place and a lot of Aircraft Maintenance Organizations(AMOs) coming up.”
To achieve the growth we have now, Capt. Nuhu believes that the agencies, ministries, stakeholders and the Media must be doing something right that is building investors' confidence in the system. “The investors are willing to put their money in the system and grow the industry. We will continue that way and hopefully, we want to get to a place where aviation plays very significant contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on a short and medium terms; at least 5 per cent,” he assured.
Stating the obvious, he disclosed that the growth is a bit stretching the infrastructure and clogs are created here and there sometimes.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2022
On the International scene, he allayed our fears, assuring that it is not bad.“We are recovering gradually and hopefully in early 2022 when we come out of the present challenge, we should exceed the pre-COVID-19 level of aviation travel. Generally it has been hectic and stressful for us at NCAA, trying to cope with the demands everywhere, but we will keep doing what we are doing to ensure the system continues to operate safely, orderly and in an organized manner.”
COVID-19 PROTOCOL COMPLIANCE
Ensuring COVID-19 protocol compliance in the aviation sector is an additional responsibility of NCAA, the Civil Aviation apex Regulatory Authority. It can be said that Nigeria got the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic right.
However, he said it is work in progress. In his words: “Globally, people are getting COVID-19 fatigue. If you go out, you will see a lot of people not wearing their face masks, except in airports, aircraft and other places where we keep educating people that COVID-19 is real and it's growing into various variants. It is something we just have to consistently do and ensure compliance.”
AGING TECHNICAL WORK FORCE
The Director General used the forum to express his concern over the rate of aging technical work force, particularly the Safety Inspectors for NCAA. According to him, “we are working with the supervising Ministry of Aviation to see what we can do. We are seeking approval to employ more technical staff, which we have to do.”
Capt. Nuhu, while on the issue of paucity of technical staff, explained that there are due administrative processes which must be complied with. “Even if you are doing the right thing, there are due processes you must follow. We are working on it and we are making a significant progress,” he reiterated.
He went further to disclose that the Aviation Committees of the National Assembly through their Chairmen are also supporting NCAA. They are assisting through legislative action in ensuring that NCAA resolvessome of the challenges.
The Director General in trying to make the Journalists understand his challenges had these to say: “We are a government organization and we must comply with the Public Service Rules in all we do. Also some of our International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) documents say that NCAA must be a competitive employer. What that is saying is that the salary we pay our workers must be competitive in the industry. Here, we are government organization and the industry is privately run, so you can understand how our hands are tied. But we must try and see how we can work through within the confines of the laws to close the gap so that we can attract more personnel to come and work with us.”
NEW SAFETY THRESHOLD HANDLING RATES
New threshold ground handling rates was approved for ground handling companies. The approved new rates generated some controversies in the sector. The DG in this interview bared his mind on the developments:
“The issue of handling rates was justified because for 30 years, these ground rates were not adjusted. Imagine; these ground handlers import a lot of their equipment using foreign exchange, just like the airlines use foreign exchange to procure their machines.
So, what affects the airlines directly affects these ground handlers and the ground handlers are also a critical component for the success of the industry.
We sat down, compared what we charge here with that of other countries, but because of the devaluation of the naira and the non-increase of ground handling rates over the years, the increase looked very high. Consequently, the airlines complained, and then we mediated in the issue. We listened to their complaints and reduced the new rates by 25 per cent. We did this so that we don't shock the system, but we can gradually increase. I just read something this morning that ground handlers have come together, knowing that the competition is detrimental. So, they are working together now.
I think if ground handlers can work together, they should be able to implement the new rates. The handlers were undercutting themselves in the past.”
ASKY AIRLINE AND NIGERIAN PASSENGERS
The Director General, NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu does not compromise in his oversight functions as the helmsman of Nigerian CAA. His intervention in the recent rift between ASKY Airline, Togo security agencies and Nigerian air passengers are commendable.
According to the Director General, the security agencies in Togo maltreated some of the Nigerian travelers who were stranded in that country. They alleged that the travelers entered the restricted areas at the airport.
Capt, Nuhu used the forum to disclose that the Airline has written an apology letter to NCAA and by extension to all Nigerians. They also promised that such thing will not happen again. He further hinted that the Authority is following up to ensure that the issues are resolved.
In his words: “I am still talking with the CAA of Togo. The Director General is a good friend of mine. We just lodged our complaints officially so that records will be there. But the airline has apologized.”
Capt. Musa Nuhu, DG NCAA, who is saddled with the responsibility of protecting the Nigerian air passengers and their rights, seized the opportunity to apologize to those passengers that were maltreated. He also assured Nigerians that the matter will be resolved amicably.