Capt. Chris Ona Najomo, a seasoned pilot with over thirty (30) years' experience, is the former Director of Air Transport Regulation (DATR). He attended Local Authority Primary School Ikeja, Lagos State and Federal Government College, Kano State for his primary and secondary education.
In the course of his glorious flying career, the new Director attended several courses and trainings both home and overseas. Some of these institutions and certificate courses he attended are Federal Civil Aviation Authority (FCAA) Training School, Lagos; Airline Training Institute, California, United States of America (USA); America Eagle Aviation, Long Beach California USA; Point Airline Orly, France; Shorts Brother, Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Pegasus Training Centre, Texas, USA.
At different times, he was Air Traffic Control Assistant for Ilorin Control Tower, Ilorin; Enugu Control Tower, Enugu; and Lagos Control Tower, Lagos. He was also Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority Designated Examiner BAC 1-1997-2000; Director of Flight Operations, Okada Airline; and Training Captain/Simulator Instructor of Albarka Airlines. Capt. Chris Najomo belongs to many professional bodies and recipient of numerous awards among which is Best Pilot of the year by NCAA. Until his present appointment, Capt. Najomo was the Chief Pilot for Arik Air. He is happily married and blessed with children.
The Regulator team comprising its Editor-in-chief, Mr. Sam Adurogboye, a correspondent, Obasi Ugwumba and Chief Cameraman, Tayo Ogunmuyiwa caught up with the director in his office in Abuja where this interview was granted. Below are the excerpts:
Good morning, sir. Accept our congratulations on your recent appointment as Director of Air Transport Regulation (DATR). For the purpose of our readers, can you tell how many Departments that make up the Directorate and what are their core responsibilities?
Thank you so much for this question. As currently constituted following the merger, there are four (4) departments that make up the Directorate of Air Transport Regulation (DATR). They are Department of Economic Regulation and Facilitation (ER&F), whose core responsibility is to regulate the aviation downstream sector; monitor the financial health of registered operating airlines, including charges at the airport, passage of passengers, mail and cargo through designated airports.
Also we have Department of Commercial and Statistics (C&S) and it is responsible for revenue building of the statutory taxes like the Ticket Sales Charge (TSC), Cargo Sales Charge (CSC); collection, collation, and analysis of statistical data ( market share, load factor, aircraft frequency at all airport for both domestic and international carriage by air. etc) for planning and forecasting.
Three, we have the Department of Air Transport Operations (ATO). This department is saddled with the responsibility of issuing Aviation Economic Authorization and the mode of entries for both domestic and international airlines. Examples of these authorizations are Air Transport License; Airline Operating Permit; Air Travel Organizers Licenses; Permit for Arial Aviation Services; and Permit for Non-Commercial Flights.
Last but not least is the Department of Consumer Protection (CPD). Its primary responsibility is to create efficient and effective machinery that will promote quality customer-service, mutual confidence among stakeholders and robust patronage of the aviation industry in Nigeria.
Sir, now that you oversee a mega directorate following merging Consumer Protection with DATR, how have you been coping?
I have been coping very well because I have God's and of course, my Director General's back in terms of support. In addition, I have been coping more than I expected due to the professional boost I get from my staffers whom, I must admit, are very efficient, committed and productive. I have been coping because I run an open door policy where no staff is left behind. Team work has been my open secret.
Sir, what are the challenges you are facing since you assumed office as DATR, and even now that you have moved down to Abuja while bulk of your staff are still in Lagos?
What I can modestly say are my major challenges are inadequacy of office tools for all units in the Directorate, inadequate vacancy and not-too-expansive organogram to absorb senior officers. However, the Management is not resting on its oars to constantly address this.
It is common knowledge that NCAA runs its operations from Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), what are the sources of NCAA revenues?
Yes, NCAA is driven by its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). Our sources of revenue are broken into 5 per cent statutory charges comprising 5% Ticket Sales Charge (TSC), Cargo Sales Charge (CSC) and sundry payments such as payments for registration of Agencies, Aviation Training Organisations (ATO), Aviation Height Clearance (AHC), payments for Licences for Aerodrome, Heliport, and Helipad operations, charges for registration of legal instruments and interests, including contract registration fees.
What is your evaluation of staff attitude in discharge of their duties in your Directorate?
Without mincing words, I can confidently say that my staffers' attitude towards discharge of their duties is 85 per cent. They have been very dedicated, team playing and cooperative in all ramifications.
Can you tell us status of the automation of TSC/CSC now? How many airlines (local and foreign) are compliant?
There are 10 integrated domestic airlines in all; eight (8) out of which are on the Direct Debit Mandate while one is on International Air Transport Association (IATA) tripartite agreement which has been sent to the airline, awaiting endorsement. With regards to the international airlines, 19 have been fully integrated while two (2) are still going through the process.
What is the status of legacy debts owed by airlines? Going forward, do we have cases of airlines owing NCAA?
Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority has threatened to suspend domestic airlines over NGN45.93 billion naira (USD108.8 million) owed in unremitted aviation taxes from ticket sales. They also owe NGN5.73 billion (USD13.5 million) to the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and NGN18 billion (USD42.6 million) to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
I must add that the situation is crippling finances and pitching the authority against the Federal Government as a government-owned revenue-generating agency, following the dire financial position of the Federal Government. We the Authority has decided to do is to embark upon no payment, no renewal of licences. And I can modestly say it is yielding results.
Can you affirm that domestic airlines are economically viable despite a couple of challenges they are currently facing?
To answer this question directly, I can say the picture is not as brilliant as that in general terms. However, NCAA is not resting on its oars in ensuring corners are not cut and safety compromised. We have put measures in place to ensure no risk to air safety by constantly subjecting them to economic audit. To be sure, NCAA under the leadership of Capt. Musa Nuhu quite recently ordered audit of health status of the airlines. As I speak with you now, we have successfully completed financial audit of five airlines.
How often does NCAA carry out economic audit of the airlines? If an airline is not paying salaries as and when due, what is the sanction?
Like I said earlier, we do not rest on our oars regarding economic audit of the airlines. In actual fact, we have a unit named Financial Health Unit saddled with responsibility of economic audit of airlines. We do this task as and when due. As we speak now, the team is in Kano auditing two (2) airlines. We consult, listen and advise them. But if the airline defaults, then we are left with no alternative but to suspend their Air Operator Certificate (AOC) before the situation snowballs into a-disaster-in-waiting.
Do NCAA officers face any challenges in carrying out economic audit of the airlines and if yes, what are these challenges?
Yes, our officers face tough obstacle/challenge from the operators who are not willing to submit to NCAA pursuant to the provisions of the extant Regulations. But we are undeterred as a regulatory body. We make the operators understand that the economic audit being carried out by the Authority is to help them survive but not to kill them. Our audits are geared towards ensuring continuous capability for their sustainable operations and meeting critical safety obligations as there are no parking spaces in the sky.
Same of your staff complained about non participation in 2021 annual training exercise, what have you done about this development, sir?
It is true but regrettable. But I can reliably tell you that it is settled now. Staff training and retraining is a cardinal policy thrust of Capt. Musa-led administration in NCAA. Hence, it our capital project and the DG will stop at nothing to ensure our staffers are trained and retrained both locally and internationally. That they missed last training do not suggest that it is over and done with. To make up for their narrow miss of last year's training, few affected staff have been scheduled for two (2) training programmes for year 2022. I can tell you that it has been accordingly addressed.
How does NCAA oversight airlines insurance policies? Are the operators paying their insurance premium as and when due?
As a regulatory authority, we have a responsibility to oversight airlines' insurance policies, and ensure that air transport undertakings in Nigeria put in place adequate and valid insurance for successful operations in accordance with the provisions of the Civil Aviation Act (CAA) 2006 and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig. CARs), 2015 and other relevant international conventions like the Montreal Convention, 1999. In achieving this task, NCAA liaises with the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) for verification of insurance policy documents to ascertain its adequacy and authenticity.
How many travel agencies are registered with NCAA? What is the Authority doing to stop activities of the unregistered travel agencies and their online counterparts?
To stop activities of the unregistered travel agencies and their online counterparts in Nigeria, the Authority, in conjunction with International Air Transport Association (IATA), has made it a mandatory requirement for travel agencies to have NCAA certification before they can do business of buying airline tickets on IATA platform. In addition, we have collaborated with National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) in this regard. Beyond this, we have set up a committee that will look into the grey areas affecting travel agency business in Nigeria.
Your Directorate coordinates application for flight clearance (Permit For Non Commercial Flight - PNCF) while Directorate of Air Worthiness Standards (DAWS) does the evaluation, how has the collaboration been?
There is a good collaboration between DATR (Flight Clearance Unit) and seasoned inspectors and engineers in the Directorate of Air Worthiness Standards (DAWS) which allows for checks and balances from the aviation economic standpoint to safety on PNCF aircrafts.
What are the rights and responsibilities of travelling passengers? What processes do you follow to address and resolve passengers' complaints?
Airline passengers have numerous rights as well as obligations. Some of these rights include booking and confirming tickets with any airline of their choice; entitled to a conducive airport environment before, during and after flight; receiving the full value of money paid for flight; having right to be treated with dignity and respect irrespective of race or physical condition; right to seek redress for all irregularities during the flight; right to timely feedback in respect of matters/complaints lodged with service providers; and right to compensation for flight disruptions such as delays/cancellations/denied boarding/short landed or missing luggage. That is on the one hand.
On the other hand, passengers' responsibilities to airlines/service providers are checking-in on time. In this respect, it is advised that passengers check-in two (2) hours before boarding for domestic flights and three (3) hours for international flights. Other responsibilities are acquainting themselves with the terms and conditions attached to the ticket; complying with all applicable laws; turning-off cell phones during flight; reporting any issues of damaged/delayed/lost baggage issues to the airline or its designated official before leaving the airport; exhibiting good behaviour at all stages of the journey as airlines have a zero tolerance policy for unruly behaviour.
Now, let us talk about the processes to address and resolve passenger' complaints. Without sounding immodest, I want to say that NCAA/DATR has a robust complaint-handling mechanism. Ask me how we do it? We have our officers deployed to 22 airports in Nigeria, offering round-the-clock monitoring of airline operations and passengers' handling processes. We have the NCAA desks conspicuously located at these airports where complaints may be lodged. In addition, we also have an online complaint form on our official website: www.ncaa.gov.ng and an active email: email@example.com. The Authority is also in the process of upgrading/automating our complaint portal where complainant can call in, log in, access and review the status of his/her complaints real time.
For purposes of resolving passengers' complaints, at the very first, the consumer/complainant is expected to make a formal/written complaint which is then forwarded to the airline or service provider for resolution. We give service provider seven (7) days to resolve the complaint/matter and forward a compliance/resolution report to us. However, some complaints may take beyond seven days to be resolved. Such complaints include delayed baggage and/ or refund of unutilized tickets.
Let me also state that in some instances we go as far as inviting the service provider and/or all parties for mediatory meetings or administrative hearings after which a determination is made on compliant, if necessary. During this process, the complainant is continuously kept abreast of the steps NCAA is taking in resolving the matter via telephone, email or letters until the final resolution and closure of the compliant.
I think I must use this viable opportunity to address opinion in some quarters that that we (NCAA) are only barking but cannot bite. This is far from the reality and truth. In the past, ( till now and any time) NCAA has mandated some airlines to trim their schedules to match number of its serviceable aircraft. We have directed all airlines to ensure proper handling of persons with reduced mobility and ensure all-inclusive travel for persons with reduced mobility; ensure that airlines place on their ticket portal, a link for persons with disability who require assistance; directed some airlines to review their ticket refund policies which were restrictive and did not give room for flexibility of travel or usage; and enforced timely payment of refund, payment of compensation and provision of CARE (refreshments, etc.) to passengers for flight disruptions, missing luggages etc. These and many more we do from time to time, gladly and courteously.
NCAA FROWNS AT PASSENGERS' UNRULY BEHAVIOUR AT AIRPORT
The attention of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has been drawn to attacks on officials of airlines and aviation service providers.
It is based on this that the Authority has therefore issued a stern warning to all irate passengers carrying out these attacks to desist forthwith.
This warning has become necessary due to reports from some of the nation's airports detailing series of attacks on officials of airlines.
The Authority undoubtedly recognises that operating airlines must comply with the provisions of NCAA Guidelines on Air Transport Service Standards and the conditions of carriage on each passenger's ticket.
All passengers are conferred with inalienable rights when they are travelling by air. The Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig. CARs 2015 Part 19) prescribes minimum rights for air travellers in the occurrence of any of the following: no show and overbooking of flight, denied boarding, delay and cancellation of flights, etc.
NCAA is aware of the disruptions to flight operations and empathises with passengers on the inconveniences being experienced. The Authority is engaging airlines and service providers to proffer solution to this lingering situation.
However, passengers are expected to be of good behaviour at every stage of their journey. Airlines and agencies have zero tolerance policy for unruly behaviour.
Note that unruly passengers or offensive, disorderly conduct such as physical assault, verbal abuse or sexual harassment of any airline or service provider staff will attract severe punishment such as blacklisting by the airline, fines and/or jail term.
All over the world, delay and cancellations similarly occur in extraneous circumstances and airlines staffers are not responsible for any form of unforeseen delays and cancellations
Airlines have the obligation to provide timely information to passengers on service disruptions and they are also under obligation to provide care, refreshment, reimbursement or rerouting in the event of lengthy delays and cancellation.
In Part 19.7.3 an operating airline shall not be obliged to pay compensation for cancellation if it can prove that the cancellation was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.
Part 19.7.4 the burden of proof concerning any question as to whether and when the passenger has been informed of the cancellation of the flight shall rest with the operating airline.
It therefore means that passengers should be guided that cancellations and any aforementioned scenarios can occur beyond the control of the airline in certain situations.
On the other hand, when passengers are aggrieved, Part 19.20 states that a passenger may lodge a complaint with the Consumer Protection Department, by contacting them via email or phone number (firstname.lastname@example.org; 01-2790426) or any other competent person designated by the Authority, about an alleged infringement.
The Consumer Protection Department (CPD) under the Directorate of Air Transport Regulations has been saddled with the responsibilities to handle and resolve cases from aggrieved passengers to their satisfaction.
Therefore, the Authority expects aggrieved passengers to recourse to the platform provided by NCAA to file their complaints and seek redress or compensation as the case may be.
The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is statutorily empowered to provide an enabling environment for safe and secure air transportation. It will, however, not allow any airline official's life to be ridiculed publicly or endangered.