Dr Harold Demuren
The sudden removal of the former Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, Dr Harold Demuren, shocked many. His successor faces the old challenges that bedevil the industry. Chinedu Eze writes
When it was announced last month that the former Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, had been removed, there were mixed feelings. Mixed feelings from those who had been expecting that he would be swept away by the anger and bitterness that brewed after the Dana Air crash in June last year and those who believe that in spite of all odds he would continue to stay in office because there are not many people that have his expertise.
But now, he has gone and President Goodluck Jonathan had already recommended to the National Assembly his successor, Mr. Fola Akinkuotu, who is a seasoned pilot, an engineer and instructor.
It was that Dana Air accident that turned Demuren from a hero to a so-called villain, but there was no evidence that his neglect or decision contributed to the crash. Since he was at the helm of affairs, he carried the burden and blame.
Through his invaluable efforts, NCAA became autonomous which disposed it to taking many critical safety decisions without government interference and also made the world aviation regulatory bodies to begin to take Nigeria seriously.
Demuren fought for the Cape Town Convention, which made it possible for Nigerian airlines to lease aircraft and NCAA providing a surety that if the airline defaults the regulatory body would help the lessor recover the aircraft.
It was under Demuren that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) started the auditing of Nigeria’s aviation sector and for the first time, the country passed ICAO audit. It also passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety audit and later got Category 1 status from the US. This means that Nigerian airlines could fly direct to the US with Nigerian registered aircraft.
Demuren introduced stringent policies to help improve air transport in Nigeria, especially in the area of safety. He insisted that maintenance checks must be carried out as at when due and attached certificate of air worthiness to maintenance date so that air worthiness certificate expires at the time the aircraft is due for checks.
He also ensured that aircraft were maintained after 12 or 18 months and logged the training and retraining of pilots and cabin crew. Under Demuren, Nigeria began to abide by the international principles of air transport.
However, Demuren could be described as a player who played good game but towards the end of the match lost concentration. Critics of the former director general of NCAA accused him of hobnobbing with politicians and compromising his job as a regulator of the industry and this made him to start making efforts to become politically correct.
They also alleged that he did not fully utilise or asserted the autonomy of NCAA as enshrined in the 2006 Civil Aviation Act by treating every airline equally, according to the rules. Rather, he kowtowed to the whims of those in power; although the authority’s spokesman once explained that besides enforcing safety regulations, the duty of NCAA was to carry out government policies.
Beyond him, many of the top officers in NCAA who handle critical responsibilities are alleged to be corrupt and it is strongly believed that they made concessions when they were induced to do so. So the grouse of many industry observers was that Demuren failed to rein them. He was also accused of being domineering as he dominated every meeting with his officers without giving room for other opinions.
But Demuren may be the most influential and flamboyant director general of NCAA Nigeria would have in a long time, not because of his sartorial attitude but because of his eloquence and aura.
His successor is also a man, who is well-versed in the industry and who has put over 40 years in the sector.
In fact, Akinkuotu, is a veteran of 43years in the aviation industry, who still maintains current Airline Transport Pilot Licence and who started his aviation career early in life, immediately after A’ Levels.
In 1972, he qualified as an aircraft engineer and joined Nigeria Airways. As an engineer, he practised for five years and became a duty engineer in the Presidential Fleet. In pursuit of his love for aviation, in 1978, he proceeded to the United States of America where he was trained and became qualified as a Commercial Pilot and Flight Engineer.
He taught briefly at the Sierra Academy of Aeronautics as instructor. Later, he returned to Nigeria to join Nigeria Airways as an airline pilot. Captain Fola as he is popularly known, flew as an airline captain for Kabo Airlines, served as a chief pilot at ADC Airlines and became the Executive Director, Technical Operations at ADC Airlines.
The high point of Akinkuotu’s career came in 1998, when he was captain under whose command Pope John Paul II was flown during his pastoral visit to Nigeria.
In 2001, Akinkuotu was contracted to set up and run the startup of IRS Airlines and was the pioneer Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer (COO).
He later joined Virgin Nigeria as Captain B737 in 2006 and he progressed to be the Technical Pilot, Line Training Manager B737 fleet, Type Rating Examiner, Director Flight Operations and Executive Director International Operations.
Presently, he is the Rector of the International College of Aviation Ilorin, a position he will leave very soon after the National Assembly ratified his appointment.
The aviation industry is bedeviled by many problems which are looking up to NCAA to solve. While Demuren improved the safety standards in air travel in Nigeria, he left the passengers at the mercy of the airlines.
Sustaining the Autonomy
Akinkuotu is expected to strengthen the Consumer Protection Directorate of the agency, check the excesses of the airlines and also enforce its new regulations on consumer protection.
Another problem that will really be a challenge to the new director general is political interference. The ministry of aviation, the Presidency and the National Assembly must be resisted if NCAA must carry out its responsibility effectively.
There were allegations that some actions that would be taken unilaterally by the regulatory body are conceded to the Minister of Aviation as the ministry subsumes the agency which was made autonomous by the 2006 Civil Aviation Act,
Aviation Consultant and CEO of BeluJane Konsult, Mr. Chris Aligbe, fears that if the standards already achieved were not maintained and improved upon, Nigeria might lose all the high ratings it had already garnered from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the US Federal Aviation Administration.
Akinkuotu must ensure that airlines abide by the maintenance schedule of their aircraft without extension; he must ensure that the airlines carry out adequate training of personnel as specified by the regulations.
A source in the industry told THISDAY that another critical challenge is how to make the airlines viable through economic regulation of the industry, noting that all other things depend on economic regulation and insisted that Demuren failed in that area.
“Economic regulation is very essential for the sustainability and viability of the airlines because if the airlines are viable you can be sure that they will contribute positively to the economy. NCAA should not allow airlines to introduce promotional fares without knowing what they intend to gain from the promo and how it will affect the passengers. Passengers are swindled every day in the name of promos and nobody holds the airlines responsible.
“To me, that is one of the failings of Demuren’s administration. An airline also must ensure that it has the funds to pay its suppliers, carry out its daily operations and pay its workers before it should be allowed to operate,” the source said.
Also, aviation security expert, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) expressed fear that if care was not taken, Nigeria would lose the FAA Category 1 safety status, which the country obtained in 2010 and the ICAO safety certification.
He said that Nigeria must sustain the standards that enabled it to pass the audits that gave it the certification.
To a large extent, it is regulation that determines the rate of accident that happens in a country. When there is effective and objective regulation, aircraft hardly drop from the skies but with inefficient regulation there will be accident and other problems that will continue to undermine the progress being made in the aviation sector.
An airline operator emphasised that NCAA should fully utilise its autonomy and be just in doing that; it should also ensure that the rule applies equally to everyone.
“NCAA should stay on the side of professionalism and should be non-political in everything it does, so the new director general should be conscious of this because it is very, very important. When you bend rules to favour some people and in another breath you want to stand on the rules, you are not being fair and you are not exercising your autonomy. That has always been the case with NCAA.
“When you run to the ministry of aviation to seek directive, it will be difficult for you to apply your own rules later without referring to the Ministry. It is NCAA leadership that encouraged the Ministry to interfere in its activities. You cannot ask British Airways not to go to Port Harcourt and turn back and allow Air France to operate to Port Harcourt, which means your rules could be bent at whim to favour some people and not others.
“The new leadership must change all these and those who know him are confident he can really bring the desired change. It is not all about brow beating, but doing the right thing which could be done without any noise,” the operator stated.
Monitoring the Airlines
Akinkuotu whose wealth of experience will play pivotal role in his management of the industry as the director general of NCAA knows the need to enforce economic regulation and if the current Civil Aviation Act is deficient on that, the body will go back to the National Assembly for an amendment.
Akinkuotu noted in an interview with THISDAY last year that although airline operation generates so much revenue, it almost takes everything, except very little. Therefore, airline owners must expend the needed funds to effectively operate their airlines in accordance to the rules.
“The Western world, which we depend on in aviation, is not interested in whatever excuse why you will not pay regularly. So the operator should say to himself, each time I make money I must have to make provision to pay my debt; to know that the money I am making may not even have profit. There is a term we use in the industry which is cash burn or cash flow. You are either in a cash burn or cash flow. Most of the airlines are in cash flow; they see money, but they are burning it.
“This means that the airlines are living from day to day. Sometimes some of these entrepreneurs, those who started these airlines don’t see it that way. They see cash but they don’t see their financial position. They don’t know that they are in a cash burn position. Those who make N3 billion a month might say look, I can do anything I want. So the failure is in improper planning, inadequate strategy, improper or lack of financial discipline and where do you make profit; when do you want to make profit?”