Director-General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr Harold Demuren, said that Nigeria urgently needed major aircraft maintenance hangar in Lagos, stressing that without indigenous maintenance facility safety could be imperilled. Chinedu Eze was at the interview. Excerpts:
NCAA’s Maintenance Programme
NCAA over the years has been very strict on maintenance. We superimpose calendar on the hours and cycles of maintenance schedule. Because sometimes they say that an aircraft should not do C Check until 3,000 hours and that aircraft only flies maybe 50 hours a year in Nigeria, so how many years will it take the aircraft to do C check? So we tell them we don’t agree. We call them Low Utilisation Aircraft. So NCAA superimposes calendar limitation so that the C check should be carried after shorter period and we have been saluted all over the world for doing this.
The condition we give is, whether you fly or not, after 12 months or 18 months thou shall send this aircraft for a C Check. This is because over there when this regulation was made, it was assumed that the aircraft must have flown so much within that period, but here because we don’t fly much if we follow that condition, you won’t do it forever. This happens a lot in developing countries.
The airlines can do scheduled maintenance locally like B Check. They have to borrow Nigeria Air Force hangar to do it. When they want to do their C Check they have to go abroad. We usually send inspectors there. You know what we always do; we allow the expiration of Certificate of Airworthiness (C of A) to coincide with the C Check. That is the way we monitor those things.
America and other parts of the world have Certificate of Airworthiness without expiring date. They don’t have expiring date, but we put expiring date on our own. We inspect non-scheduled maintenance. We are the most rigid, you talk to the airlines.
Some airline operators who found us too strict usually take their aircraft elsewhere. We put expiring date, every one year you must do it or 18 months. We tie it down when you are going to do a C Check s that nobody will forget. Once the airworthiness expires you are on ground, you must go and do C Check and we would go there. This is what we do all the time. That is the way we control scheduled maintenance.
When there is air return, NCAA is accused of directing that its officials should be there before maintenance of the aircraft is conducted. Air return is unscheduled maintenance. That is why we say they cannot go until when we see they have fixed it. But we are being accused; some say we are too strict. Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt are our golden triangle. These are the lucrative destinations and where your treasure is that’s where you heart must be; so we police those areas very much.
If there is something like a hard landing we cover it with what we call Mandatory Occurrence Reporting (MOR). This is a no go area; if you do it without reporting to us you are out. It is enough to revoke your licence, so you must report it. We have an official that is dedicated to investigating the incident. Now, that is what we use for our unscheduled maintenance. Scheduled maintenance depending on what it is...let me ask you something, a bird strike is unscheduled maintenance. Our people must be there because unless NCAA certifies you, you cannot go back to service.
Need for Maintenance Hangar
Now, where do they do unscheduled maintenance? We need to have in-house maintenance capability. I have come to the conclusion that it is not heavy checks that give you problems; it is the minor ones. Where you will do your heavy checks is approved; it is a known Maintenance and Repair Organisation (MRO) and our people are there. When our people are not there the host country is looking at it. What you have to do is regimented, you have to follow it. You have to sign it and we have changed the system. We do not allow you to do maintenance as per customer’s request. You must do maintenance as per NCAA approved maintenance programme.
People who are crooked will take their aircraft for maintenance and specify areas that should be maintenance and areas that should be left in order to safe cost. We don’t allow that. First when you are going for maintenance we look at your log and see what you are going to do. Those who failed to abide by NCAA conditions were grounded in the past. And I thank God that all the Nigerian Presidents since I came to this position have supported us as long as our carrying our safety regulation is concerned. They don’t interfere and we thank God for that.
We don’t give extension for the maintenance of aircraft; unless I am dead, it is a no-go item. The law says that the only person that can approve extension is the Director-General and I am not going to approve extension. We have passed that stage.
So the C Check and D Check are done, unless the aircraft is undergoing what we call life development programme in which we intentionally restrict the operation of the aeroplane. And when it comes to C and D checks you must do them.
Routine Daily Checks
The checks we should start paying attention to are the routine daily checks. In flying you meet different environmental problems...sometimes bird strike, sometimes foreign object injection, sometimes hydraulic problems. We have pebbles and stones that hit the aircraft during take-off and it may start to leak. So we have those problems. They have to maintain and fix them. We don’t rely again on one engineer for an airline who has a licence; we don’t rely on that.
We now use approved maintenance organisation. For Arik Air it is Lufthansa Technic. They must work under that umbrella.
The maintenance organisation is the one that looks at the routine maintenance of the aircraft. They check the log book; look at the snags that have been reported. If they don’t report them NCAA will ground the airline because this is a no go item.
Establishment of Maintenance Hangar
As a matter of conscious policy, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) must give land to the airline to build maintenance hangar. We should encourage them. You have to provide land for them at their operational base which is Lagos. Aircraft leave in the morning; they do their sorties and come back in the evening. They come back with snags. Someone must clean them before the start of operations again.
Do you know what happens? In other countries they have beautiful hangars. When the pilots come back at 7:00; 7:30 pm, they are worn out. They just carry their bags to go home. They put everything in their techlog. That is the time the engineers should take their aircraft to the hangar where every facility is in place and they do their work. It is like taking a patient to the theatre and the doctor is waiting. But when you do that on a roadside mechanic type; you stay on the tarmac in the night with torchlight, under the rain; it is not good enough for us. They call it line maintenance.
When you travel abroad you see maintenance hangars all over the place. But when you want to build one here they say you should pay a lot of money. It is ridiculous. In America they give land free for you to build maintenance hangar. This is because it promotes safety. The airline should be given land because that is what it is meant for. And not when you want to give them land, you give them small land that they cannot expand. I am saying this because for the future of Nigeria that is where we should go. You need to give more land; you must give the land out.
It is at the airside that the aeroplane is. FAAN should not say it has a master plan and therefore will not accommodate maintenance hangar for airlines at the airside of the airport. What is the master plan for? In the olden days government gave out a large place for Nigeria Airways to build a maintenance hangar; no that there are many airlines; government should give land to them to build hangar. Building hangar is a massive investment so you have to encourage them to build the facility and the airlines don’t have to pay anything. To promote safety, the aircraft will come and land there for maintenance. The hangar is very, very important. Without it we will still have safety challenges.
Critical Importance of Maintenance Hangar
The secret about hangar is that when you build one you cannot take it away. That is why all over the world there is a policy to encourage airlines to build hangar. FAAN should have a policy like that. The biggest is America; any airport they just go and build hangar and airlines will come and take it and use it. It promotes safety. It will also provide employment.
All the maintenance we go to do abroad we come and do it here. All our maintenance engineers are briefcase engineers. We cannot develop them. What we have done in the main case is that every other airline must have agreement with a foreign airline, an Airline Maintenance Organisation (AMO). Dana Air has it with Mytechnic of Istanbul, Turkey, just as Arik Air has with Lufthansa Technic and they are EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) approved. That is the standard; they are the ones doing all the maintenance for all our people here.
Automated Flight Information Reporting System (AFIS)
When the Dana Air accident occurred what was the main problem? People wanted to know the cause of the accident. If they had known the true cause of the accident nobody would have speculated. If I had known the second day that this was what caused it; no problem, things would have been clear. But because we don’t know everybody started to speculate. I told them then that aviation safety is data driven. I refused to agree with their speculation. I cannot speculate in life; I have seen it all.
It was this that led us to AFIS.
This is how it works. Equipment is put on board the aircraft. This equipment picks all the data that is going into flight data recorder and directly transmits down to the ground while the aircraft is airborne without pilot’s input. So if there was high temperature it will transmit it down. If there are exigencies it transmits everything down.
The second thing it will do is flight data recorder filming. It will film all those data. So there are two functions. One is alerting. It alerts you when there is any exigency; number two it will film and send them to the ground.
That is what we have planned to do in all Nigerian aircraft. As I am speaking with you, Aero Contractors has it on their aeroplanes. Aero Contractors is doing well. Some of the latest aeroplane of Arik, the NGs (New Generation), they don’t have exactly, but Arik need to do certain things, to subscribe to Boeing for the programme.
AFIS will help us understand the problem of human factor in air operation. So once we have that, and it is not expensive. By the time we put it on each of the aircraft you monitor it. The airline will have access to it. You can put on your Blackberry where you are going and monitor everything...you know where your aircraft is going, you know where it is located, you know whatever is happening to it. It also tells about the weather. It is a different world entirely with AFIS, but it has the biggest thing, animation. It animates everything and tells you exactly how the aircraft was flown. With it the deceit of the Nigerian public will seize forever if accident happens because we will know what caused it.