Repositioning NCAA for Effective Regulation

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Chinedu Eze writes that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority must be repositioned to effectively regulate the industry

What is obvious in the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) today is that the workers are not happy. THISDAY investigations revealed that there was a hiatus between the past and the present in terms of welfare, training and the conviviality of the working environment.

NCAA sources said in the past, things were open and the system was predictable and working schedules were programmed to meet given objectives, but all those things have changed. There is now open nostalgia to recreate the past; the past of improved emoluments and training, whereby everybody knew his training programme and not the upstart arrangement that is allegedly selective.

Some industry observers said management of a system is evaluated by the result it produces; that so far since 2014, Nigeria has not recorded any major incident and no accidents. But others have warned that accidents build up overtime and could be enhanced by unmotivated personnel in the airlines and in the regulatory agency; that a lackadaisical inspectorate team of NCAA can destroy a goodwill built over the years by one tragic accident.

Need for Reform

However, industry stakeholders agreed that NCAA is in dire need of reforms and remarked that the Civil Aviation Act 2006 not only empowers the Authority to regulate aviation safety without political interference, but also to carry out oversight functions of airports, airspace, meteorological services, as well as economic regulations of the industry. It also issues licenses to intending airline operators, regulates them and regulates pilots among other functions.

Obviously, the NCAA as industry regulator is very critical to the industry and over the years, it has striven to live up to its mandate. But while it might have achieved some milestones, by reducing the spate of air mishaps over the years, a lot still needs to be done in areas like passengers protection, regulatory oversight on airlines especially private jet operators, local airlines protection and support, hiring of more technical staff, training and retraining of existing staff as well as staff motivation for optimal performance.

To achieve, improve and sustain the safety status Nigerian has attained, it means that NCAA must continue to reform, train and employ younger personnel who will be primed to take over from the ageing ones. Actualising these goals will depend on the man at the helm of affairs, the Director General.

Inside sources told THISDAY that the regulator’s capability, commitment to minute details and a knack for ensuring the strictest of standards without compromising could make the difference.

“Again, in a society like ours, a regulator that wouldn’t dance to the whims of the politicians is just as critical. The NCAA is supposed to be independent of political manipulations but occurrences over the years has shown the independence is largely only existent in the Civil Aviation Act and not in practice,” a source said.

Aviation experts have consistently raised issues for the independence of the NCAA and the capacity gap in the sector. For instance, retired Group Captain John Ojikutu, a member of the Aviation Roundtable, listed the challenges of NCAA to include, “inadequate manpower; insufficient professionals as regulators and inspectors to enforce compliance of registrations on operators.”

He insisted that rather than letting the government know what the NCAA challenges are, the leadership largely live in denial and give the government and public the impression that all is well at NCAA, a situation only a string committed leadership can address.

Therefore, for the NCAA to surmount these challenges, an NCAA Director-General, must have the strong will to be independent of political control and be able to implement programmes that will boost the NCAA’s regulatory capability.

Jostling for the job

With reports that the government plans to change the leadership of aviation agencies and those who would work in tandem with the given objectives would be appointed, THISDAY learnt that the jostling to succeed the existing leadership has started in NCAA and other aviation agencies.

THISDAY gathered that while no one can foretell whom the cap would fit, there are some professionals within the NCAA that have been identified by industry operatives.

Though a substantive Director-General, Capt. Muhtar Shaibu Usman’s tenure has not elapsed, there is no guarantee he would continue till the end of his tenure following the recent sack of 26 heads of agencies by President Muhammadu Buahari.
Besides, the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika had hinted there would be a shakeup of the leadership to reposition the industry.

He said recently that the government might be implementing certain staff restructuring in all the aviation agencies. Hadi noted at the recent Stakeholders Forum in Abuja that some of the agencies have over bloated staff strength and would need to be purged. He also said he would also look at the complaints against the agency heads and address them appropriately.

The Right Competences

A former Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and currently the CEO of Topbrass Aviation Limited while commenting at the Aviation Stakeholders Forum in Abuja said, the CEOs in the aviation need to be replaced as the existing ones are not supporting the growth of the industry.

“If we want to see through these wonderful ideas and grow the industry, I make bold to say that we need to have the right competencies, in the right positions and at this time, at this point in time, Hon. Minister, we don’t have the right competencies, in the right positions. If it is understood by those in the helm of affairs – the regulators and service providers – if they understand their responsibility to the industry, when stakeholders come to them and raise issues, it is important and imperative that they respond immediately.

“I give an example, I wrote an eight page letter to NCAA raising issues, it took the NCAA three months, for me to get a response. At the same time, the NCAA is telling us the things we need to do to get AOCs (Air Operator Certificate), we have complained yet they come back to tell us you cannot operate. It is very sad. I’m an investor, a professional and entrepreneur but we cannot sustain our investments when we don’t have people with the right competencies’. That needs to be addressed,” Iyayi said.

Choice of New Leadership

Informed source disclosed to THISDAY that government would be reluctant to go outside NCAA to pick a replacement for the current Director General. THISDAY learnt that officials in the horizon that could be successors of their boss include Benedict Adeyileka and Captain Abdullahi Sidi.

Adeyileka, a seasoned aeronautical engineer is currently the NCAA Director, Airworthiness Standards and one-time acting NCAA Director General, while Sidi is the Director of Operations and Training. Nevertheless, the current Director General is not out of the race yet; Usman is yet to complete his tenure as enshrined in the Nigerian Civil Aviation Act.

Adeyileka oversees the Directorate of Airworthiness Standards (DAWS) a very critical directorate in the agency and he is being considered because of the successes he achieved while acted as the Director General of NCAA.
NCAA sources described Adeyileka as a professional with several training certificates obtained at home and abroad with experiences spanning over 32 years at senior level in the aviation industry in the United Kingdom and spells in Asia, Africa and Europe.

His wealth of experience straddles across the industry in variety of roles like Aircraft Maintenance Engineering, Design and Manufacturing, Avionics, Quality Systems, Technical Services. As a Regulator in the Civil Aviation Authority, he has worked with aircraft manufacturers, airlines and Maintenance Repair Organisations (MROs) in such prestigious companies such as BAE Systems Woodford UK, Scottish Highland Airways Inverness UK, Gill Airways UK and at Gatari Air in Indonesia.

Also as seasoned engineer, he has successfully been involved with airline start-up both in the UK and Asia.
As the then acting Director General, NCAA, he supervised and executed the process that fetched Nigeria Category recertification.

Also during his tenure some NCAA staff got trained abroad and he made staff welfare a priority among other achievements. Industry sources tip him more for the job having acted successfully before in that capacity and his track records.

Other achievements by Adeyileka while he acted as NCAA DG include coordintaing the successful curtailment of the spread of Ebola Fever communicable diseases through air transportation by issuing appropriate procedures and guidelines to airlines; successful certification and recertification of new airline operators and existing Air Operator Certificate holders; setting up the Committee for Review of Scheme of Charges to boost NCAA revenue generation; continuous training of NCAA inspectors through liaison with International organisations like IATA and Airbus; Re-organisation and revamping of Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) Aeronautical Division and championing the enforcement of expatriate quota and development of Nigerian pilots and engineers in the aviation industry.

Capt. Abdullahi Sidi, the Director Operations and Training, NCAA, a pilot, is also being considered. He has attended several professional course home and aboard. He worked at the liquidated Nigerian Airways, Kabo Air, IRS Airlines, Aero Contractors among others. He is said to enjoy the confidence of the current Director General and had a charisma that appeals to a lot of his staff. He currently supervises the Directorate of Operations and Training (DOT), which is responsible for the effective oversight activities and setting of standards in all areas of flight operations and training in the Nigeria air transport industry.

Industry analysts said the incumbent; Capt. Usman is also making effort to retain his seat. Though he has the power of the incumbent, some observers said he needs to improve on staff welfare to enjoy staff support, as staff moral seems to be low. Also some directors are not so comfortable with his style of leadership as some are grumbling and the industry is also complaining of lack of support.

Usman was also trained locally and abroad. During his career, he worked as a Flying Instructor at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, (NCAT), Zaria and worked the Nigeria Airways Ltd, now rested, as a B 737 Aircraft pilot. He left the private sector to Federal Ministry of Aviation in Abuja to become the Director of Operations (Accident Investigation Bureau) before he was appointed the Commissioner/CEO Accident Investigation Bureau and Prevention. In 2014, he was appointed as the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA), a position he holds till date.

Industry experts posit that the choice of who takes over at the regulatory agency would determine to a large extend how the Buhari administration would improve air transport in the country.