Air Safety in Nigeria and IATA’s Unalloyed Support

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The International Air Transport Association has helped Nigeria map out strategies to secure her airspace and curb the series of accidents that have bedeviled her aviation industry, Chinedu Eze writes

The major drive to end air crashes in Nigeria was ignited by the tragic accidents of 2005 and 2006 when the country and the world became fixated by avoidable bloodletting in the air, which many wished would never happen again.

The Sosoliso Flight 1145 in Port Harcourt on December 10, 2005 with 108 fatalities who were largely children, ADC Airlines Flight 53 in Abuja where prominent Nigerians died on October 29, 2006 with 97 fatalities out of 110 on board and theBellview Airlines Flight 210 on October 22, 2005, where all 117 souls on board were lost at Lisa, Ogun state of Nigeria.

These tragedies left so much pain in the hearts of Nigerians and cast Nigeria’s airspace as one of the most dangerous in Africa, as the continent has the uncomplimentary record as the most accident-prone in the world.

The desire to correct these anomalies prompted the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to pick interest in Nigeria.

But there is something in Nigeria that may only be found in few African countries. Nigeria has a population of compulsive travellers. It has the record of the highest number of indigenous travellers, which is a rarity in the continent. Although less than one percent of Nigerians travel by air, the country passenger traffic in 2015 rose to 15million and there are indications that this could double in no distant time as the economy improves and enhances the citizens’ purchasing power. So there was need to end the frequent accidents in the country. As a veritable market, the mega carriers from Europe, Middle East and recently from the US could not stay away from Nigeria despite its unsafe airspace then.

Improving Airspace Safety

The federal government took certain actions that showed it was committed to end the incessant crashes in Nigeria after the 2006 air crashes, by providing for the first time Doppler Weather Radar to check low level wind sheer, which was said to be partly responsible for the Sosoliso crash. Also, it took measures aimed at improving the runways by installing the airfield lighting and others.

But the major milestone gained at that time was making the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) autonomous. It was however when the Dana Air Flight 992 crashed on June 3, 2012 with about 155 fatalities, including 153 souls onboard and two on ground that NCAA was aroused to take a critical decision of making it compulsory that Nigerian airlines must become IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certified before they would be allowed to continue to operate. But this was not just the decision of Nigeria; it was the decision of African states that met shortly in Abuja after the Dana Air crash. Although the deadline given for the compulsory certification has not been met, IATA has guided Nigerian airlines to meet IOSA condition and improve their operational safety. Also, NCAA has incorporated IOSA as compulsory for Nigerian airlines, which they must obtain at certain stage before they could be allowed to continue to operate. IATA is supporting every commercial Nigerian airline to go through the IOSA programme and it has shown both financial and technical commitment to ensure this objective is actualised.

IOSA Programme

The IOSA programme is an internationally recognised and accepted evaluation system designed to assess the operational management and control systems of an airline. All IATA members are IOSA registered and must remain registered to maintain IATA membership.

The benefits of the IOSA programme include quality audit programme under stewardship of IATA; continuous updating of standards to reflect regulatory revisions and best practices;elimination of audit redundancy; reducing costs and audit resource requirements; accredited audit organisations with formally trained and qualified auditors; accredited training organisations with auditor training courses and structured audit methodology, standardised checklists.

IATA said the total accident rate for IOSA carriers between 2011 and 2015 was 3.3 times lower than the rate for non-IOSA operators. As such, IOSA has become a global standard, recognised well beyond IATA membership. As of March 2015, 145 (36%) of the 405 airlines on the IOSA registry were non-IATA.

IATA’s Support

In a recent IATA Day held in Abuja, the IATA Area Manager, South West Africa, Dr. Samson Fatokun said that IATA has been supporting Nigerian airlines to improve on safety in their operations.

“To break it down to the Nigerian scene, IATA has been supporting the strengthening of safety in Nigeria. We have taken some airlines, most of the domestic airlines through the IOSA preparatory programme, where each one of them had workshops, funded entirely by IATA and these include First Nation, Medview Airline, Allied Air and Air Peace presently. They have all gone through IOSA preparatory programme and this is a programme that was offered by IATA to help them and it goes straight into helping them to do well at IOSA audit and also improve their level of safety,” Fatokun said.

Before now, Arik Air and Aero had obtained their IOSA certification and Arik had gone through the audit severally. The objective however, is that every airline operating in Nigeria should be IOSA certified.

Fatokun said:“IATA did not stop only on the operators, five of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority safety inspectors went through series of training organised by IATA so that the regulator should be strengthened in terms of safety oversight. That is what IATA has done in the market; since the past two years we have been rolling that programme to improve safety in Nigeria.

“We did not only stop at safety, we also improved on security. The main focus today is safety and security. We have had series of workshops that we engaged the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the operators on improving security in Nigeria and there were about four workshops that we organised in the past two years. So IATA has really invested in improving safety in Nigeria through the operators and the agencies.”

In his major speech at the just concluded IATA annual general meeting and exhibition held in Dublin, Ireland earlier this month, the out-going Director-General and CEO of IATA, Tony Tyler said that the IATA Operational Safety Audit used by over 400 airlines worldwide now include continuous compliance monitoring, adding that to maintain trust, the quality and integrity of IOSA’s audit standards and processes are constantly reviewed.

“IOSA proves that global standards can drive important safety improvements in Africa. The fatal accident rate for sub-Saharan carriers on the IOSA registry now aligns with the global average. The Abuja Declaration aims to achieve world-class safety in Africa. The continent’s governments must keep their commitments to make IOSA mandatory and implement fully the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards and recommended practices.”

Aircraft Tracking

Few years ago, the NCAA mulled about aircraft tracking, after the disappearance of Beechcraft 1900 owned by Kings Air on its way to Bebi Airstrip in March 2008. It was later discovered to have crashed in the hills in Cross River state. The NCAA wanted to put the system whereby every aircraft flying out of Nigeria is tracked and monitored from take off to its destination. In the event there was any incident or accident, the aircraft would easily be located with the tracking equipment.

Tyler said aircraft tracking came to the fore in 2014 with the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

“Under the leadership of ICAO, with input from industry, a global tracking standard has been established. And our capabilities may grow more robust in the near future as space-based technologies mature,” Tyler said.

The last major accident in Nigeria was in 2013 and since then there has not been any major accident in the country. It is hoped that as Nigerian airlines strive to meet international safety standard through IATA support; that government through NCAA would ensure that domestic carriers keep stringently to the dictates of the IOSA programme, so that Nigeria will maintain the clean slate of no accidents henceforth.

Safety and Infrastructure

Tyler said safety is number one priority. He said there has been huge progress made on safety in Africa but there is need for more improvement. “This is required by governments, civil aviation authorities and bodies that control civil aviation to be more forceful to ensure the adequacy of airlines in meeting their certification process. We at IATA we have IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) and we have 30 members and Allied Air joined us last week or so. We are happy to see that governments are pushing for airlines to meet IOSA certification, according to Abuja Declaration; that AOCs must be given to airlines that passed IOSA audit. We are doing our own share but it depends on governments to enforce the rules themselves.

We have seen countries around the world that did not allow airlines to fly but we will continue to strive to ensure these nations comply. It is important to know that aviation remains the safest means of transport but we must continue to be careful because one accident is always more than we can handle. That is why we work very hard to make sure that safety issues remain the number one priority.”