Improved Safety in Nigeria’s Airspace

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Aviation experts who met at the 13th Akwaaba African Travel Market ‘Aviation Day’ in Lagos on Monday brainstormed on the progress made in the area of safety in the industry over the years.

They came to the conclusion that there have been a lot of improvements in air safety in the industry since 2006 when the regulatory authority was made autonomous. They also agreed that the progress improved more since the last five years, climaxing in 2016 when Nigeria and the world recorded the least incidents and accidents.

Since 2013 after the Associated Aviation Flight 361 crash at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, the country has not recorded any air accident with commercial flights, except helicopter accidents that followed in succession.

In the presentation he made as lead speaker, the President, Sabre Network West Africa cum President, Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ARTI), Gabriel Olowo said that investigations have confirmed that 80 percent of the accidents that happened in Nigeria were caused by pilot errors.

Olowo said what has enhanced air safety in Nigeria on the side of the airlines was that the airlines have made efforts to abide by international standards of safety. They have keyed into the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA), which in 2012, ministers from African states stipulated should be as a criterion for awarding Air Operator Certificate (AOC) for African airlines from 2018.

Since then, many Nigerian airlines have earned IOSA certification and airline like Arik Air has in addition obtained enhanced IOSA, known as e-IOSA and also European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification.

Olowo said by embracing IOSA and IATA standard safety assessment, the airlines have significantly improved their safety standard. He noted that airlines, in their quest for safety, have gone extra mile to subject themselves to audit by other jurisdiction outside their own registration; example, EASA certification in addition to that of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

The President of Sabre Network West Africa added that airlines have also intensified human capital development through routine and schedule trainings for all, especially pilots, since pilot error do account for about 80 percent of all aviation accidents, there have been implementation of safety management system (SMS).

He said more budgets are set aside by airlines for maintenance and dedicated account for maintenance reserve as accident is planned through neglect / poor maintenance. He noted that this was not all, as operators are successfully moving to newer and younger fleets with lower operational and maintenance cost, as financial institutions are disposed to extending credit facilities to these airlines that are willing to effectively service the loans.

Like Olowo, other speakers at the forum also acknowledged that there has been improvement in safety in Nigeria’s air transport industry in the last five years, climaxing in 2016 and expressed the hope that the country would continue to record accident free aviation sector in the coming years.

Olowo also noted that 1,312 lives were lost in 10 accidents over the past 48 years in Nigeria and pilot error accounted for 80 percent while maintenance and weather accounted for the remaining 20 percent.

He said there have been more economic lease and lesser purchase Conditions from aircraft suppliers, adding that there is also continuous advocacy for improved aviation infrastructure, acceleration of international Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) safety related standard and recommended practices.

On the side of regulation, Olowo said that there has been acceleration of ICAO safety related standard and recommended practices by NCAA, the effective enforcement of these regulations on airlines, noting that on paper, NCAA is autonomous in accordance to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Act, 2006. He remarked that there is need to always get Director Generals who would be courageous enough to assert this autonomy, as government officials always tend to interfere on the affairs of the agency.

He added that an autonomous Civil Aviation Authorities with less and less government interference would result to more efficient regulation.

Also, Head, Public Relations Accident Investigation Bureau, (AIB) Tunji Oketunbi attributed some of the progress made in the industry to the effective regulation of the sector by NCAA, which continued to improve over the years.

“Airlines have a tendency to cut corners but it is the responsibility of NCAA to ensure proper checks are carried out on the airline, especially on the aircraft maintenance and pilot certifications. During accident investigations, AIB is able to reveal a lot of things either on the side of the regulators, the airlines or the service providers.

“Reports from accidents investigations have also reduced accidents occurrence in Nigeria and influenced safety decision implementation on the part of airlines, regulators and other service providers,” Oketumbi said.

He noted that ICAO has worked very hard to ensure no country is left behind on the implementation of international safety standards.

“Nigeria is benefitting from the long process of change from the 2006 Civil Aviation Act. Over the years this change has been built up. If NCAA is not good, the country is not good. That is why in safety audit ICAO and other agencies like the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concentrate on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) because if the CAA has shortcomings, it will also reflect in the industry,” Oketumbi added.

Country Manager, British Airways, Koya Olayinka said that just one accident can mark the end of an airline, so that makes it important for airlines to comply with standards and ensure they left no stone unturned.

Olayinka congratulated Nigeria for having zero accident rate in 2016 and encouraged airlines to remain steadfast in maintaining the records by applying the rules and training its staff as at when due.

The major challenge henceforth, however, is how will the country sustain the high safety rate it has attained and, as the speakers in the forum noted, both the regulatory authority and the airlines must continue to improve on their safety standard in accordance to international practices.