In September and November, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority certified the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, respectively, in line with the International Civil Aviation Organisation safety standards. Chinedu Eze writes that the certification would improve the rating of the airports and the Nigerian aviation industry in global circles
It is a standard practice that major airlines of the world consider the rating of airports before designating their routes, and pilots consider the safety of airports before agreeing to fly to such destinations. Just this year, after several years of trying, Nigeriaâ€™s busiest airports â€“ Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, and Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos â€“ were certified in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation safety regulations by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.
The certification is very important for Nigeria, because the International Federation of Air Line Pilotsâ€™ Associations reviews airports on a continuous basis, evaluates their safety standards in accordance with ICAO regulations, and disseminates such information to their members all over the world. It is their evaluation that determines whether commercial airlines would agree to fly to certain airports or not.
With the certification of the Lagos and Abuja airports, Nigeriaâ€™s rating has not only improved but these airports can also serve as hubs in West and Central Africa because they are the only certified airports in the sub-regions.
Director-General of NCAA, Captain Muhtar Usman, said Nigeria had become the only country in Africa to have its two airports certified in accordance with ICAO safety standard, and the only country in the West African sub-region with internationally certified airports. Usman said the certification had improved the rating of the two airports in safety standards in international aviation circles. He explained that it would attract more global carriers to the country, which would boost air transport and create more jobs for the citizens.
Usman said the certification would reposition air transport to contribute more to the Gross Domestic Product of the country because it would boost passenger movement in domestic and international destinations. He hinted that passenger movement was expected to double from over 15 million per annum in the next 15 years. He also disclosed during the ceremony to mark the certification that Kano, Port Harcourt, and Enugu airports were scheduled for completion in the first, second and third quarters of 2018.
Usman, who handed the certificate to the Managing Director of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Saleh Dunoma, said it was an epoch making moment for the country.
Usman stated, â€œThe attainment of this safety milestone is quite significant in view of the fact that less than 25 per cent of international airports in Africa and Indian Ocean are certified.
â€œIt is also interesting to note that with the certification of Abuja airport, Nigeria has become the first state to achieve the certification of more than one international airport in the AFI (Africa/Indian) Region. However, we are not resting on our oars, as the certification of Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu airports are scheduled for completion in the first, second and third quarters of 2018 in compliance with the Abuja Ministerial Declaration and safety targets of 2012.
Dunoma reiterated FAANâ€™S commitment to continue with the present tempo in the development of the other international airports. He said, â€œWe made a commitment to continue with this tempo and soon we will go to Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu. But for today, we have achieved a milestone. I want to recognise the DG NCAA because anytime I talk to him, certification is always the main topic. So I want to thank the NCAA team for their commitment. Letâ€™s sit down and continue to improve on the safety situation because that is all that itâ€™s all about, safety.â€
According to NCAA, the certification means that the operator of the airports, which is FAAN, must be on its toes to maintain the given standard that earned the air[ports the certification and improve on it. This is because ICAO would continue to monitor the airports and anytime any of the airports so certified breaches any given criterion, the certification would be withdrawn.
The NCAA director-general recalled that in August 10, 2016, the West and Central African regional office of ICAO launched a project team for the provision of technical support to states in the sub-regions towards achieving certification of international airports within 11 months in eight states. â€œThis pilot project, which was designed in line with ICAO vision of â€˜No Country Left Behind,â€™ included Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal, Niger, Mali, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Cote dâ€™Ivoire,â€ he said.
Usman said the Abuja airport had met all the safety standard but even beyond that; the airport remained very unique in the aerodrome certification project because it was greatly facilitated with the provision of a totally resurfaced runway and with the full complement of Category 11of precision approach lighting, runway edge lighting, runway centreline lights, touchdown zone lights, as well as runway threshold and runway end lights.
The NCAA boss noted that the entire certification process had resulted in enhanced safety levels, capacity, efficiency and effectiveness in aerodrome facilities and services as well as staffing levels and efficiency level of safety critical manpower.
In an interview with THISDAY, the managing director of FAAN, Dunoma, said the major benefit of the certification was safety. He stated that the airports were now recognised globally as having attained standard level of safety.
Dunoma said, â€œFirst of all, let me start with the benefits of the certification. ICAO devised this certification in order to make airports keep up to the standards. It starts with the First Declaration. Anybody that wants to develop an airport must come up with certain assumption that look, I want to have an airport that will handle this type of aircraft, letâ€™s say Boeing B747. If your intention is to develop an airport that will handle a B747, then ICAO has a specification for you, in terms of the design and the operational parameters.
â€œICAO will tell you how many firemen you need, what category of firemen you need, what the length of the runway will be, what will be the width of the runway. Then you will be allowed to build it. So once you finish your design and it is implemented and the airport is up for a B747 category, then ICAO comes back to see whether what you said you are is what you are. Are you an airport that can handle a B747? Do you have the processes and procedures in place to handle a B747? Are you compliant with all the safety requirements? Are you compliant with the security requirement? Are you complaint with all the annexes as specified in handling this particular category of aircraft? So they will come, it will be inspected, after the inspection they will give a report.â€
Dunoma also explained that before an airline would decide to operate into a country it would first send its personnel to come and inspect the airport that would service its operations. So when an airline wants to come to Nigeria, for instance, it comes and inspects the airports and if they notice gaps or areas that do not meet their own standard they complain to the airport operator, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria.
According to Dunoma, â€œEvery airline that wants to come to Nigeria does its own inspection. And they will come back with their report and give it to the operator, that is FAAN, and say look, we have inspected, we want to come but these are our observations, if you can do A, B, C, D we are ready to come. And we normally do it for them and when we do it they will come. Well, each airline has different things to look out for. Some of them are more concerned about security, some about safety, and some are concerned about their commercials.
â€œThey have different things to look out for, but ICAO and NCAA have standardised it. They have looked at all the requirements of the airlines and put it in the form of a standard, in form of those annexes. And they will say, this is what you are supposed to do, so for you to be able to provide this service for this category of aircraft, these are the standards, these are the recommended practices, so go ahead and do that.â€
The certification of the two major airports in Nigeria means that they have met all categories of expectation of international airline operators, the regulatory bodies, ICAO, NCAA and even the Transport Security Administration of the United States.