Chinedu Eze writes on the need to sustain and improve the improved air safety standard recorded by the country
After the crash of Associated Aviation Flight 361 at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos on October 3, 2013, Nigeria has not recorded any accident involving fatality in a scheduled flight operation.
There are many factors attributed to this good record. While credit must go to the agency, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for its efficient regulatory of the industry, especially in the area of safety, credit must also go to the airlines, which since after the Dana Air crash in 2012 reinforced its self-regulatory programme without waiting to be nudged by NCAA.
NCAA has reiterated that it is the responsibility of the airline to ensure it conducts safe flight operations, while the regulatory authority guides and beats them into line when necessary.
Nigerian carriers gained a mileage when after the aforementioned accidents NCAA stipulated that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) would be a safety benchmark for Nigerian carriers.
IOSA is a very stringent safety audit, which put any airline that passes it at per with any other international carrier that also scaled the hurdle. It is a significant requisite to play at the global air transport market. Nigerian airlines were subjected to the audit and some of them after a laboured process passed the audit, but one major challenge of the audit is how the airlines could sustain their safety standard to enable them pass the certification every year.
Air Peace Sustained Safety Standard
Air Peace has operated for just six years and in the last three years it has been able to maintain safety standard that enabled it renew its IOSA certification. That explained why IATA was thrilled last week when it handed to the airline the third certificate for passing its stringent audit.
The Head of Account Management, West and Central Africa, International Air Transport Association, Dr. Samson Fatokun, commended Air Peace, for upholding high standards of safety in its flight operations.
“It gives me joy to present this certificate today because I know it’s the fruit of painstaking effort of your team”, Fatoken said.
He said scaling through this third safety audit process is a testament to Air Peace’s commitment to maintaining high safety standards in its operations. He disclosed that for any airline to pass the safety audit, its safety compliance must be hundred percent, and Air Peace has met this prerequisite.
“Many airlines are not able to achieve this because they don’t have the discipline and hard work which have consistently earned Air Peace this safety recognition. The certificate gives the airline a global recognition as a hundred percent safety-compliant airline”, Fatokun said.
Industry consultant, Amos Akpan, explained that scaling through the IATA Operational Safety Audit is not an easy matter because the process is very stringent.
He told THISDAY in Lagos, that IOSA audit is a rigorous exercise in which an airline’s operational specifications are made to conform to the high standard of safety for it to be eligible for the certification.
“It is very stringent and rigorous. It is the compliance to IATA safety specifications and standards in terms of aircraft maintenance and operations. You document the standard as manuals and operate those manuals. It is not all airlines that pass it; so it is a testimony of Air Peace consistency to high safety standard, which conforms to international operational specified procedure. For Air Peace to successfully go through it three times is an indication of the management’s consistency to high safety standards in their operations,” Akpan said.
Member of aviation industry think tank group, Aviation Round Table (ART) and chief executive of Centurion Securities, Group Capt John Ojikutu (retd) commended the Air Peace for successfully renewing its IOSA certification the third time.
Ojikutu stated that IOSA certification for airlines is similar to ICAO certification of member states that have sufficiently complied with the international best standards in aviation safety and security or better still, maintained the standards for the Category One status of the US FAA.
“It means the operator’s safety and security standards meet those required for international operations which necessarily are higher than the national standards. With such certification, you can fly international, interline with other international airlines or go into alliance with them if you wish.
“Renewal of certification is similar to renewal of pilots licences to ensure currency or assure that the standards are maintained. Such certifications are subject to periodic audits like those of ICAO audits too on the international safety and security standards.
“It may not be a requirement in the West Africa sub-region, but most countries make it compulsory for reciprocity airlines that fly to their countries or for airlines that want interline or alliance with them,” Ojikutu added.
Also, the chief executive officer, Aglow Aviation Support Services, Tayo Ojuri, said what the renewal of Air Peace IOSA certification implies for the industry is that from the safety perspective, it gives assurance to the passengers and ensures there is a safety culture within the airline.
“The IOSA certification helps reduce the cost of insurance for the airline because when you see that there is a safety process and a conscious attention to safety, it reduces accidents and incidents. The reduction of accidents and incidents eventually reduces the insurance cost.
“For Air Peace, the certification shows that there is a culture and operational efficiency within the process, whereby the staff imbibes that process to ensure there is safety from the ramp, to the check-in counter, to the engineers,” Ojuri said.
He further explained that the certification shows that Air Peace is playing actively in the league of best international airlines.
“If there is a partnership opportunity for Air Peace and the foreign airlines or a code share, these are some of the things foreign airlines are going to consider. Apart from the revenue and the route, the safety is paramount,” he said.
The spokesman of NCAA, Sam Adurogboye told THISDAY that in order to help airlines improve on their safety standard, the regulatory agency adopted the IOSA certification as standard rating for them. IOSA, of course, would give them international rating standard on safety and enable them become IATA members. This will enhance interlining and other partnerships with international carriers.
Adurogboye explained that Nigeria had embraced the ICAO Standard and Recommended Practices (SARPS), which is a minimum standard for member nations. In addition to that, civil aviation authorities of member nations are allowed by ICAO to adopt other standards that could be higher than ICAO SARPS, hence the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) programme, which FAA use to oversight other country’s safety standard. So countries, which airlines wish to operate to the US must be IASA certified.
“Nigeria has adopted IASA, which enables Nigerian airlines to fly to the US. NCAA also has NICASA-International Civil Aviation Safety Assessment. We conduct audit too. If an airline of a country wants to operate into Nigeria, NCAA will go and assess that country. It is in that spirit that we adopted IOSA.
“When Nigeria designated the initial five airlines to operate to the UK and the US, NCAA paid N10 million on behalf of these airlines to IATA so that the later would conduct gap analysis, which is the first level of IOSA, for the airlines. That was about 2010 and I think two airlines passed the audit. So for you to be recognised at the global level you must pass IOSA. You cannot have alliance with other international carriers without scaling IOSA certification,” Adurogboye said.
However, Adurogboye observed that now that Nigerian carriers have improved on their safety standards, the next hurdle they should cross is improvement on customer care. He said that it is poor customer care that makes international airlines unwilling to partner with Nigerian carriers, noting that foreign airlines would not want their customers to be stranded when airlines delay or cancel flights.
“Customer care of Nigerian airlines is very poor. This is the area they need to work hard on. They must learn how to keep to time. People at every level of business ensure that they don’t lose customers. You gain more if you treat them well. Let us continue to sensitise the airlines on this,” he said.
But THISDAY investigations indicated that there are myriads of other factors that give rise to delays and sometimes flight cancellations in Nigeria beyond the failures of domestic carriers.
For the airlines, their shortcomings are unrealistic scheduling, AOGs and administrative bottlenecks, but beyond the airlines, there are VIP movements, weather and constraints suffered due to inadequate and obsolete airport infrastructure in addition to total absence of some critical facilities at the airports.
Sustaining Safety Standard
Sustaining and improving on the safety standard attained by Air Peace is challenging in an environment where major aircraft maintenance is done overseas and critical training of technical personnel is also done overseas. Overseas aircraft and training cost humongous amount of money to the airlines and this is why there is the need that most of these things should be done locally.
This is why Nigerian airline operators welcome the effort being made by Aero Contractors to sustain and expand its Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility to conduct checks on all operating aircraft in Nigeria.
The CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, who commended Air Peace for the feat it achieved in the area of safety, said that what would save Nigerian airlines and enable them spend less on aircraft maintenance is if they conduct checks locally.
Sanusi said that Aero maintenance facility will significantly cut down the huge expenses airlines expend overseas on maintenance and that is why the company had continued to expand the maintenance scope.
“We just finished the first D-check on Boeing 737 Classic in Nigeria. We did the first C-check two years back and since then we have done many C-checks in the country. We have done for our own aircraft and for third party. Now, we have just done the first D-check in the country in the 737-500 and that is why you are seeing us increasing our fleet,” Sanusi said.
He said that Nigerian airlines should encourage maintenance organisations locally by patronising them and working together with them and in that partnership cut down on the huge foreign exchange spent on overseas maintenance. Last year major local carriers conducted some of their checks at Aero facility. That synergy has given rise to a win-win situation and ensures that the airlines maintain high safety standard.