Despite the fact that Nigeria passed the International Civil Aviation Organisation Universal Safety Audit Program Continuous Monitoring Approach, industry experts posit that the country ought to scored more than 70 per cent in all areas, considering its past achievements and high safety records, writes Chinedu Eze
It was a mixed grill among industry stakeholders on Monday this week, when the summary of the report of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Universal Safety Audit Program Continuous Monitoring Approach (USOAP)- CMA was made public.
Curious industry observers literally burrowed through the report and fastidiously scrutinised every information contained in the report.
The summary was that Nigeria scored 70 per cent overall in the audit, which lasted for 12 days, as the ICAO team rigorously examined all the critical areas important for air safety in the country.
The objective of ICAO Universal Safety Audit Program Continuous Monitoring Approach (USOAP) is to promote global aviation safety by enhancing contracting states’ safety oversight capabilities, through continuous monitoring of states’ safety performances in order to identify safety deficiencies, assess associated safety risks, implement strategies for their mitigation and re-evaluate states’ safety oversight capabilities achieved.
Nigeria as member state passed its ICAO audit in 2006 and since then has continued to do well in keeping with ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS).
The audit that ended on September 11, 2023 involved the inspection, monitoring, review of the regulatory standards that guide the activities of the critical aviation agencies in line with ICAO recommended standards and practices.
The 70 per cent score is 3 per cent higher than the last audit, which was carried out in 2016 where the nation scored 67.1 per cent, a good development following the nation’s safety compliance.
The audit focused on Nigeria’s capability in providing safety oversight by assessing whether the State has implemented the critical elements (CEs) of a safety oversight system effectively and consistently. There are eight critical elements which include primary aviation legislation, specific operating regulations, state civil aviation system and safety oversight functions, technical personnel qualification and training, technical guidance, tools, and the provision of safety critical information, licencing, certification, authorization and approval obligations, surveillance obligations and resolution of safety concerns.
ICAO also emphasises on the importance of safety risk management, safety management system obligations, accident and incident investigation, hazard identification and risk assessment and management of safety risks.
The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) who represents the Nigerian state is the focus of the audit. According to ICAO, the audit enables the state to ensure the implementation of ICAO’s safety-related Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and associated procedures and guidance material and also provides ICAO with a means to monitor continuously the States’ fulfillment of their safety oversight obligations.
Breakdowns of some of the audit reports shows the CAA in Legislation scored 90 pr cent, a reduction from the 95 per cent it scored in the last audit while it scored 83 per cent in Organisation compared to its 100 per cent score last time around.
Personnel Licencing NCAA scored 84 per cent while it scored 62 per cent in operations compared to its last score of 57 per cent.
For Airworthiness, the NCAA scored 94 per cent compared to its previous 90 per cent in the last audit while the audit for Accident Investigation got 89 per cent, five points up from its previous 84 per cent score.
In the area of Aerodrome and Ground Aids the country scored 56 per cent while for Air Navigation Services it scored 44 per cent.
The audit final report was produced by the Safety and Air Navigation Oversight Audit Section (OAS) after reviewing and incorporating Nigeria comments to the draft audit report; it submitted to Chief, OAS and Deputy Director, Monitoring and Oversight (MO), for approval; sent to Nigeria according to the timeline defined in the Memorandum of Understanding; and published on the USOAP CMA Online Framework (OLF).
Although the score was good, industry insiders said that Nigeria could do better, as ICAO listed State Corrective Action Plans (CAPs). It advised that upon receipt of draft report, State may start to prepare the Corrective Action Plans, but to upload them onto the OLF (Online Framework only after receipt of final report.
“All points of findings are addressed, including associated implementation; CAPs include sufficient details to enable effective resolution of findings.
ICAO also stated that Appropriate Action Office is identified in the CAPs; and
Realistic Estimated Date of Implementation is provided for all actions (short-, medium- and long-term).
In other words, the gaps found in the audit ought to be corrected by the state (NCAA) and those gaps have been identified and realistic time for the implementation of the gaps provided in the short term, medium term and long term, creating enough time NCAA to fully close the gaps.
Many industry stakeholders are not happy that Nigeria scored 44 per cent in Air Navigation Services, which it scored 49 per cent in the last audit; 56 per cent in Aerodrome and Ground Aids, although it scored 48 per cent in the last audit and also in Operations where it scored 62 per cent, which is an improvement from 51 per cent it scored in the last audit. Many industry experts say that in aviation standards these are low marks; so, Nigeria has to do everything possible to improve in those areas as quickly as possible.
Overall, industry experts posit that in some areas like the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) procedures are not good, the agency’s operations lack adequate technical personnel and in the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, the airports are not certified. FAAN could not sustain the progress it made, which led to the certification of the Abuja and Lagos airports in 2017.
The Managing Director and CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, told THISDAY that overall the result of the audit was good, but it should not be described as wonderful because Nigeria could do more than that and has the capacity to do more than that. He noted that Nigeria had guided some countries in Africa in preparation of ICAO audit and one of those countries scored 80 per cent, which is more than what Nigeria scored, which he said it is a situation where the student scored more than the teacher.
Sanusi noted that NCAA is focused on many things and there is a lot of distraction in the process because its autonomy has been eroded. He said although the result of the audit showed high scores in some areas because it also has low scores and it is said that a chain is as strong as its weakest link.
“This does not really call for celebration but to go back to the drawing board and work hard to correct the areas where we scored low and if I were the one in charge of NCAA, I will ask ICAO to come and do spot audit for me after 12 months; even if it means paying for it,” he said.
Sanusi like many industry stakeholders lament the erosion of the autonomy of NCAA by the Ministry of Aviation. They recalled that after the exit of Dr Harold Demuren, as the Director General of NCAA, the authority might have lost a degree of its autonomy to the Ministry of Aviation. But the Minister, Festus Keyamo, told the media recently that he would guarantee the autonomy of NCAA in the area of safety regulation, as guaranteed in the 2022 Civil Aviation Act.
On August 22, 2010 the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that Nigeria had achieved a Category 1 rating under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) programme, which means that Nigeria complied with international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Sanusi recalled, “We started the journey of making NCAA autonomous during Dr Demuren’s days. For Nigeria to secure the Category 1 safety status, the then President, the late Musa Yar’adua had to write a letter to President George Bush, then President of the United States and assured him that the government of Nigeria would grant NCAA full autonomy. But today that autonomy has diminished. But the Ministry should be happy to have a delineation between political and professional decisions in guiding the aviation industry. NCAA will guarantee professional decisions, while the Ministry is expected to make policies that will enhance the development of the aviation industry,” Sanusi said.
He compared NCAA to the Central Bank of Nigeria and said that while CBN has the autonomy to regulate the banking sector, NCAA is not given the full autonomy to regulate the aviation sector which has graver consequences if things go wrong because if there is a crash people will die but if a bank goes under it will indirectly affect human lives in the long term, but there is the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), which can guarantee customers deposits, but air crash victims don’t have guarantees.
“NCAA is not autonomous when you have a situation in the past where a Minister will authorize the closure of airports and the National Assembly will direct that Air Operator Certificate (AOC) should not be given to an airline. If such system should persist, then NCAA should be returned to the Ministry. NCAA was removed from the Ministry because it is expected to be autonomous,” he said.
Industry stakeholders have alleged that NCAA is not doing enough training and that recently it was alleged that workers were recruited by the Ministry and imposed on the agencies by the past administration. While some of those recruited were seasoned aviators, there were tyros who did not have the requisite qualifications and needed experience to work in the aviation industry.
Before the current Director General of NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu was appointed, some NCAA officials had accused the management then of now allowing overseas training of personnel. The policy may have changed by Nuhu, as NCAA personnel resumed their overseas training, but industry insiders said that was not enough because NCAA still lacked technical personnel in adequate number in some areas.
“NCAA is not like a parastatal like NAMA and FAAN which deploy funds on equipment and facilities. The capital-intensive project NCAA embarks on is training of personnel. It should concentrate on training of personnel. The current situation whereby it recruits retired personnel who have a lot of experience is not enough. Without putting down anybody, somebody who is retired has already given out his best. NCAA can go to higher institutions and get first class graduates and train them so that they will grow in the agency and give their best to the agency from their youthful days to their maturity when they will have invaluable wealth of experience. The idea of sourcing personnel from the same market where airlines recruit their personnel is not good enough,” Sanusi said.
So, while Nigeria should be relieved that it passed the audit, it must do more to get to high reckoning as the country has attained a good reputation in air safety in Africa.