From Demuren to Usman – A Decade of Aviation Regulation | Independent Newspapers Limited
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From Demuren to Usman – A Decade of Aviation Regulation

Posted: Oct 21, 2016 at 11:08 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The period under focus runs from 2006 to 2016.  Although the current Director-General of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Usman Murhtar, who assumed duties in October 2014 is still in his first tenure, this year marks a full decade from 2006 when Dr. Segun Demuren was appointed to run NCAA.

This ten-year history and analysis has become so cogent in the face of apparent amnesia that afflicts much of the comments, analyses and perspectives on civil aviation regulation and indeed on NCAA.

The present, they say, usually comes out of the past, while the future is a product of the present.  So, in a country like ours where there is either no history or there is amnesia about history; trend analysis, conclusions and projections are often flawed.  This is our predicament not only in the aviation sector but in virtually all aspects of our national life.  This unfortunate situation has been exacerbated by the removal of History from our school curriculum.  No wonder our children know nothing about the Nigerian Civil War, Lander Brothers, Mungo Park, Lord Lugard and 1914 amalgamation, let alone the great Empires of Benin, Oyo, Sokoto and IKanem Bornu or Nigeria’s great effort and sacrifice in the liberation of Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Apartheid South Africa.  This 10-year reflection on aviation regulation therefore, is an attempt to de-activate the present insipid analyses of various “Aviation Experts”, as well as provide historical facts and basis for genuine students of aviation studies with a view to engendering fair-minded incisive commentaries on aviation regulation trend in our country.

When Dr. Demuren was appointed by President Obasanjo in 2006, it was in an appropriate response to the fate of a bleeding nation whose aviation environment had been turned into literally, an Akeldama; the field of blood, where the trio of Bellview, Sosoliso and ADC airlines, between 2005 and 2006, killed over 340 Nigerians in the most fatal air crashes in the annals of our aviation history.

The crashes were no doubt the immediate incentive for Demuren’s appointment. But a peep into fifteen years before Demuren (2006-1991) will reveal incredible decadence, impunity, arrogance of power, ignorance and declivity in a nation’s aviation history.  Milestones of this era, include, but not limited to the following:

Between 1991 and 1993, an Aircraft Leasing Company, International Aircraft Leasing Company (IALC), spent time and resources disparaging both the Nigerian Government and the aviation Industry at over 12 International conferences for failure to cause Barnax Airline to return 3 aircraft leased from it.  The leasing company had mischievously leased 3 Boeing 737-200 aircraft that were due for heavy maintenance checks only 3 months away to a Nigerian Generator Merchant, owner of Barnax Airline, who neither had an iota of knowledge of aircraft nor sought the assistance of aircraft engineers.  He thus could not operate.  Angered by this, he grounded the aircraft in Port Harcourt Airport and prevented the Leasing Company from repossessing them.  IACL in its three years of campaign of calumny, devastatingly damaged Nigeria’s image.  Capt. Joji, then Nigeria Airways Managing Director, engaged the company in a war of words in a Cairo Conference in 1992, and in 1993 I engaged them at Nick Fadugba’s conference in Nairobi.  But the damage had been done.  Nigeria had become a high risk country for leasing, and repossession insurance doubled.  Domestic airlines could no longer bear the cost of leasing healthy aircraft and so resorted to junks.  It took a law suit filed by Prince Tony Momoh, journalist and lawyer, now politician of the change mantra to enforce repossession of the 3 B737s.

Apart from Nigeria Airways, ADC, Belview, most other airlines – Okada, Albarka, Chanchangi, even Sosoliso and others resorted to BAC 1-11, Tupolev and Yakolev DC8, DC9, MD81 and MD82.  Nigeria became a grave yard for junk aircraft.  Such was the situation that Nsikak Eduok, Aviation Minister then, described Domestic airline aircraft as “flying coffins”.  And he was correct.

Although Demuren did not have a direct personal experience with many of these, he however knew that so much had gone amiss with the industry.  Armed with aeronautical engineering degrees from two of the world’s best Universities – Kiev in Ukraine and MIT in the US, his earlier working experience at FCAA as well as a strength of  character; on assumption of duty, Demuren set about addressing the critical challenges of regulation; a regulatory framework and appropriate manpower, both of which NCAA then did not have. Demuren produced the first regulatory framework document; the NCAA Act of 2006, for the regulation of the industry.

With the Act, Demuren began to build a strong foundation for the industry regulation.For the next four years, Demuren settled down to turnaround the sordid image and reputation of the industry. By 2009, FAA, ICAO and UK as well as European CAA have given up their reservations about the regulatory regime in Nigeria.Not until 2010-11 when NCAA, taking a cue from the US and European regulatory authorities, discovered that the two British Carriers – BA and Virgin, for many years before 2006, fleeced their Nigerian passengers with hidden charges before NCAA came up with Civil Aviation Regulations (CAR) Parts 18 and 19.  Though the two airlines admitted the malpractice, they refused to refund their Nigerian passengers the way they did their US and European passengers, arguing that they did not infringe any Nigerian law which unfortunately was true.

Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations Parts 18 and 19 of October, 2012 for Economic Regulations and Consumer Protection respectively, were the response to the lacuna which BA and Virgin exploited to retain the huge proceeds from illicit and unfair charges.

Dr. Harold Demuren left NCAA in the aftermath of DANA crash and after the National Assembly Public Hearing on the crash, not for any wrong doing or guilt.  He left unstained.Given where the industry was coming from, Demuren’s incredible success was such that it restored confidence to the travelling public.

Unfortunately, this positive state, unknown to Demuren, by 2011 had begun to breed complacency among some of his critical staff.  Old ways, they say, never die easily.  Some of these staff had managed to slip under Demuren’s internal supervisory radar as it were.  This became clear in the presentations made by both NAAPE and some other stakeholders during the NASS Public Hearing on DANA Air in June 2012.  One of the most convincing evidence was that following the appointment of the Obakpolor Technical Audit Committee by then Minister, Stella Odua, to carry out a comprehensive technical audit of all operating airlines, one of the operating airlines, fearing detection of infractions, immediately grounded operations and flew all its aircraft out of the country for maintenance, thus avoiding any audit.  It was this return to old ways of poor oversight, irresponsible waivers and illicit incentives which escalated between Demuren’s exit in 2012 to Usman’s assumption of duty in the last quarter of 2014 that will most likely account for the Associated Airline’s crash.

In fact, in one of the DANA Public Hearing Reports, it was stated, inter alia, that “stakeholders pointed out that the original zeal and commitment which drove the regulatory agency in the aftermath of the accidents of 2005/06 had waned drastically.  Allegations of favouritism, compromises, laxity and corruptions were leveled”.Apart from airlines, doubts about NCAA sustained regulatory ability were overwhelming among pilots, engineers and other stakeholders.

From the exit of Demuren in 2012 to date, NCAA has been run by two substantive DGs and two Acting DGs, whose mandate are not only inferior but also unknown in law, the NCAA Act of 2006. With Fola Akinkotu out, the then President approved the appointment of Capt. Murhtar Usman, who as at then was the Commissioner and CEO, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) as DG Designate for NCAA.  Usman came in with rich professional background of over 30 years covering portfolios which include Airline Pilot, Flight Safety Engineer, Flying Instructor, Air Safety Inspector and Aircraft Accident Investigator and Management.  With training and qualifications from prestigious Professional institutions in Miami (CPL/IR and FE), Oxford (FI), New York (ATPL), USC (AAI) and (AHI), Singapore (SOI) and Cranfield (AAI), one would have concluded with certainty that Usman more than met the minimum 10year professional qualifications stipulated in Part iii Section 3 of NCAA Act, 2006.But that was not the case.  The same industry and political spin doctors who chased Akinkotu were on the heels of Usman, who they disparaged as unqualified, weak and not knowledgeable.  This is in spite of the fact that as Commissioner for AIB, Usman acquitted himself with the investigations he carried out on the Belview, ADC and Sosoliso crashes as well as DANA and Associated Airlines.

The Reports of these investigations contain over 75 infractions and causes (Belview 36, ADC 8, Sosoliso 6 and the rest shared by FAAN, NCAA, DANA and Associated) that, put together, is a compendium of classic references for students of airworthiness and safety oversight, regulations studies and research as well as historians of our regulatory imago and developments.

Beyond paper qualifications and requisite experience, when Usman assumed duty in October, 2014 after an unnecessary 7 months  waiting period, he came with a knowledge and experience arising from the aforementioned culpable, albeit criminal infractions and fatal negligence; an experience which no NCAA DG before him, whether Engineers Haruna, Oyudo, Onyeyiri, Demuren or Akinkotun ever had.

Working with this experience, on assumption, Usman blocked all loopholes that allowed waivers and extensions of due maintenance, and pushed oversight, enforcement and compliance to great limits.

Since 2014, airlines, pilots, engineers and all other licenced professionals have come to realize that infractions and misdemeanors are no longer accepted as common place and the order of the industry; and as such will attract sanctions.  So far, as at June 2016, NCAA has raised over N60million from sanctions on defaulting airlines and professionals while some pilots have suffered suspension for one fault or the other.  Today, the safety and airworthiness levels are by far beyond the average global standards, such that air passengers in Nigeria can fly with confidence.

Further to this, in the last two years, NCAA has aligned Nigeria’s State Safety Programme with ICAO prescriptions.  NCAA has now extended its safety audit to aviation fuel vendors.  Since 2015, NCAA commenced the certification of airports beginning with Lagos and Abuja in accordance with ICAO specifications.

In response to some of the complaints made during the DANA Crash Public Hearing at the National Assembly, NCAA, in 2015 began the expansion and strengthening of Regional Offices in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Enugu with increased capacity in portfolios in Operation, Airworthiness and Licensing.   The objective is, apart from national coverage with concomitant quick response in emergency situations, the regulatory authority is now closer to airlines and operators can now process their requirements without needing to run to the headquarters in Lagos with its associated huge cost.

Also safety audit of airlines to ensure strict compliance with safety regulations has become a desideratum, thus heightening safety – oversight and surveillance.

Those who pin their analyses of a weak NCAA on nostalgic perceptions are irredeemably contradicted by the complaints of operators that NCAA regulations, enforcement and compliance demands are too stringent and hurting the economics of operation.  They are therefore asking for a relaxation in the areas of consumer rights protection, reduction of 50hours pre-certification test flight time, and Pilot simulator training  from twice annually to once.

In 2015, NCAA reviewed its Civil Aviation Regulations in its entirety Parts 1 – 17 of 2009 and Parts 18 and 19 of October, 2012.  Each Part is now a separate document for easy reference and application.

The present rising Profile of NCAA has now been affirmed between March 2015 and March 2016 by four global institutions; American Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) which carried out Audit of MMIA and NAIA, Lagos and Abuja, next was the ICAO Security Audit in 2015 in which Nigeria scored 96.45%. This was followed by European Union Security Scrutiny of Nigeria’s aviation security system.  Capping these international affirmations is the ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) concluded by the global industry regulator – ICAO, in which along with FAAN acquitted Nigeria as ICAO put the country in the excellent score range.  This success came as a disappointment to those who desired and had concluded that Nigeria would fail the Audit so as to present a “Quod Erat Demonstrandum” (QED) for their avowal of a weak DG and NCAA.

Today, NCAA has four ICAO certified Safety Auditors which the global body uses as resource to carry out audits of other countries.

If all these are not enough to convince doubting stakeholders about our high regulatory profile, what about the unanimous election of Nigeria into ICAO Council for the next 3 years in the just-concluded Annual General Assembly in Montreal in October 2016?  Could this have been done if our NCAA was weak and our regulatory competence decline?

In the area of Consumer Protection, in the last two years, the Directorate has done a great job enforcing the rules even in the face of intimidation, physical and verbal assaults of its officers.  As at August, 2016 NCAA has resolved over 8000 complaints.

Most unfortunately, the focus on the NCAA DG has detracted from acknowledging the successes in the last two years of his administration.  More importantly, it has failed to recognize the numerous staff of NCAA, from Directors to General Managers, DGMs, AGMs, Managers and various Unit Heads in all Directorates that contribute, with passion and commitment, to steady upliftment of NCAA profile, in spite of the obvious challenges of limited training opportunities and welfare arising mainly from paucity of funds and new government policies.  We should acknowledge these professionals as well as the milestones NCAA has recorded in the past two years.  This will enable us address the teething challenges of NCAA in the area of constant capacity building through funding, training and exposure as well as encouraging the regulatory regime to balance safety and technical regulations with economic regulation to ensure survival of the industry.

Chris Aligbe, an Aviation Consultant wrote this piece.