In a no-holds-barred interview, the former president of Aviation Round Table, Capt. Dele Ore disagrees with AON for calling for partial closure of Abuja Airport while repair work goes on, urges the federal government to use the closure of the airport to review the concessions given to foreign airlines, advocates for a strong aviation regulatory body that will not compromise standards
Excerpts by Ime Akpan
On partial closure of Abuja Airport as advocated by AON
You would recall that the Hydro Air Cargo accident at the Lagos Airport cost this nation a huge amount of money. The government at that time didn’t even allow the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) or the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) or any other agency to contest it. Some people made away with that money because insurance had already paid Hydro Cargo some amount of money.
That same mistake is to be repeated if we allow work on the same runway while aircraft will be landing on the half of it. In aviation, there is the take-off run that is going to lead you to decision speed, which states that if anything goes wrong, you can abandon the take-off. But if you are not able to stop on the runway, depending on your decision you have the stop way. That stop way must be long enough to stop the weight of that aircraft.
Besides that, in one side of Abuja, you have the hill. Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) got it wrong and they talked like non-professional and amateurs. We are not all stupid in this country.
Kaduna Airport is better than Kano and Minna. Kaduna has been tested and used. There are portable instrument landing systems which can be mobilised to the airport for usage during the period.
Kaduna is the best airport to divert for aircraft. The airport has improved its landing facilities. Kano airport would have been ideal because it has two runways. The airport is 1, 560 feet above sea level and it is very hot. Kaduna is 2, 000 feet but it’s not as hot as Kano. I was shocked to hear AON say the Abuja airport runway should be managed.
We have no choice than to support the government on the closure of the Abuja Airport runway. Abuja airport should be closed until it meets international standards and we must also hasten up for a second parallel or across runway at the airport.
Closure of Abuja Airport and fate of foreign airlines
Let the foreign airlines go. This is the only way you will appreciate why our own airline should not have been liquidated. Why can’t you encourage your own to step into the shoes of the foreign airlines? We should use the closure of the Abuja Airport to tell the foreign carriers “if you don’t go to Kaduna, come to Lagos and nowhere else.” This is the time for us to re-arrange our policies. We had so much money in the bilateral air services agreement (BASA) account; we used everything for airport remodelling. Today, what is the situation of those airports that we spent millions of dollars, the entire BASA fund on? The Act says BASA funds shall be administered by NCAA for the use of aviation development upon the recommendation and appropriation by the national assembly. But somebody got a no-objection approval to use it. The bulk of that money came from the royalty because of our inadequacy, because we could not reciprocate and those (foreign carriers) that flew into Nigeria were made to pay for the frequencies we could not reciprocate.
They have several entry points; they move unchallenged, unlimited. They have been enjoying it.
On airport security:
The Aviation Round Table (ART) has called for the review of the national security policy. We know all the airports are not fenced; even if they are fenced, security fences are not there. But nobody accepts that we have weaknesses as long as we present papers and they take them to one or two places. They don’t want to go to the jungle. How do you explain a situation in which cows have access to the runway and an aircraft runs into them? When we talk about airport, we must make peace with the people who own the land. I believe that they are making efforts on security. It’s gratifying that all the fuel tankers on the airport road in Lagos have been removed; they constituted security risk. But come here in the evening and see how unfriendly our airports are. As far as facilitation is concerned, we are still not up to the recommended standard. Why would an airline ask its passengers to report for boarding formalities three hours before the flight? And the types of equipment we have at the airport here, there are airports in the world that cannot boast of the kinds of equipment we have here. But do we have the personnel, do we have them all trained? No. I believe we have to do a lot about security; we have done enough but I believe we can still do better.
On NCAA leadership
The industry needs very strong regulatory authority. That aspect of aviation has been so weakened since Dr. Harold Demuren left. Akinkuotu came, but was not allowed to work before he was removed. What we see now is a weak regulation.
At a time, we reached 97 per cent in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) safety audit, but now we have 65 per cent. But let us remember that in this industry, the pass mark is 65 per cent in anything we do.
Demuren raised the standard so high, but it has been lowered gradually over the years. We are in the minimum requirement now and I made bold to say so. We need a stronger leadership in NCAA.
If someone comes and he’s performing as a professional, he should be allowed to stay and work. We need a stronger leadership in NCAA. There should be qualified persons at the helm of affairs in the agency while unqualified persons should be booted out.
Training has been stalled in NCAA. The weakest link of this industry is licensing. I believe we need to do something about it. A weak director general is the one that will allow anything to go in the licensing department. When a director general does not sit in Lagos and Nigeria, how can he plan for his succession? How can he perform? I know what Dr. Demuren put in place in the areas of personnel licensing, airworthiness, licensing of aircraft, and issuance of AOCs to airlines before he left. I believe that the standard has been lowered now. A system that allows people who are not qualified to get AOC is a rotten system. Nobody could have done that under Demuren.
On the Nigerian civil aviation policy
The government should look into our civil aviation policy, which is too much in favour of foreigners. Multiple entries for foreign carriers are not the best for our industry. I believe we can use the current situation of the Abuja runway closure to revisit our civil aviation policy. We can’t have a hub without a dominant flag carrier that can go to everywhere within the sub-region and other places. There must be something to propel others to come to Lagos.