By John O Ojikutu
The process of the Certification of the Nigerian Airports is coming several years after many ICAO and USA FAA Safety and Security Audits of 2006 to 2016 and the classification and reclassification of the NCAA Regulations and oversight functions as Category 1 in 2010, 2016 and lately now 2017. Airport Certification is a requirement and compliant to the NCAR Part 12.6.4. It carries obligations on the operator to continuously maintain standards and competence in operation and ensuring availability of skilled manpower in sufficient number for the periodic maintenance of the facilities and the system.
Many stakeholders would probably be asking; what is the necessity for the certification when the industry was already classified Category 1? What many did not know however, is that, the classification of Nigeria as Category 1 was meant only for the NCAA Regulations and oversight competence, the way a University Academic Programs are rated or accredited by the Nigeria University Commission (NUC). Unfortunately, the NCAA is like a university that has been long accredited but has not been able to graduate a student. The NCAA, in spite of its Category One status classification in 2010 and even today in 2017 after its reclassification, has not been able to give certification to a single airport among the over 28 federal and state airports in the country.
With the deplorable states of the infrastructures at most of the airports for over 7 years after the first classification as Cat.1, there would be no justifiable certification for any Nigerian airport by the NCAA, if the facilities remain deficient, obsolete and many, without periodic maintenance programme and insurance to cover its operations and the users. The consequences of these inadequacies in many airports are the reasons for the current certification process so as to give confidence to airports users particularly the foreign and domestic airlines and other aircraft and aviation operators.
One evidence of non compliance to periodic maintenance standards that emphasised the need for airport certification was in 2010 when the runway at Abuja airport was first noticed to be giving way and the subsequent repairs that led to the closure of the airport early this year. The situation at Abuja gave cause to examine the states of the runways and other facilities at the other airports and their maintenance programmes.
The certification process for all primary airports that started early in the year with MMA and with the NAIA to follow after, is less than 50% concluded, because according to the media report, and quoting the MD FAAN, there are still over 100 open items to be closed at MMA alone. This new revelation cannot encouraging and one should not be surprised if inadequate skilled manpower, lack of periodic maintenance programme for safety facilities and insurance are among the open items. If the MD FAAN was quoted correctly, stakeholders should begin to worry about how the NCAA has been able to sustain its Category 1 in 7 years or better still, how it had successfully gotten through the ongoing FAA Audit.
The FAAN MD could be right that the airlines would stand to benefit from the Airport certification because “it would reduce their insurance premium especially when considered that insurance premium for Nigeria operators is among the highest in the world”. The insurance premium on some foreign airlines operating to Nigeria are also high and this explains why over the years, the cost of flight tickets at British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Delta Air, Lufthansa are much higher to Europe and USA from Lagos than from Accra. However what the MD did not tell the media is that as the airlines aircraft are insured, so also the airports are expected to be insured in accordance with the NCAR Part 18.11. The certification of the airports alone cannot guarantee the airlines reduced insurance for their operations if the airports they operate into do not have insurance premium.
Stakeholders would need to critically examine the Operators insurance obligations and liabilities as stated in the reversed version of the NCAR 2015. For instance, while Part 18 of the 2012 version gave the minimum or the specific cost for both airports and aircraft insurance, the 2015 version though, still gave the minimum cost for airline aircraft insurance premium, it was however silent on the cost of insurance for other aviation operators. (See Liability for Fixed Wing and Rotary Wing Aircraft listed in Part 18.11.10 NCAR/2015). For other aviation operators, the NCARs Part 18.11.10 provides that “the minimum insurance cover for aerodrome, aircraft navigation, meteorology services etc, shall from time to time be fixed by the Authority’. The list of these operators and aviation services providers which are mostly government agencies are listed in NCARs Part 18.11.11. Whatever informed the decision of the NCAA to have this type of provision that is skewed mainly for the benefit of government operators or safety services providers would need to be revisited so as to be fair to all the operators.
In spite of the NCAR provisions, the Nigerian experiences have always shown that the operators, whether government or private, are not known to be sufficiently in compliant with the insurance provisions and liabilities in the NCARs(2012 or 2015) or ensuring sufficient insurance cover for their operations in the events of any aircraft incident, serious incident or accidents. There are evidence supporting some reports at the NCAA that some airline operators have different timeline insurance premium cover for operating aircrafts in their fleet sometimes for few weeks ranging, from 2 to 4 weeks. This breach of the minimum requirement of the NCAR should be of serious concern and investigation for the NCAA and stakeholders need to show concerns too. The NCAA and discerning minds should be worried about airlines obtaining different insurance premium in breach of the minimum categorization and specification in the NCARs; the NCAA in particular should convince the public and other stakeholders why the government operators fail to comply with the insurance requirement for their operations in accordance with the NCARs?
Nigeria travelling public have had their share of the domestic airlines not complying with necessary provision of the NCARs as it affects compensation of victims of various accidents especially those that occurred outside the airport. Most victims of Sossoliso, ADC, Bellview, Dana, etc, are yet to be fully compensated many years after their accidents and the NCAA remained helpless in sanctioning the responsible airlines.
For government operators, the breaches of the NCARs insurance requirement have caused some embrassement to the government in the past. In 2009, the NCAA bank account was garnished by a court judgement and was forced to pay $6 million to Cargolux Airline whose aircraft was cleared to land on a closed runway by a NAMA Air Traffic Control Officer in 2005.
There had been several reported collisions within the Nigeria airports operating or aircraft maneuvering areas between airlines aircraft and ground handling vehicles; In July 2015, there was a ground collision between a taxying Emirate aircraft and a parked Hak aircraft at MMA; within the same month and at the same airport, there was another collision between a taxiing Arik aircraft and a parked Aero aircraft. In 2016, the despaired Abuja airport runway before it was repaired early 2017, caused damage to the nose wheel of an Emirate aircraft; this led to the airline suspending its subsequent flights that year to Abuja. All these fall within the coverage of various operators insurance schemes not excluding the airport operator’s insurance. The airport insurance therefore is major to the certification of its operation just as the airline aircraft insurance is a primary requirement for its operation. Insufficient insurance premium which the NCAA needed to have ab-initio oversight before airports and aircraft are put into operations are reasons behind all the breaches and unnecessary delays in the certifications.