• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Extension of airlines’ expired operating certificates raises concerns

Nigeria tops list of foreign airlines’ debtors – IATA

Stakeholders in the aviation sector have raised concerns over the extensions given to airlines on their expired Air Operating Certificates (AOCs) instead of renewal or refusal.

BusinessDay gathered that some of the airlines have met the basic safety requirements for the renewal of their AOCs.

AOCs are certificates that allow operators to operate. Airlines in Nigeria renew their AOCs every two years.

BusinessDay’s investigation revealed that since last year, it has been very difficult for airlines to get their AOCs renewed as the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) have either denied them AOCs or extended their AOCs.

It was learnt that about five airlines have not been able to renew their air certificates but have continued to get extensions on their licences from the NCAA.

An operator who craved anonymity told BusinessDay that “it is only in Nigeria that AOCs are extended, as other countries either deny airlines AOCs if they are not able to meet up with basic safety requirements or issue AOC to airlines that meet basic safety demands as required by the International Civil Aviation Organization”.

According to the operator, extensions are only given on other aspects of operations such as medicals but not on AOC, which is key to safety.

He said to get an AOC renewed, an airline must go through stages such as presentation of staff in management positions; provision of manuals, procedures, and aircraft maintenance certificates; and get security approvals, among others.

He said: “The DG of NCAA can reissue the document and allow the other process to continue internally as was done by a former DG, Dumeren, under whom the whole AOC process began. I never heard of extensions under Demuren. He would reissue even before the date lapses. Airlines continue with a brand new certificate forwarded with a letter of warning to complete other requirements, which they always rob safety powder to make it look critical but are usually not.

“It’s a game where some of us feel it’s just to keep the airlines desperate and extort money accordingly. There is really no big deal to what they keep as a big deal here. Once aircraft are fit to fly and crew and other dispatch staff are properly trained and current, the safety envelope is closed. There are desirables that may not be cleared, but then airlines can be given up to 90 days to correct.”

Read also: Mixed fortunes as foreign airlines expand Nigerian footprint

Musa Nuhu, director-general of NCAA, confirmed that airlines had been getting extensions on AOCs.

He said: “The most duration airlines have been given for extension is 90 days, but usually, it is hardly more than 30 days.

“We do this thing so that the system will keep functioning. You can imagine if we are unable to complete the process either on the part of the airline or NCAA, we now ground one or two airlines, can you imagine the chaos that we will have in the industry?”

He explained that disruptions resulting from COVID-19 were not only applicable to flights but also several processes including regulatory functions due to government enforced shutdowns and or provision of skeletal essential services.

He said all these created significant backlogs.

“The global aviation is still in recovery mode. The extension of AOC after meeting some basic requirements (e.g. not having a level 1 finding) is a flexibility tool to ensure the aviation ecosystem keeps running while recovery to normal operation is ongoing. In addition, Nigeria finds itself in peculiar circumstances where domestic aviation has experienced significant growth in terms of new AOCs and airports, thus further exacerbating the backlog,” Nuhu said.

BusinessDay’s findings show Arik Air has got a three-month extension three times.

Another operator told BusinessDay on condition of anonymity that his airline had got a 90-day extension on his AOC.

A source in Arik also confirmed that the airline had tried renewing its AOCs for over six months despite fulfilling all safety requirements but kept getting AOC extensions from the NCAA.

Late last year, Baywood Ibe, chief executive officer of TAL Helicopters, said he had evidence to prove that a staff member of NCAA connived with NHV, a Danish operator, to ensure that his firm’s AOC was not renewed.

Ibe said at the time the renewal process commenced, the airline had met all the requirements.

But Nuhu denied any connivance with NHV, insisting that TAL did not meet the mandatory safety requirements necessary to get a renewal.