BusinessDay

Inside Zaria where Nigeria’s pilots, engineers are trained

The College’s calm atmosphere is inspiring and intellectually evocative; that anyone who sauntered into the school is seized by its aesthetic appeal. The structures are not sporadic but well planned so that they create certain indefinable aesthetics that could be a rarity when compared with similar aviation training colleges elsewhere.

The Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, continues to be the bedrock of aviation development in Nigeria. It is the provenance of every aviator who made a significant impact in air transport in Nigeria. Recently, Hadi Sirika, minister of aviation, recalled with nostalgia his days in the College when he beheld the hostel room he stayed as a student in the school.

The College has moulded great minds who left the shores of Nigeria to play at the global stage of aviation and other sectors, as pilots, engineers, consultants, instructors and advisors.

No doubt, being a pilot is one of the most admired professions all over the world, yet the most safety inclined job, as pilots fly an average of 75 hours per month and work an additional 150 hours per month. Daily, the lives of thousands of people are in their hands.

As a result, a lot of efforts are put into training and retraining pilots before they are certified to fly a plane.

This is also why Nigeria has continued to invest in its aviation training institution, NCAT, Zaria, which is also the foremost in Africa.

A glance into the college

Set up in 1964, NCAT Zaria, has continued to undergo a series of upgrades and development in line with international standards to ensure it consistently meets up with the responsibility of training pilots, air traffic controllers, aircraft maintenance engineers, aeronautical telecommunications engineers, cabin crew, flight dispatchers and several other aviation professionals.

NCAT as a comprehensive Approved Training Organization has six training schools co-located, which are Flying School (FS), Aircraft Maintenance Engineering (AME) School, Aeronautical Telecommunications Engineering (ATE) School, Air Traffic Services/Communications (ATS/Com.) School, Aviation Management School (AMS) and Airport Emergency Training School (AETS).

The institution has accreditations such as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Approved Training Organization (ATO), ICAO TRAINAIR Plus Regional Training Center of Excellence (RTCE), IATA Air Traffic Control (ATC), the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) to conduct academic programs, Non-Accredited Educator Member of Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) and Council Member of Association of African Aviation Training Organizations (AATO).

The College boasts of more than 50 years of experience in providing human resource development in the aviation industry in Africa and is well on its way to becoming a reputable global provider of aviation training. NCAT undertakes training programmes to meet both national and international requirements.

Read also: NGO seeks support to promote aviation sector in Africa

Training is also provided in non-aviation specific areas such as computer equipment maintenance and satellite communication principles.

Since its inception, NCAT has produced well over 20,000 professionals for the Aviation industry in Nigeria and beyond.

The College has so far acquired a 3D Visual Tower Simulator, B737 simulator, two BELL 206 Helicopters and a B737 Aircraft for Cabin Crew training. The school’s fleet consists of 14 single engine TAMPICO TB9, 5 single TRINIDAD TB20, 3 Twin engine Beech 58 and 1 TBM 850 aircraft for flight training and newly acquired Diamond training aircraft.

The capacity of the school is small and if they hope to put out more pilots and engineers, the capacity of the school has to be increased

Management courses

Aviation agencies and airlines bring their staff to the institution and they are put through new and refresher courses to help carry out their day to day managerial activities.

To study at the Aviation Management School, the trainees must have gotten to a certain level in their profession.

N5bn airport emergency training school

The newly built airport emergency school co-located inside NCAT was established in 2020 to enhance response of the emergency team in an airport and give them competence in their response in cases of emergency.

At the school, persons are trained on how to handle emergency cases, e.g. fire fighting.

The facility projects real life situations and is built in such a way that emergencies are handled in less than three minutes as this can be replicated in real life situations.

Although the school is yet to kick-off, BusinessDay’s checks show that when this facility commences operations, it will be the third in the world after the UK and Denmark and is in tandem with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards.

The training facility is built with the goal to help save lives and properties during emergencies. It is built in such a way that it ensures that until aircraft take off and land successfully, the emergency team must always be on ground 24-7. Inside the Airport Emergency Training school, there is a machine with various engines that handles over 23 emergency scenarios with the scenarios divided into three main parts which include internal, external and smoke scenarios.

A further division of the scenarios include fuel spillage, fire zones, fire extinguishing, flushing, wings, undercarriage, landing gear etc. When there is a fire incident, the emergency team ensures lives and properties are not lost. Some of the personnel that will be trained in the facility when it kicks off include police, military, anti-squad, air force amongst others.

The emergency training is expected to kick-off April 2022 after the access to the road is fixed and hydrants and overhead tanks are put in place.

Checks by BusinessDay show that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN) has about 1,000 staff that are waiting to get trained in the facility. The school takes a maximum of 20 students for a duration of time and it could cost an average of N1m to train each person.

At the school, there is an aircraft live-fire simulator for various aircraft types; water system, equipment room, power supply, UPS, control room, compressors, amongst others.

The school also recently installed a new Boeing 737 simulator and a fire fighting simulator and these projects will kick-start soon.

Flight maintenance department

In this department, there are various Diamond training aircraft, (DA 40 and DA 42) for aspiring pilots to train with.

The school has a sizable Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Hangar where aircraft are maintained. Just outside the hangar are training aircraft stationed for operations.

Costs/duration of pilot, engineer training

The cost of studying in the institution is subsidised by the government. Checks by BuisnessDay show that it costs an average engineer about N2 million to study in the institution for a period of two years. This cost covers feeding, accommodation and tuition fees. Outside the country, just the tuition fee for a year will cost over N4 million.

It costs about N8 million to train a pilot at NCAT whereas in some other countries, it costs about N20 million.

The official duration of time to train as a pilot is 94 weeks but this depends on some factors, some of which are the instructors and the weather. During Harmattan, students hardly train and this can delay the duration of time they study at the institution.

There’s room for development – Student engineer

Alaye Akpana, a student engineer studying AirFrame and Propulsion in the Aircraft Maintenance and Engineering Section of the school told BusinessDay that the school has a lot of fallow lands that could be developed into classes and facilities but he thinks there are still a lot of room for development.

“A lot of the lands are undeveloped. We have so much space but we are not using them for anything. The capacity of the school is small and if they hope to put out more pilots and engineers, the capacity of the school has to be increased. Everything aviation in Nigeria takes off from this school. The maintenance of the school is quite good,” Akpana said

Akpana, who is looking to maintain jet engines and propeller engines for both helicopters and commercial airlines when he graduates, said part of the challenge is that students trained outside Nigeria cannot work in Nigeria unless they get a certificate from NCAT.

“Originally, I have done aeronautical engineering as an undergraduate course and my masters in the UK. So, coming back to Nigeria to work in that sector, I realised that I have to get a licence from the NCAA to work in Nigeria. So, even after my course in the UK, I have to do the course again in Nigeria and this will take about two years. If not, I will only be allowed to work as a consultant.

“So, as a graduate who has not really had work experience in the sector, working as a consultant is not feasible because I do not have hands-on work experience in Nigeria.

“Because I wasn’t able to get employment in the UK before I graduated as a result of COVID-19 impact on the airlines, I had to come back to Nigeria to look for work. As an international student in the UK, you are not always considered first. They have very limited slots for international students and some other government policies made it difficult for me to work.

“I also like Nigeria as a place and the connection you get with the people. So, thinking about working long-term in Nigeria was a better option for me than working abroad,” he told BusinessDay.

COVID-19 delayed my graduation –Student pilot

Dangana Abdulrahnan Yakubu a student pilot at NCAT told BusinessDay that COVID-19 has delayed his graduation and made him stay in the school for four years.

Yakubu, who will be graduating in two weeks said his experience as a student in the institution has been very demanding.

“I have been here for four years because of COVID-19. Some of the courses are not easy and they expect excellent performance from us. We have to be on our toes at all times.

“We have to first train on a simulator before we are allowed to fly real training aircraft. When we use the simulators, it looks like a real life situation because everything you find in a real aircraft is simulated,” he explained.

Yakubu said when he graduates; he will be certified to fly small jet aircraft.

“I hope to work with the Presidential Fleet because I am patriotic and would like to fly the number one citizen of Nigeria,” he said.

He hinted that the school just acquired new aircraft and this will help boost training.

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