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Concerns over Nigeria’s aviation audit performance amid safety breaches

Concerns over Nigeria’s aviation audit performance amid safety breaches

As Nigeria gears up for the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) safety audit, there are concerns about the performance ratings of the country in view of recent safety and security breaches around its airports, especially the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.

The ICAO carries out aviation safety and security oversight capacities of its 193 member states, which include Nigeria, every three to four years.

These audits are carried out under the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP).

In the audit, ICAO assesses the effective implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight system, conducts a systematic and objective review of compliance with the provisions of national regulations, implementation of ICAO Standard and Recommended Practices (SARPS) and procedures, as well as aviation safety best practices.

Aviation stakeholders have expressed concerns that the recent theft of airfield lighting units at the MMIA, the recent downgrade of the Port Harcourt International airport fire category over non-functional fire service, the downgrade of the approach lighting capability, contaminated aviation fuel and frequent incursions at the airport, may give the country a poor ICAO rating and this may impact the country’s aviation sector.

ICAO will carry out the audit in August 2023 and will present the results of its findings to the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). The result may determine foreign airlines’ assessment of the country’s airports and increase in insurance premiums by aircraft lessors and rentals for airlines and operators.

“I have concerns about the performance of Nigeria in this year’s ICAO audit. The issue of airport incursions has been with us for many years and ICAO has it in its 2006, 2008, 2012 reports, etc including reports that we need security fences which up to date, we have failed to implement.

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“I have been wondering how in spite of the incessant incursions, stowaway and now stealing of the runways lightning, the airports would have to be certified by the NCAA,” John Ojikutu, security expert and former military commandant at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, said.

Ojikutu said these security breaches were already in the ICAO checklists and wondered how NCAA would defend itself.

He said the implications of poor performance in ICAO’s audit are that the category of the airports will be downgraded and this will be passed on to International Air Transport Association (IATA) for its members and this could cause an increase in their insurance premiums and therefore further increases in airfares.

“There is very little to do now; NCAA needs to audit itself. It requires skilled manpower in sufficient numbers which for many years is lacking in every department of the authority and this makes oversight and enforcement of regulations on operators very ineffective.

“Before this gets done, the NCAA can revert to the subjects of oversights and retired skills to get valued manpower for its services and that is what the US Federal Aviation Administration does to retain its status over the ICAO audits internationally,” Ojikutu said.

Olumide Ohunayo, industry analyst and director of research, Zenith Travels, said recently there have been safety issues across airports, some of which include aviation fuel contamination, downgrading of airport fire category in Port Harcourt airport and approach lighting capability among others.

Ohunayo said while the Port Harcourt airport downgrade impacted the international airlines that they had to divert flights, for other incidences, precautions were taken thereafter.

“Max Air aircraft were grounded for contaminated fuel and for the runway light, an alternate runway was made available. The impact of these will be directly on the cost of aircraft insurance and the cost of rentals for airlines and operators. It will also affect our reliability and credibility to sustain critical aviation safety infrastructure. We have expended so much on safety and security, only to have some of these issues,” he explained.

For the ICAO audit, he said ICAO may identify these gaps and give NCAA some time to fix them.

“What I see is that ICAO will look at the gaps and give us some period to fix those gaps and if we can fix those gaps, then we will be home and dry with the audit. What NCAA should do is corrective measures. Exporters from the oil industry will need to join NCAA in auditing fuel being supplied to airlines,” Ohunayo added.

The NCAA has, however, assured that the scheduled audit of Lagos and Abuja airports, by ICAO would go on as planned despite challenges in Lagos.

Musa Nuhu, the director-general of NCAA, said though the theft of approach lighting units at Lagos airport was embarrassing, the impact would be minimal on the entire audit.

Nuhu said the airlines, fuel marketers, and suppliers have been summoned to a meeting over the incident of contaminated aviation fuel and other issues that led to the suspension of all B737s in the fleet of Max Air. He assured that other security bridges would be addressed.

Ibrahim Mshelia, the owner of West Link Airlines Nigeria and Mish Aviation Flying School, said theft does mean the airport is not secure, ´because it is an insider job.´

“I don’t envisage us not passing. Old but functional structures pass tests. The grading system for safety audits does not hover around poshness but functionality. I envisage that on the days they will be here, everything will work and they will not have a reason to snag us overall. ICAO is not as hard as we see things here. Work in progress is also acceptable. What we make noise over is not necessarily important to safety.

“I believe NCAA will pass the audit. Airport infrastructure failures are not a safety concern. Machines break down, the aeroplane itself breaks down,” he said.

He, however, advised NCAA to focus on the last audit and self-check themselves.

“We are stricter in Nigeria than necessary. So, it should be a smooth sail. NCAA has passed this several times and the people who passed before still exist and it’s a normal exam for NCAA, so they know what to do. No need to activate panic mode. Bad services offered safely will pass ICAO safety audits,” he added.