Political Interference May Cost Nigeria FAA Cat-1 Status – Experts

Sirika & Adigun

November 01, (NaijaOnPoint Media) – Aviation experts in the country have warned that if the political elite in Nigeria continues to interfere unnecessarily in the oversight functions of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority Authority (NCAA), the country may lose the United States Federal Aviation Administration (USFAA) Category 1 Status.

FAA Category One (Cat 1) certification enables direct flight connections between the US and other countries.

In recent time, the National Assembly has been at loggerheads with the NCAA over safety and technical issues.  First, there was the issue of issuance of Air Operator’s Certificate to an airline, although the lawmakers later changed their minds. The NCAA recently gave its approval to ground handling companies in the country to increase the new safety threshold handling rates after 36 years, with commencement dates slated for October 1, 2021 (for international) and January 1, 2022 (for local) operators, but the House Committee on Aviation directed it to stop the implementation forthwith.

Consequently, the handling companies have made an arrangement to embark on indefinite strike, beginning from Friday, November 5, 2021 to ensure the commencement of the new regime, as approved by NCAA about two months ago.

NaijaOnPoint Media gathered that, with the new rates, the handlers could charge between $1,500 and $5,000 (passenger and cargo flights) for narrow and wide body aircraft on international routes, respectively, while for domestic operators it was upped to N20,000 and N70,000, depending on the aircraft type.

With the approval, the ground handling companies in Nigeria: The Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Plc, Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) Plc, Precision Aviation Handling Company Limited (PAHCOL) and the Swissport Handling Company, were expected to charge the same handling rates as their counterparts in the sub-African countries.

In his reaction, the Director, Research, Zenith Travel, Olumide Ohunayo,  advised the National Assembly, to stop interfering with the decisions taken by the regulator of the industry.

According to Ohunayo, Nigerians cherish their achievements on the safety level, based on the prowess of the regulator and the ability to sustain it over the years and that has made them to retain all certifications – FAA and ICAO.

“We do not want these to be jeopardised or ridiculed by interference with the decisions taken by the regulator. This is never done and never accepted. The world is watching us. So we appeal to the House Committee on Aviation and Senate Committee to back off from the decisions taken by NCAA with respect to the industry,” he said.

Ohunayo warned that political interference would make Nigeria lose face in the comity of nations, principally with the regulator.

He advised that the government should allow the regulator to do its job without any form of interference from the House of Reps Committee and its counterpart in the Senate.

On the other hand, he advised the Aviation Ground Handling Association of Nigeria (AGHAN) to do what they need to do as every investor in a company always recover costs as well as make profits.

In his submission, the President of Sabre Network, West Africa and ART President, Dr Gabriel Olowo,  concurred that political interference, especially where it hinges on safety, should be condemned in very strong terms.  Aviation global frowns at such scenario.

On the increment, Olowo said, “It is absolutely justifiable, given global economic indexes on all factors of production that have increased astronomically, including severe currency fluctuations. Refusal by government not to allow the prices to be driven by market forces suggests that the operators may be enjoying all sorts of åsubsidies, waivers, etc. Just a speculation”.

To the Chief Executive Officer of Centurion Security Services, Group Captain John Ojikutu, what the NCAA did was the oversight right given to it by the provisions of the economic regulations in the Nig CARs Part 18 on all operators – government or private and allied services.

Ojikutu confirmed that the handling rates approved for ground handling companies are not different from similar provisions for the airlines fare tariff.

Explaining further, he said that political interference has been some form of obstacle to the progress of the sector and it has caused the defunct or the downfalls of most Nigerian airlines, including the Nigeria Airways.

He said that political actors in and out of government often ask for debt concessions or government intervention funds for private operators and sometimes government services providers where they have personal and individual interests.

“I think we need to advise the NASS members of the aviation committees to have copies of the CAA and Regulations, which they promulgated, read them to know where they have powers in them before they exercise those powers; can they promulgate a judicial law or Act and begin to exercise the executive powers in the law? They need to decide on which sides of the divides they want to be and move there; not a bird and rat at the same time,” Ojikutu said.

Also an aviator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told NaijaOnPoint Media that he was very concerned about what is going on at the moment.

“We went through the ministry, agencies and the national assembly in getting the regulation. We made it clear to them then that we should have an NCAA without political interference and this is very important. I think this issue can be resolved because this issue is not good for us as an industry and a nation”.

“Category One is the highest rating and if you down it, you can be relegated. This has happened to many countries because of cases like these in the past. You heard what Sen. Na’Allah said on one of the same issues, recently? He has spoken as a professional. I expect other members of his committee to follow suit.”

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