As the regulator of the aviation sector, whatever view the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu holds about the industry, is regarded as very important and becomes an authoritative reference point.
So when Nuhu gave overview of the sector in 2021 and his projections in 2022, a lot of stakeholders who read about what he said, wanted to tailor it with theirs or to out rightly discard their views and embrace his.
The Director General said he was surprised about the progress domestic airlines made after resuming flight operations in July 2020 after the COVID-19 lockdown. Although the industry was hit with paucity of equipment, as most of the aircraft on domestic airlines fleet were either due for C-check or they were at the maintenance facilities overseas. Nuhu noted that as a major challenge that is being overcome by the operators.
“I must say I am pleasantly surprised with the domestic aviation industry. We certainly have recovered from COVID-19 pandemic. Not that we have recovered from the COVID-19 level, we have passed thepre-COVID-19 level. If you see the airlines from Nigeria, they have been getting clients. Right now, I have about 10 to 12 aircraft on wet lease to fill in the gap of the demands of the system. So, the industry has done fairly well.
“The domestic industry is going in a fantabulous rate. We have given a lot of Air Operators’ Certificates (AOC) and we still have about 15 in the pipeline. We are working on it. We have airports propping up all over the place and a lot of maintenance organisations coming up. For us to achieve the growth we have now, we (agencies, ministries, stakeholders and the media) be doing something right that is building investors’ confidence in the system. The investors are willing to put their money in the system and grow the industry,” Nuhu said.
He expressed optimism that the industry would continue with that pace of progress.
“We will continue that way and hopefully, we want to get to a place where aviation plays very significant contributions to the GDP on a short and medium terms; at least five per cent. Also, the growth is a bit stretching the infrastructure. So, sometimes, clogs are created here and there because the system has been stretched,” he said.
The Director General also expressed fear that bad weather occasioned by the Harmattan haze may cause temporary setback and might give rise to flight delays and cancellations but urged the airlines that, no matter what happens, they must stick with the rules and abide strictly to safety regulations.
“Obviously, there is going to be delays and cancellations if the weather goes beyond safety limit, which is regulatory in nature, the airline is not to operate and if any airline operates illegally, even if it operates safely, but below the regulatory requirement, we are going to penalize it because that is risking the lives of the passengers.
“I am sure none of the airlines will do that because they know the risk involved. We are talking about lives of human beings; no matter how desperate I want to get to my destination, I need to be safe and be alive. We have spoken with the airlines and they have responded positively. The pilots are professionals. I am sure they will do the right thing,” he said.
On international travel, Nuhu said that despite the menace of COVIS-19 and the immediate threat of the new Omicron variant, a lot of progress has been made so far.
“On the international scene it is not too bad. We are recovering gradually and hopefully considering what happened in early 2020 when they came out with the issues we are having. We are hoping that we should exceed the pre-COVID-19 level of aviation travel. Generally, it has been hectic and stressful for us at NCAA, trying to cope with the demands everywhere, but we will keep doing what we are doing to ensure the system continues to operate safely, orderly and in organised manner,” he said.
However, he noted that globally, there is what he referred to as COVID-19 fatigue. He observed, “Ifyou go out, you see a lot of people not wearing their facemask, except at airports, airlines and other places where we keep educating people that COVID-19 is real and it’s growing into various variants. It is something we just have to consistently do and ensure compliance.”
Speaking about how to beef up manpower in NCAA in order to sustain and improve on the safety standard already attained, Nuhu said the authority would continue to work in order to have more inspectors in the agency.
“We are seeking approval to employ more technical staff, which we have to do. This is government, there are due administrative processes, which we must comply with and follow. Even, if you are doing the right thing, there are due processes you must follow. We are working on it and we are making a significant progress,” he said.
He said the agency had explained to concerned authorities the challenges and the difficulties they were facing. “We are facing some challenges and they too have been assisting us in a way through legislative action to help us resolve some of the challenges we are facing. We are a government organisation and we must comply with the public service rules in all we do,” Nuhu said.
He explained that in order to attract the right personnel to the agency, NCAA must be a competitive employer. “What that is saying is that the salaries we pay our workers must be competitive in the industry, here, we are a government organisation and the industry is privately run, so, you can understand how our hands are tied, but we try and see how we can work through within the confines of the laws to close that gap so that we can attract more personnel to come and work with us,” he added.