Nigeria to get tough on unsafe aviation authorities

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Minister orders radical overhaul of aviation agencies

Nigeria is in the throes of a major overhaul of its aviation governance system after a year in which the country saw two of its airlines involved in major fatal accidents on home territory. Meanwhile, African Civil Aviation Commission president Tshepo Pheege has railed publicly against African airlines operating “flying coffins”, commenting that air travellers “do not wish to fly out a passenger and come back as cargo”.

Nigeria’s minister of aviation Professor Babalola Borishade has ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate some officials at the aviation ministry, and at all the government’s aviation agencies. These include the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, and others including the meteorological agency, Nigerian Aviation Handling and even the Accidents Investigation and Prevention Bureau (AIPB).

In separate moves also affecting the Ministry of Aviation and potentially all the aviation agencies, the Senate Standing Committee on Aviation (SSCA) is looking into the way the 22 October 2005 Bellview Airlines Boeing 737-200 crash is being investigated by the AIPB. There is an issue about whether the SSCA can compel the AIPB to release documents from – or to testify about – an accident investigation it is conducting, says Nick Fadugba, the chief executive of UK-based African Aviation Services.

Fadugba points out that there are moves pending to put Nigerian aviation regulation on a sounder footing, one of which is to de-politicise the NCAA by making it an agency with some operating autonomy. In December, the former chief of Lagos-based Afrijet Airlines Harold Demuren was persuaded to take over as director general of the NCAA, having turned it down once. Demuren is a long-standing member of the US-based Flight Safety Foundation’s international advisory committee.

In November Nigeria is to be one of the first states to submit to the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s expanded universal safety oversight audit (USOAP) procedure, and checks of the NCAA’s resources, powers and safety oversight competence will be central to this process.

It will be the second time Nigeria has faced the USOAP, but the expanded mandate authorises the ICAO to publish the full audit results to all the world’s transport ministries.

DAVID LEARMOUNT / LONDON