Nigeria's reformed, autonomous civil aviation authority (NCAA) has suspended the operating licences of at least 15 carriers in the past 12 months, according to its director general Dr Harold Demuren, who was appointed a year ago to turn the country's dire aviation safety record around.

Demuren has also closed one of the country's major airports - Port Harcourt - for total resurfacing, refencing and an upgrade of its air navigation and crash/rescue services. This airport is the main aviation hub for Nigeria's considerable oil industry, so the decision to close it until work is completed - estimated for April or May this year - is an indication of Nigeria's determination to tighten up safety in its deregulated airline industry and the infrastructure that supports it.

Dramatic developments have taken place in Nigeria since last year's safety review criticised the country for its poor performance, including two major airline fatal accidents during 2005 and its inadequate airport and air traffic management standards.

ADC airline crash 
© Sunday Alamba/Empics   
If the renewed NCAA is supported in its work, this ADC Airlines accident may be the last Nigeria will suffer for some time

Nigeria suffered yet another fatal crash on 29 October 2006, involving an ADC Airlines Boeing 737-200, but on 22 November Demuren said "positive strides" have been made "in spite of these challenges [the ADC crash]: the President of Nigeria has signed the Civil Aviation Law that creates an autonomous CAA with full authority on safety oversight, and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations have been published. Finally the NCAA has successfully completed the ICAO safety audit." He says positive feedback has been received from the inspectors.

Demuren says some areas were identified in the audit as requiring more attention, and he is developing a "collective action plan" with the aviation ministry, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency and the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology. The intention is to meet all the ICAO requirements within six months. At the same time, says Demuren, the US Federal Aviation Administration has been supportive, visiting three times in the last year. He says he anticipates that the FAA will be able to designate Nigeria Category I under its international aviation safety assessment programme as early as February this year.

Demuren talks of this phase as being "a new dawn". The NCAA, formerly the Federal CAA, has theoretically been autonomous since 1999, but Demuren says political interference remained rife. He adds that when he was an aeronautical engineer working for the agency years ago he was fired for withdrawing a certificate of airworthiness from a particular aircraft. Now, he says, there is no political interference and the agency is allowed to do its job. Sosoliso Airlines, one of those that suffered a fatal crash in 2005, is among 15 that have had their air operator's certificates (AOC) removed. In addition to that, according to Demuren, there are many aircraft that have been refused renewals for their certificates of airworthiness.

A requirement now for all Nigerian airlines, says Demuren, is that they should undergo an International Air Transport Association Operational Safety Audit (IOSA). He describes the audit as being "voluntarily compulsory". If an airline does not have a current IOSA approval, it is wasting its time applying for the renewal of its operators' certificate. After the ADC Airlines Boeing 737-200 crash, a new aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, was appointed, and one of his actions was to order a recertification of the all country's carriers.

IOSA should be a condition for issuing AOCs all over Africa, according to John Morrison, chief executive of the Airline Association of Southern Africa (AASA). Morrison says IOSA - which by the end of 2008 will be a condition of IATA membership - is a major breakthrough in airline safety, but is not mandatory for the large number of non-IATA airlines mainly responsible for Africa's bad accident rating. At 9.2 hull losses per million departures, Africa's losses in 2005 were 12 times worse than the world average of 0.76.

A lack of financial and human resources and inexperienced technical personnel characterise safety oversight in many African countries, according to IATA. National CAAs now have two years to undertake and pass their ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP), such as the one Nigeria has just undergone. Those countries who fail face being listed on the web within the next 18 months.

Meanwhile IATA says 25 of its 29 member airlines in sub-Saharan Africa are in the IOSA process. To date, six sub-Saharan IATA member airlines have been audited, eight have signed an audit agreement, and 11 are selecting or signing an official independent auditor. Of these, Comair, Kenya Airways and South African Airways have completed audits and are on the IOSA register.

Globally, 97% of IATA's 261 members had been audited, contracted or were preparing for an audit, at the end of 2006, according to the association.

"Governments must invest in infrastructure, which is sorely lacking in many parts of the continent," says IATA director general Giovanni Bisignani. "Reputable airlines are having their images tarnished by fly-by-night operators that have made Africa's safety record the worst in the world. A responsible industry cannot tolerate even a few governments that don't take safety seriously."

IATA is investing $3 million in its Partnership for Safety programme to help carriers prepare for IOSA while encouraging governments to incorporate it into their safety oversight programmes.

Source: Flight International