Airport certification: Nigeria as Africa’s guinea pig


Nigeria is coasting home to bagging International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) airport certification. WOLE SHADARE x-rays the huge benefits airlines and service providers could get if the country scales this huge test


Die is cast

All is set for the certification of the Lagos, Abuja and two other aerodromes in Nigeria. These aerodromes particularly those in Lagos and Abuja are sure bet to pass the test for the first time since over 60 years of aviation in Nigeria.It is a sad commentary that with the enormous potential, the country did not consider it imperative before now to put facilities in place to ensure that it scaled the stiff ICAO test.To this end, President, ICAO Council, Dr. Olumuyiwa Bernard Aliu, was back in the country last week to begin assessment of the Lagos and Abuja airports to see if the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had closed all the necessary gaps.

Some of the things the apex aviation regulatory body would look at are the airports runway markings, quality of fire cover, safety and security of the airports.


Previous efforts

Efforts in the past yielded no result. Even the over N500 billion reportedly spent on remodelling of hurriedly done airport terminals many said was a sheer waste of money because the funds were wrongly applied to things that were not so beneficial to get us the rating.
In the face of that, a former Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, said the aviation regulatory body would not be stampeded into certifying airports that lack basic facilities.
Airport certification proves that you have met your states minimum requirements at the time of the regulator’s audit. Airports are requested to have Safety Management System (SMS) in place. The certification is not permanent as it can be withdrawn if they fall below the stipulated standards.
On May 24th, 2007, the City of Derry Airport became the first airport in the United Kingdom to have its certificate suspended. Consequently, the airport closed – causing loss of reputation and significant money.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA) did not believe the airport management had maintained an SMS, which kept pace with the airport’s development. As such, staff competency and infrastructure were deemed to be insufficient for the type of operations taking place at the airport.
Nigeria in particular and Africa in general need aviation for business and tourism. Safe airports are fundamental to achieving that business need.

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But how is that done?

To achieve the stage FAAN has gotten to, more money was budgeted for the exercise to meet the present challenges. Careful planning and execution of these projects are the panacea for more profit for airlines just that it would help the aerodromes to maintain high safety standards. With certification, not only does your airport become safer, it becomes more efficient and profitable. Staff morale has the tendency to increase due to enhancement of knowledge and competency.


ICAO certification process

The ICAO Manual for Certification of Aerodromes lists the bulleted steps for the certification of an airport. It also mandates the airport operator to prepare an aerodrome manual, which must contain details of the aerodrome site and its operating procedures for air traffic management and safety management, among other things. In addition to the documents to be submitted to the ICAO, assessors to be appointed by the ICAO must undertake physical inspections at the Lagos and Abuja airports.
Airport facilities to be inspected before certification is granted include, pavement conditions; safety area lighting; markings and signs; hazardous materials; traffic and wind indicators; ground vehicles and driver training; aircraft rescue and firefighting equipment. Others are bird and wildlife hazard prevention mechanisms; self-inspection procedures; airport condition assessments and reporting; the control of construction hazards; and emergency and snow removal plans.
The ICAO, NCAA and the FAAN agreed to work towards completing the steps required to obtain certification for the Lagos and Abuja airports by July 2017.In February 2017, inspectors from the NCAA and the ICAO visited the two airports to assess the facilities on ground. In March 2017, the NCAA announced that nine of its officials had qualified and been duly certified by the ICAO as training instructors, which is expected to boost the agency’s regulatory competence. In addition, the Abuja airport was closed in March 2017 for repairs and its runway has been upgraded to meet global safety standards.

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In summary, the ICAO certification essentially revolves around checks on infrastructure and regulatory procedures at the nominated airports, with a special focus on safety measures.
Speaking in Abuja at a seminar on Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) in Africa, ICAO President, Dr. Olumuyiwa Bernard Aliu disclosed that ICAO has put in place a project to support African states in the certification of aerodromes. He regretted that many airports in the continent are not certified.
His words, “Our regional offices are working on this. There is a specific project under our AFI Comprehensive Plan, to assist African states in the certification of aerodromes. Our office in Dakar, which is responsible for West and Central Africa region has picked a number of candidate airports under this project.
“Lagos and Abuja are one of those airports. So, as we expand our operations to assist, if the airports in Lagos and Abuja are certified, then, the lessons learnt from that process and the best practice established can assist the effort in other African countries in the certification of their aerodromes”.

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Last line

The responsibility of ensuring the success of this attempt to obtain ICAO certification for the Lagos and Abuja airports rests largely with the NCAA – which must coordinate FAAN and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and other stakeholders – in conjunction with the Ministry of Transportation. The benefits of ICAO certification are considerable – for example, it will help the government to achieve its aim of attracting investors into Nigeria by boosting the country’s aviation safety rating. It will undoubtedly help in this regard and may also attract other airlines to the country, thereby leading to sectoral growth – provided that other social, economic and political factors to enable this.


Wole Shadare