First Nation goes ‘charter’ over sole plane usage

  • Airline to begin scheduled services in October
  • US team begins audit, NCAA upbeat
Following maintenance of its airplane, First Nation Airways would for now conduct charter airline services until October when it plans to recommence scheduled flight services.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) regulations stipulate usage of at least two aircraft for airlines. The regulatory can then give a waiver if one of the operator’s airplanes goes for checks or maintenance.
The NCAA would only give six months to operate sole airplane by scaling down the carrier’s schedules but restore it once the other airplane arrives.
In the case of First Nation, the six months grace elapsed last month, forcing the regulation to be applied to return the airline to online charter operations until it brings back the airplane that had gone out for checks.
Director-General of NCAA, Capt. Usman Muhtar made the disclosure to reporters when officials of the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) came to the NCAA’s office to commence the audit of Nigeria’s aviation industry which could lead to Nigeria retaining its Aviation Category One status that was first awarded to the country in 2010 and retained in 2014.
Muhtar explained that the airline had downscale its operations from schedule operator to non-schedule, saying that the status would remain so until it improved its aircraft fleet to at least two and would have to meet the requirements for schedule services.
On the total N33.5 million sanctions imposed on the airline some few months ago for safety negligence, Usman noted that the authority would work with the 
airline to ensure the penalty was paid.
He, however, said that the essence of sanctioning any operator or organisation was not punitive, but to serve as a corrective measure to prevent recurrence.
He said: “Yes, they use one aircraft and they were on schedule services, but the present status now is that the certificate of the airworthiness of the status has been changed to non-schedule service, which is charter service. So, they are no longer into schedule service until they are able to meet the requirement for scheduled service.
“I will still reconfirm to you that whatever sanction we impose on any operator it’s in-line with Civil Regulation and it’s not punitive, but corrective. First Nation was sanctioned, they appealed, the appeal, which was upheld. So, we are still working with them to pay the sanction. We don’t want to cripple any operations. If it is safety related, we will not waste time, but the payment is being worked out now.”
On the visit of the FAA team, Usman expressed optimism that the country would once again scale the hurdle, stressing that the regulatory agency was prepared to retain the Category One Status it attained in 2010.
He recalled that Nigeria attained the new status in 2010 and retained it in 2014 after a comprehensive audit of the industry.
He explained that the FAA team would focus its audit on Personnel Licensing, International Operations and Airworthiness, which he assured that the agency was fully prepared for.
He stressed that the FAA team would be in the country for the next five days after which they would make their observations known through a report that would be sent to the authority after the exercise.
He said, “NCAA has done a lot in the areas that we are expected to cover and not only for this audit, in our statutory responsibilities; safety, aviation security and also regulations. We have the new civil aviation bill, which is on its way to the National Assembly.
“The bill is to enhance the current Act of 2006 and it’s supposed to be in line with the new annexes of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Convention. We also amended our regulation, which is 2015 Civil Aviation Regulation”.
Re-organisation has also been going on to make sure the organisation continues to discharge its responsibilities as it should be, which is to be in line with ICAO. We want to continue to attract and retain qualified personnel in the industry in sufficient numbers to make sure we carry out the safety as required by ICAO.
“In the area of enforcement and compliance, we have done a lot. We make sure that our regulations, which are mainly safety, are enforced. Our sanctions are not supposed to be punitive, but corrective. We have been sanctioning where we need to sanction in order to correct and instil safety in the system and even security. We thank God in the last two years we never had any major accident. There is zero tolerance in accident at NCAA.”
The FAA team is led by Mr. Louis Avrez, International Technical Support, William Amoz, Aviation Safety Inspector, Benjamin Garrido, Frontline Manager, Airworthiness and L.P. Vanstory Ill, International Affairs.   
Wole Shadare