Issues that shaped aviation in Q1

The year started slowly for the aviation industry due to myriads of issues and seemingly unknown policy direction. However, the period witnessed some flurry of events, some palatable, others not too good, WOLE SHADARE writes
Bristow sets the pace with crashes
The crash of Bristow Sikorsky helicopter in the Atlantic Ocean, labour unrests, arrest of top officials of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), excruciating flight delays characterised activities in the aviation industry in the first quarter of 2016, signposting a very difficult beginning for the country’s aviation industry.
The sector in the New Year started slowly just like it did in the closing year.
The expectations were high going by the fact that the new administrators were expected to give the sector a positive direction compared to what happened previously.
The year started rather on a sad note following the crash of Bristow Helicopters’ chopper in the Atlantic Ocean. Fortunately for the nation, the eleven passengers onboard the Sikorsky Helicopter escaped death.
The controlled ditching occurred on February 3, 2016, less than months after another helicopter owned by the firm crashed into the Oworonshoki end of the Lagos lagoon.
Twelve people were onboard when the helicopter went down.
The incidents in quick succession raised the adrenalin of travellers, especially those in the oil and gas sector who use Bristow Helicopter’s services including the worried aviation public who viewed the two occurrences as not good for aviation in Nigeria,
which was just coming out of the worst plane crashes that occurred between 2005 and 2013, killing over 500 persons.
The situation also jolted the aviation regulatory body, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to action, prompting the agency to call for another round of audit in addition to the one carried out on carriers.
That could also have made Nigerian carriers hearken to call by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for African governments to focus on adoption and adherence to global standards to assure a safe, efficient and integrated air transport system.
Scramble for IOSA
Consequently, many Nigerian airlines have joined the league of airlines that are IOTA certified.
The successful airlines are Arik, Aero Contractors and FirstNation Airways.
Those on the verge of attaining IOSA certification include Medview, Allied Air Cargo Services, Overland Airways and Dana Air. Air Peace has done its last workshop but is about to be audit.
The IOSA Safety Audit, the instrument for measuring safety among airlines of the world, is not a criteria to end safety related issues or prevent air accidents all over the world, but is an audit that helps airlines appreciate the importance of airlines operational safety procedures and following said safety procedures to run an efficient airline.
Alleged sleaze in NAMA
One issue that took everybody by storm was the arrest of top NAMA chiefs by the EFCC over alleged sleaze.
These arrests were made to explain how the Managing Director of NAMA, Ibrahim Abdulsalam and his predecessor both singlehandedly signed off payments of over N3 billion on ‘questionable contracts’ between 2013 and 2015.
Documents obtained showed that the bulk of these payments were for clearing of containers and Customs duties, which amounted to N2,101,689, 304.14 within the period under review.
Most of these clearing/ Customs duties payment were said to be non-transparent, as the agency had never really undertaken any “major importation that warrants payments in tens of millions of naira at different times as claimed by the management”.
The trail of approvals and payments, according to sources, revealed a lack of due process and transparency in approving the sums involved, which, in most cases, were said to be above the approval limits of the Managing Director of NAMA and should have either been referred to the board or the Minister of Aviation. The officials are expected to be arraigned today.
Flight delays/cancellations
Many travellers are now frustrated over incessant delay/ cancellation of their flights; a situation that has taken joy out of air travel. Air travel on its own is a hectic experience; even when everything goes according to plan.
So. when there is the added challenge of unexpected delays or cancellations, it starts to feel more like ‘living through hell’.
In Nigeria, airlines are quick to cancel domestic flights on the grounds of factors such as extreme weather, mechanical malfunctions and workers strike actions, and this continually throws the plans of thousands of travelers in the country into disarray.
Virtually all airlines are guilty of this. To show the level at which the situation has degenerated, Medview Airline management tendered apologies to its customers for the inconveniences they experienced as a result of flight delays during the Easter festive period.
The Managing Director of the airline, Alhaji Muneer Bankole, said the career regretted all the embarrassment caused passengers during the Easter rush.
The airline attributed the delays to the withdrawal of one of its aircraft in the fleet for unscheduled maintenance, noting that it is not in the culture of the airline to subject its esteemed customers to pains caused by the disruption of flights.
Bankole said immediate steps were been taking to regain customers’ confidence in the airline, adding, “
A comprehensive plan is being put in place to provide better and timelier information, more resources for our crew members and improved procedures for handling operational challenges in the future.
“Since it started schedule domestic operations three years ago, Medview Airline has been noted for on time departure (OTD- the highest in the industry), good customer care and excellent in-flight services”.
Incessant flight cancellation remains a challenge for airlines and demands for compensations by flyers seldom pitch distraught passengers against erring airlines.
Passengers however, said there is more ground to cover by Nigeria regulatory authority, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority’s (NCAA) to ameliorate and mediate in issues as they arise. Passengers’ satisfaction no doubts remain the basic impetus that holds the key to the successes of any airline business.
When they complain of any unpleasant experience or ill treatment upon the purchase of a flight ticket (s), until they arrive at their destinations, they are guests of the airline and expect to be accorded due courtesies.
Flight cancellations, especially one too many, be it mechanical or otherwise, rude flight attendants, poor in-flight services, delays and leaving passengers in the dark without information as well numerous other bad deals is a pointer that the airlines may well be on its way to extinction or kiss the canvass if passengers’ complaints are ignored.
Hope over ICAO audit
One important area that cannot be ignored is the visit of a team from the International Civil Aviation Organisation who was in the country to audit.
A four-man team from the ICAO had arrived Nigeria last month to commence the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) of the nation’s aviation industry.
The objective of the audit was to ensure that Nigeria still abides by the safety status in accordance to ICAO regulations.
Nigeria had passed the audit in the past and would regularly be re-examined to ensure that the country does not stray from the accepted international safety standard under, which it is rated. The audit ended on March 25th, 2016.
The team also said it was highly impressed with the corrective action plans put in place by the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) in respect of the few open items that were to be closed.
Labour unrest
To cap it all, the month witnessed labour unrests as trade unions shut down Bristow Helicopters over expatriate pay disparity.
The one-day shutdown of Bristow’s operations took a toll on the carrier before the Minister of Labour and Productivity waded into the matter to end the face-off.
Not a few believe that since we cannot continue to depend on the government at all times, especially in this time of public-private partnership for development, it is important for various progressive partners to emerge from their cocoon and tap into the new synergy of development in the aviation industry.
Wole Shadare