Akin Olateru is Commissioner, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB). He is a multitalented, resourceful aviation industry professional with vast airline and business aviation management expertise. In this interview with CHUKWUEMEKE IWELUNMO , he speaks on the concession of 5 per cent from Passenger Service Charge (PSC) revenue allocation to the agency, which seems to have unsettled a handful of stakeholders. He also speaks on his plans to revamp the agency and turn its accident investigation laboratory to a research institution. Excerpts…
There is so much controversy over concession of five per cent revenue to AIB from FAAN’s Passenger Service Charge (PSC). Why are some people kicking against it?
We need to be clear on charges. There are two types of charges that passengers pay either directly or indirectly. They are Tickets Sales Charge (TSC)/Cargo Sales Charge. Let us take them one after the other to really understand them.
Tickets Sales Charge/Cargo Sales Charge
The TSC is in accordance with Civil Aviation Act of 2006. It is a parliamentary issue. In the same document, it further explained how to distribute the five per cent.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) gets 58 per cent; AIB three per cent; Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) gets 9 per cent; Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) gets 23 per cent and the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) gets 7 per cent which makes it 100 per cent.
Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) gets zero per cent. The TSC is shared among five government agencies under aviation. To set the record straight, the executive arm of government has no power to alter the allocation.
It is only the National Assembly that has power to vary distribution. If anybody is not happy, he needs to go back to the National Assembly. That is the position since 2006 till date.
Passenger Service Charge
You have another charge called Passenger Service Charge (PSC). PSC came through by executive fiat. It was not an Act issue. It was a former Minister that approved the payment of PSC to FAAN. As it is today, every domestic operator pays N1000 to FAAN. On the international side, it is $50.
It is only FAAN among the six agencies of aviation that earns and spends that money. This is PSC and not TSC. The same minister in his wisdom now approved for FAAN to be paying AIB 5 per cent of the PSC.
By implication, AIB earns 5 per cent of the PSC. The justification for that is, AIB is the only agency among the six government parastatals under aviation that does not charge for her services.
Even though, NCAA takes 58 per cent of the TSC, they still charge for all the services they render to the airlines and to the public. NCAA calls theirs cost recovery. NAMA, NCAT, NIMET, they all charge for all their services despite their earnings from the TSC.
FAAN charge for everything and every service they render to the public and airlines in general and also on non-aeronautical charges i.e adverts, access toll gates, car park and all other concessions; yet, with the current dispensation, they are to keep 95 per cent of the PSC.
AIB does not charge for her services because all we do in AIB falls under ICAO Annex 13 which Nigeria is a signatory. Under United Nations charter, we cannot charge for our services. All we rely on to survive and to be efficient as an agency of government is three per cent from the TSC and now five per cent of the PSC.
Now tell me, from this detailed analysis, I am sure you will agree with me that anybody that disagrees with this, is not well informed or wicked.
As I speak to you, we have staff that retired from AIB some years ago have not received their severance benefits. We have over 30 accident investigation reports still pending, critical training are not being executed and these trainings are so important and vital to our existence, our performance and sustainability.
We have several projects that would enhance our performance that are still on-going for years. This five per cent is so little compared to the overall earnings of FAAN. We are all agencies of government and the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika has a responsibility to ensure that all agencies under his watch perform optimally.
We have over 30 accident investigation awaiting final reports. For us to deliver on our mandates, we have to fulfil several obligations.
The main reason for accident reports is to come up with safety recommendations, to prevent future occurrence. This is why it is absolutely necessary for AIB to come up with final reports on all these accidents; also safety recommendations so that there would not be a repeat. I will give you example why timely reports are important.
You spoke about resuscitating the $5.8 million accident investigation laboratories that are lying comatose. How do you intend to do that?
We have two laboratories. A lot of people get confused over it. One is the Flight Safety Laboratory. This is where we do a lot of downloads of Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and Flight Data Recorder (FDR).
This is where we analyse them including creating animation of the flight. This is very important laboratory to any reputable accident investigation agency anywhere in the world. It forms integral part of what we do.
We have what we call material science laboratory is where we examine metal called metallurgy. This is advanced stage of accident investigation where you want to determine the state and condition of the material.
Some material failures can be examined in this laboratory to ascertain the failure of the metal; was it before the accident or by the impact of the accident.
This is one that is yet to be functional. The contract was executed about four years ago. Due to financial constraints, the funding of the project has been very slow. We still have the equipment in cartons.
Some have been installed. As a responsible management, do we sit down, fold our arms and look or ensuring we get the best out of the present situation? What we have done is to identify some universities within Nigeria where AIB could partner with for research purposes.
What about the flight safety laboratory?
When I came in January, the laboratory was not functioning and it has been down for almost two years. We mobilised our in-house team including the IT department to ensure this laboratory works. They all brainstormed with our engineers.
After a week of trouble shooting, the laboratory started working again. Now we have a laboratory is best in West Africa. There are two other critical components for us to get maximum benefits from this laboratory which are the human capital; that is, the expertise to run the laboratory effectively and also to get maximum benefits.
We are evaluating the maintenance programmes, systems, processes and procedures we need to put these in place for the effective utilisation of the laboratory.
There must be training manuals in place; standards operating procedure in place and every other process to ensure smooth running of the laboratory. These are the reasons why we invited the Singaporean aviation officials.
This is based on the fact that they operate same flight safety laboratory. As you are aware, training is a continuous programme. They have offered to accept some of our investigators to come over to Singapore for on the job training.
This will enhance our capacity programme. ICAO through the Banjul Accord Accident Investigation Agency (BAGAIA) wants us to lead West Africa.
This is under ICAO. It is an ICAO programme for developing the region for accident investigation. They are very much interested in ensuring that we get it right. They are giving us all the maximum support in ensuring we lead the region.
AIB and University of Ilorin just signed MoU on the Metallurgical Science Laboratory. What does it entail?
The MoU we signed today is the first of its kind in the history of aviation in Nigeria. This is the first time any government agency will partner with a higher institution of learning on research programmes.
Basically, it is about adding value to the institution. The Federal Government of Nigeria owns AIB; Federal Government owns University of Ilorin and some other Federal institutions in Nigeria.
At the end of the day, you look at it, why can’t Federal Government institutions collaborate to the benefit of the nation? So, this is why we had to think outside the box and see how we can create a synergy in a way that Nigeria and Nigerians are the main beneficiary.
The material science laboratory which contract was awarded about three, four years ago; some equipment were bought but unfortunately, most of them are still in cartons.
Some form of training was given to the people but I will tell you there were not enough. You need more than one week to train somebody to be an expert on this equipment. Invariably, I will tell you the fact, that equipment is just there with zero value added to AIB as I speak today.
What am trying to do is to turn around and see the opportunity that that laboratory presents. Signing today with University of Ilorin was very good. We have been on this for few months going back and forth with discussion, inspection, collaboration and we came out with an agreement and finally signed today.
The Vice-Chancellor of University of Ilorin would have been here but engaged in one issue and decided to send the Dean of Faculty of Engineering to sign on behalf of the University. It is a landmark achievement as far as I am concerned.
Till today, most material science students go abroad for their research programmes because there is no adequate laboratory to use here in Nigeria. What we have done is to open this up for the university to be able to send in their students for research programmes for using our laboratory.
We are not keeping this just for University of Ilorin, we are continuing talks with University of Lagos and some other higher institutions in Nigeria. At the end of the day, AIB is trying to raise its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and ensure that our staff are well trained because if you use the same equipment over and over, that is how to build expertise.
That is basically another thing we will be getting from this. You don’t pray to be having accident every day, so it may not be used for it every day but we need to engage, find a way where it is going to be using this laboratory on a daily basis and this is why we are looking in this direction.
Our thanks go to the Minister of State Aviation that gave that approval. He is very happy with what we are doing. The other thing to benefit is to save the nation, capital flight.
When these students go abroad for their research programmes, sometimes they spend three to four months depending on the duration and they have to stay in a hotel somewhere, leaving their families here and children back at home, they want to rush back because they could be out of money.
At the end of the day, it may affect the quality of their work but if the laboratory is here, he is not looking for any dollar or pounds. He can actually see his family over the weekend wherever and go back and forth and if incase he forgets anything that tends to do with his research, he can go back, play it all over again.
It is a huge saving for the nation and I am looking to more collaboration between government agencies. In this age when government is struggling with funds, we just need to do a lot of more collaboration.
Gone are the days where everybody is standing alone; we should come together and work together for the benefit of Nigeria as a country and Nigerians.
My dream is to take this laboratory to the highest level whereby we can compete with the world. My dream is to see South African students; companies come to Nigeria to use our laboratory.
My dream is to see Europeans come in to use our laboratory for research purposes. It can be done. We just need to get it. We have written to the Head of material science laboratory situated in the NTSB in America to please come down with his team, evaluate our laboratory, the equipment we have and guide us on what next to buy.
We have some money in our 2017 budget to buy some of this equipment but I just don’t want to buy any equipment. I want to be sure we are buying what we need, what will add value to the agency. We are buying value to Nigeria. That is my dream.
How sustainable is the collaboration? In Nigeria, it is very easy to start something but taking it further is a major challenge.
I will put it this way. To make it sustainable, we are on the right path because we are commercialising the material science laboratory.
That is what we are doing basically and that way we will be able to support and fund the lab to keep it running, to make sure it is one of the best in the world.
We will not charge huge money but we will make sure that at least we do what we call cost recovery. What we have right now is the equipment and infrastructure which is half way.
How does this boost human capital development considering that the workforce in aviation is ageing?
One thing I know for sure is that there is no country in the world where you don’t have ageing workforce. People will get old over time.
It is a natural phenomenon but one thing that is clear is training supposed to be a continuous process. It is not we have done it once and we will stop.
The reason we are doing what we are doing is to train our staff, make them experts on how to operate and use this equipment and this is why we are creating ways of engaging them with this equipment.
As I speak with you, we don’t even have any expert within the aviation industry on this Metallurgy. When you talk of material science, it is still new with us.
So, we are looking outward to see how we can engage our staff to make them experts in this field so that we can marry the two, assemblage of metals with accident investigation.