Capt Usman Muhtar, is the Director General of the country’s regulatory agency Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). In this interview with a select aviation journalists, Muhtar speaks on the recent sanction of First Nation Airways, operations of domestic airlines, among others national issues. CHUKWUEMEKE IWELUNMO, was there. Excerpts
NCAA recently sanctioned First Nation Airways over non compliance. Does it mean that the Airline’s response was poor.?
First of all, we have the regulations which are meant to protect the citizens; the operators and everybody in terms of safety, the aviation security and also the comfort of passengers.
The sanctions are not meant to be punitive in the real sense of it; they are supposed to be corrective. And when you have rules, you must enforce those rules because what keeps us together binding us is the regulations and it is the standard.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set standard and recommended practices and in order to belong to that international body. Y ou have to be able to enforce your regulations.
So it is not about harsh economic conditions and it is not about being punitive, it is about correction. It is for people to take corrective action; and we cannot be seen to be making regulations that we cannot enforce. Regulations must be enforceable and reasonable.
What we did was to go through the full process. Initially when you contravene any of our safety regulations, we inform you, we give you time to respond which was what we did to that organizations (First Nation).
They did respond, but we believe the response was not good enough. In line with the provision of our regulations, they were sanctioned.
They appealed and in line also with the provision of regulations, we set up an appeal panel made of reputable industry lawyers and some airline representatives with NCAA being purely as observers for the sake of fairness.
The appeal panel did the needful and confirmed what the civil aviation authority said; and as I said; and I will repeat again. The aim of sanction was not punitive, it was to correct it.
In what way is NCAA supporting local airlines to grow?
There is only one government. The Ministry makes policy and flowing from that policy, the CAA makes regulations in line with the Civil Aviation Act of 2006.
So we work hand in hand and government has responsibility to all the citizens of Nigeria whether you are operators or even the users of the services provided by the operators.
So, the government has to strike a balance whenever decisions like that have been taken. Now it would be unfair to say that the government has not been helping the local carriers.
We operate not in isolation but in line with the bilateral air services agreement (BASA) between countries and in some cases multilateral services agreement between various countries.
Now in the bilateral or multilateral, airlines are designated to operate routes that are assigned to be fair and also to improve on competition and also better services and better pricing.
Now Nigerian airlines who have qualified have been designated and it is up to them to operate. We try as much as possible to help them to be able to operate.
The clause always inserted into those approvals is that whether it is a foreign carrier that is allowed to come into Nigeria or it is a Nigerian carrier that is allowed to go out, it must certify both the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations and also the regulations of the country where that airline has been designated to.
So, I think it is unfair. Almost all the requests that came for those who are qualified have been given express approval for them to operate those routes and it is for them to now come and start the services in order to reap the benefits of those designations.
How have you been handling issues of complaints both from the airlines and passengers?
We can only come to the aid of airline operators if there is a complaint; and all the complaints that we have, the few that we receive, we are attending to them. Sometimes, the operators go directly.
When they have problem instead of referring it to us for us to wade in, they try to take it up themselves; and it is only when they have real difficulty that they go out and talk.
The main thing is that before they even commence operations, they should let us know and anytime they have problem, they should complain to us. What kind of problems you have?
Then, we will wade in and ensure that…because the essence of the bilateral agreement is to facilitate air travels between two countries.
We go out of the way to ensure that the right things are done in line with the provision of BASAs. Anytime any of our operators feels that he is not being treated fairly, he should come to us.