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How Internal Politics Is Preventing Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority From Carrying Out Proper Aircraft Safety Duties

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), under the leadership of Captain Mukhtar Usman, Director-General since 2014 is a dangerously sick agency, SaharaReporters has learnt. A major symptom of the infirmity bedeviling the agency, investigations showed, is the politics being played by Captain Usman. The nature of the DG's politics is such that it is affecting the welfare and efficient discharge of duties by a particular category of the apex aviation regulatory body's staff known as Aviation Safety Inspectors. Being hampered in their discharge of duties carries the potential of eroding air safety aviation standards, which may put air travelers in danger.

The NCAA's key responsibility is the regulation of all aviation activities to ensure that that they are carried out in a safe and secure manner as well as in accordance with Safety and Recommended Standards. The NCAA has key technical directorates to ensure that safety standards are maintained. These include the Directorate of Airworthiness (DAWS), Directorate of Operations and Training (DOT), Directorate of Licensing (DOL) and Directorate of Aerodrome and Airspace Standards (DAAS).

DAWS,  through the Airworthiness Safety Inspectors (ASIs) is responsible for the certifying all airplanes and helicopters airworthy and maintained by qualified certifying personnel in accordance with acceptable procedures. DAWS, through ASIs, also had the mandate to certify maintenance organizations to ensure that only appropriately equipped , and appropriately rated licensed

maintenance personnel repair or maintain aircraft registered in Nigeria and monitors certificated organizations to ensure that they maintain standards for which they are certificated. The ASI cadre is made up of specially trained personnel. Sources told SaharaReporters that they graduates of Aerospace/Aeronautical Engineering, who have undergone intensive trainings and acquired industry experience before being considered suitable for such a sensitive cadre. "In accordance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO standards,  the inspectors are supposed to possess skills and experiences above the airlines they oversee," explained a source.

The maintenance of ICAO standards is, however, in jeopardy as ASIs, who typically attend aircraft-specific trainings and other auditing/surveillance courses abroad twice a year, have not gone on any since Captain Usman became NCAA DG. 

  Sources told SaharaReporters that ASIs did not go for any technical training in 2015. Surprisingly during the recent ICAO audit of the Nigerian aviation industry early this year, a  source disclosed, Captain Usman, abetted by some agency top guns,  presented fake documents showing that ASIs attended various training programs abroad in 2015. 

It is also looking like they will attend none this year. With the year remaining just a few months, ASIs are yet to get the DG’s approval for training. 

There are indications he no longer wants inspectors undergoing capacity acquisition in aircraft-specific training.  Earlier in the year, sources said, Captain Usman,  told the training committees to remove all aircraft-specific training programs from the list of courses and replace them with  audit-related courses. This, explained a source, is similar recommending that a man be trained to use a sword while refusing to sharpen his sword.

Even with his preference for audit-related programs, added a source, he ignored the technical directorates and approved for staff of non-technical directorates, headed by his cohorts, to go for training.

According to insiders, technical directorates were ignored because Captain Usman is at loggerheads with their directors, who are said to be against his management style.

The dirty politics has continued to manifest in other indices of maltreatment of the inspector cadre.

Sources disclosed that head of the cadre, the Inspector-General, occupies an office with no space and furniture items for staff, while the doors to his personal office and toilets left their hinges a long time ago.

The department also lacks fire-resistant cabinets to store technical documents.  In spite of these important needs, sources said, the DG has approved a multi-million naira contract for the painting of the NCAA Building.

When inspectors are sent on assignments within the country or abroad without

being paid their Duty Tour Allowances and Estacode, sources said, they are asked to borrow money from people to go on such. They are usually reimbursed, insisted sources, after three months. This, not surprisingly, has left inspectors at the mercy of airline operators, whose airplanes they go to inspect. The airline operators are said to usually bear  the inspectors' hotel and feeding expenses, a situation that has made many inspectors give biased verdict and grant airline operators approval to operate aircraft that are not airworthy. 

The NCAA is equally said to be indifferent to the financial health needs of airlines, many of which owe staff salaries for months. Aviation sources said the NCAA has not been carrying out proper financial health audit of airlines and has failed to take  appropriate  measures before the airlines began convulsing.                  

"The problem is that the recommendations made to NCAA DG with respect to observations made during audit of these airlines are often ignored because of his relationship with the owners of these airlines. He turns a blind eye to these issues until situations become unbearable. 

We, therefore, have among airlines' staff those who are mentally incapable  of carrying out proper maintenance on an airplane because their minds have been scrambled by months of unpaid salaries. We do not want another airplane crash," said a source.