The controversy over the move to establish Nigeria Eagle (NG Eagle) from the remnants of Arik Air has taken a new dimension following a directive by the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation to the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to halt the issuance of Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) to the airline.
Incidentally, the senate later followed suit by writing a letter to NCAA, directing it to suspend the issuance of AOC to the new airline in a move that has pitched the lawmakers against stakeholders in the aviation industry who queried the perceived interference with regulatory functions.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the lawmakers’ directive through the House Committee on Aviation Chairman, Hon Nnolim Nnaji, was sequel to the petition to the committee by two unions: Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP) and Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) branch, asking NCAA to deny NG Eagle the proposed AOC over indebtedness of Arik Air to FAAN.
In what is believed to be unusual in the industry, the unions are divided over the new airline as the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Employees (NAAPE) in Arik described ANAP and NUP as “busy bodies”, asking them to stay away from Arik and NG Eagle matters.
Arik Air which used to be the largest carrier in West and Central Africa was taken over by the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) in 2017 and is still under its receivership. But as part of its divestment policy, AMCON has concluded plans to float a new airline, NG Eagle, using some of the equipment of Arik Air. At least three aircraft of Arik Air have been converted to NG Eagle.
It would be recalled that Nigeria Eagle was incorporated as NG Eagle Limited RC: 1600277 on July 11, 2019, with a share capital of N1,000,000,000. The shareholders are AMCON with N499,999,999, while Omokhide Kamilu Alaba has one unit of share.
It was further learnt that NCAA has concluded plans to issue the AOC to NG Eagle this month prior to the directive of the House of Representatives which is now generating ripples in the sector, with some stakeholders describing the directive as an interference in the work of the regulatory authority and a slap on the autonomy of NCAA.
President of the Aviation Roundtable and Safety Initiative, Dr Gabriel Olowo, who spoke on the latest development, stressed that the directive by the house amounted to “interloping”.
He said, “I don’t think it is the responsibility of the congress (National Assembly) to direct NCAA to issue or not to issue an AOC. There is establishment in ICAO regulation; that no matter how powerful the ministry (political arm of government) is; it can only wield influence, but not dictate to NCAA.
“The criteria to award AOC are under the purview of NCAA. That is the agency that has the right on who to issue licence to. The NCAA is recognised internationally as an institution to regulate civil aviation. The autonomy of NCAA is not negotiable. We will be killing NCAA if we allow such interferences over its activities.
“This is an aspect of unnecessary political interference we’ve been addressing over the years on NCAA’s autonomy. This will not help the sector. If care is not taken, we will begin to see such interferences on safety issues; which airline is to ground or not to ground, despite safety violations, etc.”
Also, a former CEO of Aero Contractors, Capt Ado Sanusi, spoke along the same line, saying, “The pronouncement of the house is a sad development because the award of operating licence is a process which takes cognizance of safety and other critical factors and therefore should not be politicised.
“The National Assembly cannot dictate to NCAA because the regulatory authority is carrying out a responsibility that is globally acknowledged and domiciled with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). But I have confidence in the Director General of NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu, because he is experienced and has international exposure. The world is watching us and hoping we won’t take the wrong step. If the National Assembly dictates who would be given AOC, then over time they will decide the pilots that will be given operating certificate. I am sure NCAA will not allow it to happen.
“We are trying to come to a reckoning in the aviation industry but some people are pushing us down. This is not good at all. The action of issuing AOC is guided by international protocol. The era of discriminating who to give AOC is gone. This time you earn it by merit. Political interference is a no, no for countries that have the US Category 1 status. This will lead to blacklisting Nigeria.”
On his part, Group Capt John Ojikutu (Rtd), said the AOC process followed strict regulation which could not be denied any airline that met the requirements.
Meanwhile, NAAPE, through its leadership has asked the National Assembly to steer clear of activities of NCAA), saying that its directive was tantamount to political interference on safety issues.
NAAPE, which is the umbrella body of pilots and engineers in the country, declared that it was out of the purview of the National Assembly to determine who and when the regulatory body should issue the AOC to applicants.
President of NAAPE, Engr Abednego Galadima, stated that the National Assembly was undermining the autonomy of NCAA with its interference on safety issues when it directed the regulatory body not to issue an AOC to the start-up carrier.