Capt. Musa Nuhu, Nigeria’s immediate past permanent representative at ICAO, was recently appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari as Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). He spoke exclusively to our correspondent on issues in the aviation industry.
You attended the 50th anniversary of the African Aviation Commission (AFCAC) in Dakar, Senegal. What are the key takeaways for Nigeria, particularly as it relates to air safety, security, connectivity and aviation growth?
The African Aviation Commission is African Union’s specialised organ charged with dealing with civil aviation matters in Africa. This is an organisation that is 50 years old and maturing. It has a lot of programmes to deal with the various challenges facing aviation in Africa.
Air transportation is a major catalyst for economic growth and development. Currently, air transportation, according to ICAO statistics, supports over six million jobs in Africa contributing over $55bn to the gross domestic product of African countries. However, this is way below what can be achieved.
I can give you an example of Nigeria. The total passenger traffic last year, including international flights was 18 million passengers. That is less than 10 percent of Nigerians travelling by air. So you can imagine if we can get up to 25, 30 or 35 percent of Nigeria’s population travelling by air; you can imagine the kind of multiplier effect that will have on the growth and development of the economy in terms of creating jobs, supporting businesses, and raising the living standards of the people.
Right now, in Nigeria, over 95 percent of the international passengers are carried by foreign airlines. That is a huge amount of capital flight. I think according to the Airline Operators Association of Nigeria (AON), that is over $3bn annually. So you can imagine the progress if we can capture a significant amount of that, retain it within the system and use it to develop aviation infrastructure in Nigeria. That will further stimulate air traffic growth and improve the contribution to the growth domestic product of Nigeria (GDP).
Nigeria aviation currently contributes 0.4 percent to the GDP of Nigeria. This is very poor and unacceptable. The policies of the federal government as enunciated by Minister of Aviation Sen. Hadi Sirika is geared towards repositioning the aviation sector to benefit from these economic areas.
Speaking on low air passengers’ traffic in Nigeria, what can we do to spur air travel among the people to benefit from the economies of scale?
It is a multifaceted approach. Many things will have to be done and many things are being done. First the Civil Aviation Act 2006 and the bills of the other agencies are being reviewed. I think the Ministry of Justice is done with it and it will soon be sent to the National Assembly.
When the National Assembly starts proceedings, there will be public hearings so that all stakeholders will be given an opportunity to make contributions. Once we do that, we will review our own regulation. The regulations were done a while ago and the industry has changed so much. So we need to review our regulations so we can remove all the obstacles to the development of Nigeria’s aviation industry.
The rules were set a while ago and the industry has changed. One example of the focus would be the segmentation of the regulations to deal with different kinds of operators. The airline operators can have their own set of regulations; the charter flight operators will have theirs, the private operators will have their own standards and the general aviation – those training and others who fly small aircrafts will have theirs.
So I believe all these, in addition to infrastructure development, and efforts on the public private partnerships such as the concession of the airports, and the building of facilities such as agro-allied industries close to the airports will stimulate the growth of the industry. These and more will be done.
We also have an aging manpower, so there is a gap that will be filled. The aerospace industry is planned to produce the management cadre that will build the management strategy that will move the industry to the future.
20 years after, the key issues of the YD are still largely unmet, how can these objectives be achieved?
The issues as regards to the implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) and AFCAC, which is the agency of the YD through (Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) is aware of the challenges in implanting its mandate. There are measures being put in place. There are issues of the regulatory tax being also put in place. There are other issues relating to the resolution mechanisms of disputes within different parties (states and private businesses or states vs states) that are also being put in place to deal with those and give investors’ confidence.
So all these mechanisms are being evolved; AFCAC is also collaborating with the European Union body that has extensive experience in this area. They are coordinating and helping AFCAC develop certain competencies in the areas of deficiencies. There are some trainings and grants from the EU on capacity building and regulations that AFCAC can benefit from.
If the Senate confirms you as the next DG of NCAA, what will be your key priority issues to ensure growth in the industry?
I think we have to sit down and listen to all the stakeholders – both internally in NCAA, the workers and also with the outside stakeholders; be they airline operators of Nigeria, the labour unions and others. We will have to listen to all of them. We will then see how we can harmonize the problems and find solutions. They feel the pinch, they face the problems, they will tell us what their problems are and together we will develop the solutions that are compliant with the regulations and the Civil Aviation Act. Because whatever solutions we come up with must be legal, otherwise, we will create more problems.
One of the issues I noticed is that sometimes we concentrate on the symptoms but we really have to go deeper than the superficial understanding of what the underlying problems are. Because if we don’t deal with the underlying problems, curing the symptoms won’t do us any good. It is a collective effort and a collaborative effort between the NCAA and other agencies.
We will have to work together. Everybody has a role because it is a system. So we are all partners in progress.
What should we do to overcome emerging security threats in the aviation industry, terrorism and all?
We have a masterplan on security and aviation security is a part of it. NCAA is a regulator but security goes beyond NCAA. It is a multifaceted problem that cuts across so many security agencies so we all have to work together. Security is a continuous thing. You don’t put out a measure and go to sleep. You develop a measure and its breached in days.
You will have to continuously innovate. It is a continuous effort. Thank God Nigeria has a certificate in aviation security. It’s currently one of the highest in the world at 93 percent. But that is the easy path. The difficult part is maintaining that level of security.
As a regulator, we will do our best. We will work with the other agencies, FAAN, NAMA and other relevant security agencies, to make sure we achieve the highest level of security. Without security there can be no confidence in the aviation system. Everything will crash within no time.
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