Director, Consumer Protection Directorate (CPD), NCAA, Alhaji Adamu Abdullahi flight delays and cancellations are unavoidable in the global aviation industry but the regulatory agency would ensure that the rights of the flying public were not trampled upon by airlines and other organisations in the sector.
Abdullahi who spoke with newsmen at the weekend said some of the delays were due to operational and safety reasons like weather, mechanical failure and Very Important Personality (VIP) movements, stressing that the agency would not sacrifice safety for passengers’ comfort.
Apart from safety and operational reasons, he declared that NCAA has had cause to sanction erring airlines for not fulfilling their obligations to passengers, but said such sanctions were not for public domain.
He said: “Delays and flight cancellations are inevitable in the aviation industry. They must happen. The regulations realise that. That is why we looked at it and we decided to ensure compensation to passengers. However, I will prefer to call it refreshments for the passengers, rather than compensation.
“If you delay a passenger for up to two hours, you have to give him some kinds of refreshments. You must have a way of compensating him until the flight is announced. There are many reasons for delays and cancellations. Most of them are safety based. When safety is involved, we don’t discuss comfort and we even encourage airlines to delay or cancel flights whenever they have technical issues or weather related issues.
“So, when an airline can prove to us that it delayed a flight due to safety, then, they are off the hook. Then that won’t attract sanctions. We don’t announce it when we sanction airlines because sanctions are like de-marketing for the airlines. “They don’t like their sanctions being announced. We are not passenger service, rather consumer protection. Airlines, concessionaires and handling companies are part of consumer services.”
In a bid to promote safety in the sector, Abdullahi explained that NCAA encouraged non-punitive reporting system, which inspires airlines to report issues in their operations to the authority.
Besides, he explained that NCAA was working assiduously with the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and state owned airport operators to reduce infrastructural challenges in the system.
Abdullahi emphasised that NCAA participate in a monthly meetings headed by airport managers in various geographical airports, adding that through this, challenges affecting smooth operations are discussed and resolved by all stakeholders.
He, however, pointed out that some improvements had been recorded in airport infrastructure in recent time with the opening of some new airports like Port Harcourt and Abuja for passenger use and lauded Sen. Hadi Sirika, the Minister of Aviation for some positives in the sector.
“I will say there have been tremendous improvements in our airports in recent years. Look at the new terminals in Port Harcourt and Abuja. I am sure that we will not have issues in the next 20 to 25 years with these terminals.
“These are things that are ongoing. I know the minister has been working quietly especially on installation of Instruments Landing Systems (ILSs) at airports. Though, the airlines complain that one of the issues they have with the airports is that they are not open for 24 hours, but the aircraft themselves may have their own issues because they have to have corresponding instruments onboard that will work with the ground equipment,” he said.
Besides, he disclosed that training is being planned for all stakeholders in the sector where expectations of air travellers with different agencies would be discussed and outlined.
The director explained that a six-man committee had been inaugurated to ensure the success of the training, which he said included FAAN, NAMA, immigration, customs, police, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) and ground handling companies, among others.
To ease plights of air travellers at the airports, Abdullahi stated that NCAA had deployed standalone screens at various airports in the country where passengers’ rights and responsibilities are scrolled regularly with adverts from organisations, noting that whatever revenue earned from the advert would be ploughed back into the industry.