Current Director general of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu in his recent interview with the League of Airports and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC) spoke on issues in the aviation sector as well as his functions as Nigeria’s ICAO Representative for over three years and the influence of Dr. Olumuyiwa Bernard Aliu on him. He spoke on industry challenges and some solutions as well as his intent to see a smooth functioning industry with a progressive regulator
NCAA’s Autonomy:YES, NCAA has autonomy in terms of regulations but NCAA cannot totally remove itself from the ministry of aviation. The ministry is responsible for policy development for the industry and we implement those policies through our regulations. So we must have a line of communication and consultations with the ministry and also if you look at the organizational structure of NCAA, we have the Minister, the board and then the DG, so we cannot totally isolate ourselves from the ministry but l can assure you in term of implementing regulations and otherwise, NCAA is the only body that is doing that and we are doing that without sort of interference with the ministry.
There are some regulations that without the political support of the ministry, it will be very difficult to implement those regulations. In the past, when aircraft are grounded, big men went over above the ministry, they even went to the Villa and they have those decisions taken by NCAA reverse, but this time around, it is not so, we implement our regulations irrespective of who is involve and the support of the minister, the political support has make our life easier within our regulations. So anybody that want us to divorce completely from the ministry is not being realistic, it is ministry of aviation.
Aviation goes beyond NCAA, we have other public service providers like FAAN, NAMA, NIMET, AIB, NCAT, then the private sector, airline operators, ground handlers all under the ministry, we regulate them, so there have some connection between us and the ministry, you cannot say because we are independent in implementing regulations, we mustn’t have some relationship with the ministry. It happens every in the world. In the US, the FAA has some connection with the department of transportation. What is important is for the regulatory body to be able to do it statutory responsibility of effective oversight of the system without interference and that we are doing.
Economic health of airlines:
The airlines not only in Nigeria, it is a global thing. in the airline industry, the profit margin is very minimal, if you make five percent profit margin in the business, you are considered to have done excellently well, but however, with the Covid-19 and the difficulties, airlines financial positions are not the best, it is a global phenomenon and there are so many other issues that affects the financial health of airlines that is neither in the control of the ministry of aviation nor in the control of the civil aviation regulatory body. For instance, the provision of foreign exchange, it doesn’t come from us.
If a country’s foreign earning goes down, the central bank prioritizes, and you can understand due to the lack of maintenance organizations in Nigeria, pilot recurrent training institutions in Nigeria they have to go outside to do these and that entails a lot of foreign currencies, so it is not easy. Also is Jet A1 that is a major factor that airlines have been having difficulties with, sometime we see it induced scarcity and high price, so there are factors that affect the health of the airlines that are not in our direct control. The ministry has tried, it went to the central bank when this government came on board, Nigeria owed foreign airlines about 600 million dollars in arrears, the minister through consultations was able to get that off our back and all the foreign airlines were paid. We visited the NNPC to see what kind of arrangement can be made for the production of Jet A1 and in addition, interest rate, when airlines go borrowing at a very high interest rate which we know is very high in Nigeria.
If my profit margin is 5%, explain to me if l takes a loan at 20%, how I can break even and pay them and make profit. These are the micro and macro factors that affect the health of the airlines. We try through our economic regulations to do the financial audits of the airlines and advise them where we see areas of economic difficulties and see how they can be tackled. One of the thing we are doing we want to really strengthen the function of the economic regulation through more training and overhaul of the staff of the directorate. As you are aware, we are having some restructuring going on, it is to reposition the regulatory body to able to carry out its responsibilities in a more effective and efficient manner.
I read the report in the papers the same way you did, nothing has inform of any merger, l have asked from the ministry there have been no confirmation, I understand this is an old report done over ten years ago, somebody just sit down and brought it out, I am not aware of any merger between NCAA and any agency and I cannot comment on what seem to me an unofficial matter, and by the way, in the US, FAA is the regulatory body and it runs the air traffic services which is the equivalent of NAMA, so it depends on how you run it, I am not saying we are going to do it here because I don’t have anything official but there is this misunderstanding that there is something like that, no Sir. FAA has a specific structure design in their own case to ensure that there is no conflict of interest. I am not aware of any merger in Nigeria because I have not been given any document officially.
Ill treatment of Nigerian airlines abroad:
The advice I will give the airlines is that if you are going to another country to negotiate your services, you should involve the regulatory body, the ministry of aviation and also your embassy in that country. If you as a private organization you go and negotiate with a government entity that is trying to protect its own airlines, you are going to run into difficulties, but you involve ministry of aviation officials, NCAA officials and embassy officials, the country knows that if they make things difficult for our airlines, we will apply the same reciprocity measures to their airlines, so it make a big difference.
A lot of airlines go and do the deal themselves. They should involve us, carry us along, brief us, we are here to help our airlines grow both domestically, regionally and internationally. I hear them talking about aero-politics, yes, an airline from Nigeria want to go compete with an airline of another country on their route, of course they will it difficult for you but when carry NCAA officials along, it make a difference, if you unreasonable demands on my airlines, I will apply the same to your airlines coming into my country, so it is to their benefits for every to come out with good terms for all the airlines.
How COVID-19 affected your plan for the industry:
The meeting I had after my hand over from the acting DG, the discussion I had was COVID-19, by then it was not yet declared a pandemic but we could see the trend coming, so had started putting measures in place, firstly, how we are going to run the NCAA as an organization and business continuity plans in place, how our staff will be working with the development to ensure that whatever happen, we will have people that will be running the organization regardless of the COVID challenge, we ensure we have somebody who will step in, we prepared to reduce the workforce coming, a lot of them will stay at home and we have what we determine is enough that will run the organization, that was even the government came out with the directives, we were already working on that.
Basically at that time, it was the issue of survival, whatever plans has to be put in place, because whatever plans you have, if you don’t survive, your plan are of no use. First of all, we have to survive, ensure the organization survives, and to put measures for the industry to survive, it certainly delayed our plans but now with the successful resumption of domestic flight and we have not had a significant spike and contamination cases, so all the plans have been delayed but we have successfully resumed the domestic operations, perhaps one or two minor hitches there, nothing significant, and I know you will all agree with me so far so good and the response from the public complying with the protocols have been excellent, we started the international flight operations, with time we are going to increase the number of flight coming in as things stabilize.
We identified hitches that were rectified and we hope things will get much better going forward. So part of the plans we had is repositioning the regulatory body to it a liner more resilience and a body that is flexible to react to changing situation and part of the restructuring we have had is part of this process and in the coming months, we will see the organization in a good position to deal with challenges and the emerging challenges and as you are all aware, the COVID-19 has change the global industry, the rapid changes in technology is also changing the industry, not only aviation but also the ways businesses are conducted, so we have to reposition ourselves to fit into that so that we can really effectively conduct our regulatory responsibilities.
Scrapping of Consumer Protection:
I think there is a misunderstanding. Consumer protection has not been scrapped, it was just downgraded from a full directorate to a unit under the directorate of air transport regulation which is what it used to be. Consumer protection exists in full with all the function it has, we still have consumer protection, it has never been scrap. If you go to the airport you still the staff from the unit carrying out their job without any reduction in their scope.
The impounded aircraft in Dubai:
It is not a Nigerian aircraft; it is a US registered aircraft that was brought to Nigeria to operate under the AOC of Nigeria. We have started investigation and forwarded the documentations from our investigation to the authority in Dubai and the US FAA. They asked for additional information which we have given them and I think I saw an email today from Dubai, communicating with the US where the aircraft is registered. We have done our own part and our report has been submitted and we are going to take sanction against those who have violated our regulations. That is all I can say for now.
Is NCAA better off with the merger and reduction of directorate:
In fact that is the whole idea of the reduction of the directorate to make it a more resilient, more flexible and a much more effective organization in the conduct of it oversight responsibility of the industry, and also we have to take cognizance of the changes in the global world aviation industry both caused by the corona virus and the rapidly changing technologies and information technology, so certainly yes l see that.
What strategies you advice airline to adopt on how to best run the business:
Each airline has its own business model, so running an airline has a number of issue that can impact the running of the airline and one of these is corporate governance, separation of ownership from the day to day management of the airline business, for a lot of airlines in Nigeria, that is a very blood line because there is no definite guidelines separating the owners of the airline from it management. Over the years it has contributed to the difficulties and challenges a lot of airlines have. Once the civil aviation act is passed by the national assembly and we have a new mandate, we intend to look at that regulations also maybe with the cooperate affairs commission we will sit down and see how we can apply some of these corporate governance issues in our regulations strictly and resolve some of these difficulties we have been facing and one of the things we are going to do is that the directorate of air transport regulations will be empower and also enhance their skills and knowledge to really study the business models and plans of airlines and see how effective they can be and we can have a more positive regulatory function, we are doing it now but I believe we need to build more capacity in that department.
How have you been able to resolve issues between airlines and staff:
The challenge of financial health of airlines is not peculiar to Nigeria gentlemen. It is a global thing. The airlines that have received billions of dollars of subsidies from their nations government and they are still laying off hundreds and thousands of workers. The entire travel and tourism industry has been greatly impacted by the covid 19 in a negative way. Airlines have had to sack people in order to save cost, even the major airlines. British Airways is reported to have plans to lay off a third of it workforce, that is about 10 to 12 thousand people, Lufthansa is going to ground all its entire A830 fleet and its 747 fleet, that is a significant number of redundancy, emirate has laid off people, likewise etihad and in the US the same scenario plays out. Let us not make it a Nigeria thing but rather see it as a global challenge. I know the policy of the government through the minister of aviation is working to see id some king of palliatives can be given to the airlines. On the issue of relationship between management and the unions, on Monday arik air had issues with members of unions who barricaded them, we had some fruitful discussion yesterday we had some kind of mediation between the receiver manager of the airline and the unions, we all agreed that they are going back to sit and discuss again, every will take each other concerns into considerations and the union members have to understand the very precarious financial situation of arik and other airlines. The minister has also had meetings with various airlines and the unions trying to settle similar challenges. We are working hard to see how we can maintain industrial harmony while resolving these challenges.
Telecom companies and Height clearance with NCAA:
Height clearance is a regulatory function of the NCAA which is in our regulations that has been signed and passed by the government, we are dealing with all the communication companies, we are in contacts and deliberations with them, some of them have made part payment and we are working toward getting the remaining payment. Part of our statutory responsibility is to identify obstruction within and around the airports, in the past there are all kind of erected masts constituting obstructions all around and we directed them to come to us to obtain a height clearance certificate, we are not using it to rake in money, it is base on cost recovery. These masts have constituted a lot of safety hazard for us, we are trying to do a better job to prevent accident by these oversight. Currently we are building a database call the electronic terrain and obstacle data base, if we can implement it and go live, that will enable with the help of the federal government helicopter to fly at night, we are trying to capture all the obstruction that is out there because everybody flies.
Your experience at ICAO and Dr Aliu’s influence on you:
It was a rare privilege to be nominated and to serve on the ICAO council as Nigerian representative for about 3 and a half years from 2016 to end of last year, it was an amazing experience, I don’t know how I can explain it. ICAO council which is the governing council constitute of 36 member state which are elected every two years. Nigeria has been on that council nonstop since 2016, members come from different background, some have been ministers in their countries, retired generals, career ambassador and DGs and you have people like me who are technocrat from the industry.
Generally, Nigeria has always been represented by people from NCAA. You got to meet and discuss with people from corners of the world and you see for the same problem, everybody has his own solution and ideas; we had our disagreement and agreed on issues. On the council we have 8 members from Africa, we have the Afrigroup where we sit down to strategize to protect and promote the interest of the Africa continent. Before I left I was the coordinator that group. We were able to achieve a lot for the benefit of Africa.
Dr. Aliu was the representative of Nigeria for about 8 years from where he was elected president of ICAO, he was also a director in NCAA when he was sent to represent Nigeria in the council of ICAO, I was blessed to have something like that having gotten into the council will little knowledge of the working of the council. Once in a while when I have issue I went to him and he will refer me to document to go look at.
He had a good influence on me and I appreciate it and I was lucky to have a Nigerian as the president of a global organisation like ICAO, it is not easy. Also at the other end, everybody expecting me to perform like Dr Aliu, you find people like him once in a lifetime, there is no way I can fill his shoes, they are too big for me.
Do airlines no longer in operation have opportunity to benefit from the palliatives:
What I can guarantee you is that anybody can apply, it is their right, whether they are functioning or not, but the issue of palliatives is a policy of the federal government been driven by the minister of aviation and they have their guidelines and one of it is that you must be a functioning and performing airline before you get any palliative, that is all I can say, if you don’t have an AOC, the AON I believe also have their guidelines, they are also part of the input and know who and who will get these palliatives from the guidelines. I don’t expect them to put airlines that are not functioning into that list. I can guarantee you from the government side, if you are not functioning, forget it, you can try your luck doesn’t mean you are going to get it.
Loggerheads between NCAA and AIB:
I don’t know about the loggerheads between the AIB and the NCAA, there must be some misunderstanding of misinformation. If you have been following the trend, a couple of weeks ago we met with AIB we sat down, we spoke, we had a committee that had been in existing between the two agencies, we reignite the committee, the commissioner and I met and spoke on common ground of interest and collaborations. We pledged to work together.