Captain Ibrahim Mshelia, airline owner, businessmen, politician and fearless technocrat in his interview with NigerianFLIGHTDECK has looked at pressing issues that need review. He talked about the state weather minima which he says is inimical to pilots as well as low ratio of technical staff to others at the NCAA. He equally talked about the planned National Civil Aviation Policy and what that tends for the industry. Excepts
How does lack of check in counters and other infrastructure affect domestic airlines operations?
Like we say, check-in counters are part of suitable accommodation to process passengers. So a terminal building should be spacious enough to take the number of intending partners. Every operator writes to the authorities and tell them ,’ we intend to begin operating at a particular time. The airport authority is supposed to acknowledge that including issuing base now I think over the years what we’ve done, we just keep taking in the airlines and we don’t do the infrastructure expansion. For example, Arik, AirPeace Ibom Air, Aero, Dana these five airlines’ alone, by the time they schedule 7 o’clock departure and all of them came schedule 7o’ clock departure no doubt but how many of them do take in. Averagely let’s say the passengers on these aeroplanes will be between 120-170 depends on the aircraft, if you are going to do 120 by 5 airlines, they need to check them in( I’m just giving you a typical example) that would be 600 passengers, now that will take you quite some time to check in because of the space and infrastructural deficit, it takes up to five minutes to check in one passenger, it does. So, even if you say two minutes to check in a passenger, how many counters would you need to be able to check in those people within the two hour rate that they give? They give you two hours to check in passengers so you will need 300 check in counters if you’re going to use 2 minutes by passengers. If you have no space, the. You have congestion and then you have chaos and then you have commotion at the end. So passenger delay, sorting their baggage, access to the tarmac, move the bags, number of vehicles that can do it and so on. See there are so many things that are combined the infrastructure that we are talking about, there is infrastructure but the capacity of airlines have overwhelmed it and one wonders why all these years nothing was done to expand it until only recently that they are doing some expansion.
What about the CUPPS( Common Use Passenger Processing System) can that help reduce the strain on the infrastructure?
The common use is due to lack of infrastructure expansion, they are using that one to find an easy way out of expanding the airport but you need the space, no matter what you do human traffic will still come with their luggage and that commotion will still be there or you introduce a slot system but by the time you introduce a slot system. You are limiting the capacity of the airline and you should not do that. Slot system for domestic airlines shouldn’t be the case, you should have more terminals being built.
What is the way forward?
Let me tell you a quick fix, the quick fix is I know there are spaces in Abuja that are not being used, open it up to the domestic airlines like the old international airport terminal it is not being used properly so why don’t you open all of it that would solve the problems. In Lagos another thing you can also do is (between these two airports, to be frank with you there is no problem with this daylight operations) you see Abuja bound traffic is checking in Warri bound traffic is checking in with others checking in this same Abuja and this same Lagos, so the quick fix is open up all the airport to midnight, if you do so, the airlines on their own will naturally adjust their schedules and give space, it would naturally mitigate this without doing anything to the current infrastructure. If you open the airport to close at midnight, you have solved a lot of the problems already and in Abuja open up the old international terminal that is not being used.
What about other airports that are not 24/7?
How do you solve these same challenges that come with these?Well, the problem is systemic. I would tell you that aviation requires experts. Everybody who is supposed to head an airline, aviation parastatal must be an expert so that we speak the same language. To begin with, conveyor belt breaking down once in a year is acceptable. However, I do not see a reason why a conveyor belt will break down in the first place, or screening machines should break down in the first place. Which means the people who are manning it are either nonchalant or incompetent. Particularly, for me I am a pilot and I’ve visited a lot of countries inside the region and beyond, I’ve never heard of these equipment breaking down. I’ve never heard it anywhere except Nigeria because we do not allow our best hands to run our affairs. The thing is supposed to be serviced every two minutes for example, money is voted ( if you go to the books it’s voted) but if you go to the people managing the conveyor belt they’d tell you they have not serviced it in the last 20 years so where is the money going to? Corruption is killing these equipment at the airports, lack of attention due to corruption because every machine being designed has its own servicing procedures and age, this is an airport we are talking about and everything is done for safety and timing. We should endeavour to do things properly and this problem will go away. Conveyor belts will not break down and if it does it’s once in a blue moon, it’s acceptable but the rate at which I hear conveyor belt breaking down and look at the obsolete things we have in the airport, why can’t we upgrade then when we should upgrade them? So it is still about our intention to do the right things or not. READ ALSO: Infrastructure deficit: Open old Abuja int’l terminal to domestic airlines, extend Lagos operating time- Mshelia
The DG just talked about the National Aviation Policy review and how he is disappointed about the response especially from stakeholders like you. Have you made any submissions to the NCAA? If not, why? Especially given you track Record
Well, talk about National Aviation Policy I think the DG did very well in pushing for a review, the last one was 2013. It’s due for review, ideally every 10 years or anytime it’s necessary. He’s done well there, he sent out that AOL to everybody I can vouch for, he is correct, I received it. I received it, I have contributed my own quota officially with a letter to his office. I’ve done my own contribution, I don’t know of others and I can share my contribution with the press. I agree with the DG, part of the problems why the government has not been able to put fingers on problems and fix them is because of still we, the so called professionals.
Those of us who are in the field because we have people who have presented themselves to the powers that be to give them jobs that they are experts, they are indeed experts no doubt but why is that that we still have the same problems recurring? I am particularly impressed he sent an AOL and attached the 2013 document and he did assure us that he is willing to work with us so that we bring all our problems and change it. I sat down and did my own and submitted it to the DGs office directly before I closed for the holidays.
So yes, the reason the DG is saying this is because the truth of the matter is no nation builds itself,the citizens build the nation. We do have experts and all claim experts but why is our aviation system still the worse around here? This is because there is no good intention. Most of our people when opportune they are experts by the time they start when they get into the office they become clueless, I am confused myself. I tried to get some colleagues to see if we can come together and do a collective submission but it was taking a long time and by the end of the day I had to submit my own as an individual. Problem we have is lack of will. I can share my submission with you with the one I sent to the DG so you can also have my submissions on what I want changed in the national policy. I was very specific and very vocal particularly on the age limit of aircraft. The Nigerian government has no right to place an age limit on any aircraft we don’t manufacture and so we cannot limit. It’s wrong to limit the age of an aircraft. We cannot register these aircraft in our country because it’s too old, it is actually a joke. It’s laughable but we have been living with this for so long. READ ALSO: Mshelia hails Civil Aviation Policy review; flays age-long State Weather Minima Laws
Can you compare and contrast with regards airport infrastructure between Nigeria and other parts of Africa?
I have operated out of Senegal, Bamako- Mali, Côte d’IVoire, Ghana and Guinea- Conakry.. if you talk of functionality, I’m.sad to say that Nigeria’s airports are worse off, even Conakry that is a country so small, their airport is fantastic. Nigerians are Nigeria’s problems. I used to tell people an aeroplane are 100% safe but the minute you put a pilot and an engineer to touch it reduces to 95%. So Nigerian infrastructure are good but the moment you put Nigerians to manage it then they start wrecking it. The problem with our airport is nothing but Nigerians. Bring Ghanaians and remove every Nigerian there, I tell you you’d like Nigerian airports. The problem is nothing but Nigerian behaviour and I detest saying this. Our airports are the worst experience you can have among all these airports mentioned and I can stand to defend it anywhere. I am not proud of that, I am angry about it because I know we can do better and in fact, we can change this trend within hours.
You own an airline and equally keep renewing your certification and are still flying, what challenges do you see why flying and are there solutions?
Yes, we do have shortages, we have so many airlines and infrastructure is limited and some of these limitations are imposed. How can you build an airport with all these monies and reduce operating hours, who does that? It’s only Nigeria you see that happen. You build a beautiful airport and you say it can only open from sunrise to sunset, where is that done? Aeroplanes are built to fly 24 hours except adverse weather conditions.
What exactly are you referring to?
There is now ILS Cat3 in some airports in the country, runway 18L has new lighting and can land zero visibility so what is the crux?In Nigeria today if you go anywhere go to FAA, I’m not fighting anyone but I’m just saying there are things we do that make me laugh. A pilot is trained to fly through adverse weather and normal weather he knows when to do what, he knows when not to go, he is certificated by the CAA, then the government now limits the pilot’s ability especially during harmattan and say ‘ you cannot fly unless the weather is 800 metres and above’ I have been shouting about this for a long time but nobody is listening, we are trained on this.
Now Nigeria has ILS Category 3 in Lagos Airport and complemented with the AFL we can land in zero visibility, why are we limiting it to 800 metres? So why did we have to waste that money? Why didn’t we put that money on hospitals that we nd? Or food for our people displaced in IDP Camps due to insurgency? Why did we take that money to buy Category 3 ILS that we can only use in adverse weather like this one and then you say we can fly to the ground with zero visibility but the law forbids us to do so, when the time to practice comes we are never allowed.
When you train it’s for practice but when reality comes we are never allowed I’ve flown in Lagos Airspace for 40 years now, there is no time that you get visibility less than 400 metres. I’ve never seen 300 or 200 metres never and that facility can fly you down under zero visibility. There is something fundamentally wrong.
Who sets this state weather minima rule and can it be changed?
When you are coming in and request information and the ATC gives you all you need and ends with you are below State Minima, if you land, they will file a violation. No pilot wants to get sites with a violation, it affects your being employed, in fact you become a dangerous pilot. So you have to now divert somewhere else, meanwhile even category 2 ILS on 200 metres you can land but still State minima has been there since I was a young pilot, so who put that, someone in power somewhere and no one had bothered to do anything. For example, I think the Minister of Aviation has power to change that. It’s not in the Act, or the aviation policy. The laws are there and they announce them this period because if the pilots violate them, they will punish them, they will impound your license. The law of the Air says no airport can be closed to any traffic unless the runway surface is bad. Which means even if the weather is bad the pilot says I’m coming you just encourage him to come but in Nigeria Airspace today, the moment the weather is bad you hear the controller telling you how bad it is and even begins to scare young pilots. There are so many things wrong.
Can the DG change this rule?
If not who can?I don’t think it’s the DG that can change it the DG is supposed to supervise FAAN, NAMA every service provider is subject to the supervision of the NCAA but I don’t think it is under his purview to change and you know why, I think people had an accident but if a car had an accident therefore should you park all the vehicles?
What about technical manpower in the industry, is that satisfactory especially in the NCAA?
The ideal standard of employees for NCAA, I put the maximum staff at NCAA at 700-1000 and 90% that they will be technical staff or experts only 10% would be support staff like lawyers, admin but rather than 1000 inspectors and 10% support staff we now have 1000 support staff and ten per cent inspectors and they have to charge the airline to pay the workers who do not provide technical service to the airlines. The inspectors are the real people CAA needs, not the thousands sitting down in offices.We pay 5% and the NCAA has to share a percentage with others but if the NCAA had the right set of employees, that 5% would have been developing the NCAA rapidly. How can you employ an inspector and pay him N500, 000 or N600,000 when his colleagues in the airline are earning N2 Million, it doesn’t work, the salary should be at par. Document 8335 says that you as an inspector must have greater or equal experience to the person you are going to inspect or it doesn’t work. A neophyte would not even know how to ask or what to ask, so the right staff demarcation is key