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NCAA: Thinking its way out of the forex crisis

AS the foreign exchange crisis bites harder, many businesses in the real sector have either been forced to close shop or are pruning down on all cost centres just to stay afloat. With the recent forecasts not holding out much hope of an early exit from the recession, barely staying afloat is no guarantee of survival. Not even government agencies are spared.
For some companies, merely keeping afloat is some kind of achievement, and they have soldiered on by summoning all the business school tricks and concepts. Others are turning to expert advice, at prohibitive costs, even without iron-cast guarantee of success.
In the air transport sector, airlines, which could not withstand the heat in the kitchen, have had to beat a tactical retreat. For example, Aero lives to fight another day, while Kenya Airways and Emirates have since announced that their services to Abuja, their second Nigerian point, are no longer feasible.
To be sure, while these are no mortal blows to the Nigerian economy, they are telling signs of the times. More importantly, these were no knee-jerk decisions taken by key players in Africa’s largest economy. They must have been taken after deep contemplation and, possibly, after all other efforts had failed.
But in the midst of this gloom, there’s a ray of hope, the proverbial silver lining in the cloud. There just might be a way out of the crippling forex imbroglio. It is coming from the most unlikely of places: the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
The nation’s apex aviation regulatory body, like its counterparts across the world, is not particularly great on innovation but strict enforcement of standards and recommended practices. But NCAA is thinking its way out of the forex quagmire; it is leading the way.
Long before the recession set in, NCAA was expending the bulk of it forex on foreign training for its staff, both technical and administrative. It was a matter of policy that all middle and senior cadre staff attend one form of foreign training programme or the other at least once in two years. It was an entitlement, something staff really looked forward to.
But it was a drain on the Authority’s purse. Its workforce has climbed steadily from just over 400 at its founding in 2001 to around 1,400 now. And this is without commensurate rise in its earnings. In fact, its main source of income, the 5 percent ticket and cargo sales tax has remained almost static. Worse, airlines and other service providers are owing NCAA over N12 billion, and are defaulting in rescheduled payments.
Yet many of NCAA’s training programmes are mandatory and must be run on schedule, otherwise its status as a Category 1 institution could be in jeopardy.
Such was the situation that Captain Mukhtar Usman found on ground when he assumed duties as the Director-General in 2015.
For him, it was a delicate balancing act: find funds to train staff or risk losing the much cherished Category 1, which had just been renewed on his watch.
Captain Usman, one of the most experienced Nigerian aviators, earned his command position flying for the defunct Nigeria Airways before a successful stint as the Commissioner/CEO of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB). He knew he would have to be creative to navigate NCAA out of the stormy weather of forex shortages.
He says: “One of the first steps we have taken is to domesticate some of the courses, bring in certified instructors to run the programmes in our classrooms at our training facility in Lagos. This has helped us to save scarce forex without compromising the quality of the courses or safety.”
The courses are conducted by reputable global aviation bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) among others.
One of the notable success stories was recorded last September, when an NCAA/USFAA training programme in Lagos drew participants from sister agencies as well as some African countries. The morale here is that instead of losing forex, NCAA actually helped Nigeria to earn some from foreign participation. But it did more than that: throughout the one month duration of the programme, the foreign participants got to sample our hospitality, culture and local cuisine. Indirectly, it was a boost to local tourism and understanding between Nigeria and participating nations.
Some of the international training programmes that have been domesticated and conducted in Nigeria in which participants were drawn from the country and other African countries include:
• IATA Safety Oversight Diploma Programme :
• Aircraft Airworthiness and Air Carriers Certificates October 2014
• Managing the Safety Oversight functions , October 2014
• Civil Aviation Authorities [CAA] Compliance with ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices[SARP] • FAA Training on Surveilance of Service Providers Course from July -September 2015
• Flight Standard Group (FSG) Indoctrination Course from 13th 17thOctober, 2014; 17th -21st November, 2015.
• Aircraft Accident Investigation Course organized by BAGAIA in Lagos in October,2015
• Aircraft Accident Investigation Course organized by BAGAIA in Abuja in November,2015
• Government Safety Inspectors (GSI) Co operations Course in December,2015
• Government Safety Inspectors (GSI) Airworthiness Course from July 2015 – 11th -27th of January, 2016.
• Safety Oversight Inspectors [Aerodromes ] Course in 2016
• Government Safety Inspectors [GSI] Personnel Licensing Course organized by FAA in Lagos throughout September 2016
Captain Usman is keen to stress that not all courses would be run locally. “Simulator training and programmes that we cannot improvise here will still be run abroad,” he said, adding, “Overseas training itself is very good in the sense that you get to see and observe what is not available at home, you compare notes and share experiences with your colleagues from other countries. That’s a good thing but we are faced with a different reality here, and must devise means to keep abreast of developments and still discharge our core responsibilities within available resources.”
Predictably, not all staff have warmed up to the idea of domesticating essential trainings. For them, it may mean a loss of estacodes and other travel peeks. The NCAA boss is aware and has been eager to reassure them that “this is in the overall interest of the Authority and the country.”
He added: “The federal government is tightening its belt, it’s implementing cost-saving policies. We are a leader in the air transport sector and must lead by example by helping the government to succeed without compromising safety in any way.”
The word around the industry is that even the mother ministry has taken note of the innovation at the NCAA, and is quietly urging sister agencies to borrow a leaf.
This is perhaps the surest proof yet that NCAA must be doing something really smart.
Sam Adurogboye, the General Manager Public Affairs NCAA wrote in from Lagos

About NigerianFlightDeck

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Nigerianflightdeck is an online news and magazine platform reporting business stories with a bias for aviation and travel. It is borne out of the intention to inform, educate as well as alter perceptions with balanced reportage.

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