THE race to acquire Air Operators Certificates (AOC) which enables new airlines commence operations in Nigeria is on and while some new entrants have expressed interest to commence ownership of airlines, others have reached various stages in the acquisition of their AOCs.
In February, one of such airlines United Nigeria gained AOC and has since commenced operations; another intending airlines NG Eagle, Green Africa Airways have reached an advanced stage in its acquisition of an AOC while more investors like Rano Air, North east Shuttle and a host of others have expressed interest too.
According to the NCAA, at no time did it not have new people aspiring to start airlines, stating at any given time the number is no less than 23, sometimes it shoots up to 29 saying that some fall by the wayside in fulfilling the requirements.
The certification process timeline takes a minimum of six (6) months and the process of acquiring the AOC is a painstaking five (5) stage process that involves meticulous screening because eventually, the airline business is in the business of transporting people and goods safely and for that purpose only serious investors are welcome.
General manager Public Relations, NCAA, Sam Adurogboye who spoke to Nigerianflightdeck in his office at the weekend stressed that the regulatory body does not delay these intending investors as erroneously thought but ensures they follow the laid down stages.
“It’s a good thing to desire to come onboard. I’m only explaining to you because in the past we have had cases where one or two intending operators come out to say NCAA is delaying for tribal and sentimental reasons. It is not so, this process is a black and white thing, what you need to do in one phase to go to second, second to third, you fulfill it and the team that are in charge work as a team, it is not by the director general at any particular time. It’s a team of engineers, airworthiness inspectors, medical it’s a team and nobody can influence the other.”
The five stages for obtaining an AOC including Phase 1 – pre-application phase:
The NCAA will appoint a certification team and process the pre-application statement of intent form (AC-OPS 001).Discussions on all regulatory requirements, the formal application and attachments and any other related issues will take place. This is usually a week process.
Phase 2 involves a formal application for intending entrant where Documents and manuals (including the curricula vitae of key management personnel) must be submitted for evaluation. The minimum timeframe for the formal application phase is two weeks.
Then there is Phase 3 which is document evaluation where the NCAA will review the applicant’s manuals and other related documents and attachments to ensure conformity with the applicable regulations and safe operating practices. The minimum time-frame for the document evaluation phase is three months.
The process moves to Phase 4: demonstration and inspection, this is a key stage of the process carried out only after a satisfactory documentation evaluation phase. Here a thorough audit by the certification team at the applicant’s premises will be conducted to ensure that the proposed procedures are effective, and that the applicant’s facilities and equipment meet the NCAA’s regulatory requirements.
Other demonstrations like emergency evacuation and ditching will be carried out and after successes in these exercises; a demonstration flight will be carried out. The minimum time-frame for the demonstration and inspection phase is two months.
The 5th and final phase is certification and this means once the airline has met the regulatory requirements of the Civil Aviation (Air Navigation) Regulations, the NCAA will issue the AOC with the appropriate specifications and ratings. The minimum time-frame for the certification phase is one week. Following the issuance of the AOC, the applicant can engage in commercial aviation activities in Nigeria.
All these processes seem simple and straight forward enough and according to Mr. Adurogboye, these requirements are not there to deter any investor, contrary to that, they are meant to show capacity for safety for the particular operations to be embarked on.
He stressed that new airlines only come onboard once they have fulfilled all the requirements in the five stage process stating that the critical of those stages are stages three and four as the fifth stage is handing over the AOC to the operator.
He said,” If the new airlines are yet to come on board, it means they are yet to fulfill all the requirements because it is a five-stage process and the critical stage is third stage to fourth, fifth. In the critical stage you have to do flight demonstration and that requires you flying to all the routes you want to go, flying it empty. If its international routes you do the same with the whole crew and the NCAA team. You buy fuel and you’re not taking any passengers, you fly them to and fro all those routes that is the stage that is most critical and expensive also. If an airline has not gotten to all those stage it wouldn’t get AOC “
He went on,”Until you fulfill this thing and that is why we say demonstrate, capacity, capability to run a smooth, safe operation. You don’t say I will rent office, office must be there. You don’t say I will get insurance, I will, No! It has to be there. You don’t say I will have plane, the plane must be there. They (inspection team) will go there to inspect, pre-shipment flight inspection, clear if it is safe to bring it in and when it lands here on our soil, we now carry a comprehensive audit. If it is okay they issue Certificate of Airworthiness (C of A) for each one.
“Until all this is done, you can’t have AOC. Sometimes people come, they express interest and we give them the entire manual, they will not come back one year after. Maybe after they announce, I have this and that, sometimes they have seem planes somewhere which may turn out to be dead planes but they have announced to the world they are coming, its none of our business we don’t look at all that. We just do our job. If you fulfill the requirements no one can deny you from AOC.”
Another reason Mr. Adurogboye ascribed to the delay in some airlines obtaining AOC is external but very compulsory, security stating that neither the regulator nor the intending entrant has control over this aspect.
“Again, there is another aspect that we do not have control over, that is the security aspect. Security aspect is, if you want to establish an airline, it would get to a stage where we refer you and hand over your matter to security agencies.
“Security will now investigate you intoto just like someone wants to go into politics in Nigeria, they check you out so if you want to establish airline, they want to know your antecedents. Where have you ever been to, all the places you’ve been to, they will check. Your money, the source, they will check if it is drug free, terrorism free and all those things and so one can give a timeline to all these.
“And anyone who has a forged certificate can he now have an honest airline and when they finish this they submit their report. It also requires you placing adverts, 28 days waiting for any objection. When you want to run an airline, its serious business lives of people will be placed in your hand. So that is why they take it serious,” he said.
He also stressed an important factor about the validity of AOCs as they are documents with a finite timeline.
According to the NCAA, the AOC is valid for 24 months and can be renewed for a further 24 months. It will be revoked only if the established certification standards are not maintained by the operator. The AOC will be suspended if it is not used within 30 days for licensees engaged in scheduled operation or 90 days for licensees engaged in non-scheduled operation.
Mr. Adurogboye while explaining this further said,” When you have the AOC, we have had operators that had AOC with six planes and all and have not flown one day and we heard through the media they were going to sue us…AOCs can be withdrawn and can be cancelled and can be revoked. If you don’t use it within a certain time period, it has a minimum and maximum, it becomes invalid. We don’t have to come and take that paper from you, you can’t use it anywhere, it becomes invalid; you start all over. It is a serious issue and this is not a thing to debate in the media, the requirements are clear.