‘Why safety should be top priority in industry’

ncaa-airport-aviationThe Aviation industry is a large and growing industry. It facilitates economic growth, world trade, international investment and tourism. It is therefore central to the globalization that is taking place in other sectors.

Air transport encourages a countryís integration into the global economy, providing direct benefits for users and wider economic benefits through its positive impact on productivity and economic performance. Former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan recognized that the Aviation industry is indispensable to the socio-economic development of Nigeria and should therefore be given the proper attention it deserves, hence the appointment of former Federal Road Safety (FRSC) Corp Marshal, Osita Chidoka as minister of aviation on July 23, 2014.

On assumption of office, there were fears that Chidoka had little or no time to make any meaningful impact with barely few months to the end of the Goodluck administration, but he allayed these fears with the analogy that General Murtala Mohammed, Nigeriaís late Head of State, in just six months created twelve states, made Abuja Federal Capital and recorded several milestones that have endeared him to many Nigerians.

At Chidokaís maiden outing in Lagos, when he held meetings with various industry stakeholders, he was sincere in acknowledging he would require some time to learn and study the needs of the industry.

His interaction with aviation agencies, airline operators, workers union, the media and other key stakeholders secured him their buy-in and birthed his operational template anchored on the Aviation Master-plan. His shared vision for the sector was unambiguous, the aviation sector must fulfil its potential.

For Chidoka, a safe and secure air transport system and an industry that can be made economically viable was of keen interest to him. Already, a safer and secure transportation system is something Chidoka understands, given his reign as the Corp Marshal of the FRSC where safety was the anthem.

Safety, a core value which he fought to instil among road users during his stay at the FRSC remained a critical factor in his administration of the aviation sector. ìI wonít ever compromise on safety,î the former minister was heard saying on several public appearances. In addition to pursuing safety, which resulted in a zero air accident in his reign, to his credit, Chidoka came up with new laudable projects and innovations that many industry stakeholders now applaud.

This projects his unique vision for the industry. Among them is the launch in December last year of the Passengersí Service Portal (PSP); the enhancement of security at the nationís airports; drastic cut down of touts and touting activities at all the airports especially the international gateways; recruitment of technical staff into the main aviation parastatals; review of previous air crashes in the country; and the improved ambience for users of the nationís airports.

Chidoka pronounced the mandatory ìone Nigerian pilot in the cockpitî rule for all domestic commercial airlines to commence by July 1, 2015. This policy was aimed at employing Nigerian qualified staff, but he also expressed concern about the dearth of technical personnel in the sector, a situation he said must be addressed particularly by the regulators.

He commissioned the Glo-wifi project at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, where he also launched the enhanced security features for ground transportation in Nigeria airports.

The former minister, who decried the low level (0.4per cent) of contribution that the aviation sector was making to the nationís GDP, said the government would come up with a fresh Master Plan for Nigerian airports to include econometrics and ensure that greater income come to the economy from the airports.

Buttressing these achievements at an event, Olumide Ohunayo, director of research, Zenith Travels, who spoke to some journalists noted that on assumption of office, Chidoka was faced with numerous challenges, which included the massive debts profile left behind by his predecessor, Stella Oduah and obstinate tilted organogram of the different agencies and the ministry, this, Ohunayo continued, was stabilised and the sector embarked on progressive developments, which would further enhance customer-service provider relationship.

He described the recent collaboration with the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to check low-level corruption in the system as a step to checkmate criminal activities in the industry, stressing that this would further boost the flying publicís confidence.

He further said that the installation of Closed Circuit Television, CCTV cameras at strategic location within the airports in the country would lead to drastic reduction in pilfering of passengersí luggage at the airside, but decried that his ìgreatest impediment was the clock ticking and running to the handover date while the strenuous electioneering period was another pain that was diversionary. The portal service that was recently introduced is a real time and one stop information portal that will be useful to operators and passengers alike.

The battle of eradicating touting and sanitisation of crowding in and around the terminal buildings is also a good step in the right direction,î he added. Another stakeholder who commended the minister is an engineer with the defunct national carrier, Nigeria Airways, Chukwudi Amokwu who said that one of the greatest achievements of the minister was the creation of industrial harmony between the aviation ministry and the unions.

Amokwu also explained that the approval of training and retraining of technical staff by Chidoka further enhanced safety in the system and provided more rated professionals for the industry. Amokwu said the launch of Aviation Commits Initiative (ACI) by the minister would change the orientation of workers, bring more productivity to the system, ensure accountability and expose some unprofessional practices by some workers.

Mike Okpapi, another stakeholder also mentioned the full automation of aeronautical information management systems, curtailing of the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease, (EVD), in Nigeria through effective airport screening and detection systems and robust tracing processes and deployment of 24 hours surveillance patrol at the five international airports as some of the achievements of Chidoka.

Within the short period of his resumption as Minister of Aviation, aviation industry received the confirmation of the substantive DG of NCAA, Capt Muhtar Usman. Fate also bestowed on him the fortune to receive the golden fleece of the aviation industry Öthe Category 1 status of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) of the USA for the second time, a feat most armchair critics in the industry had thought was far-fetched. During and after his tenure as Aviation Minister, aviation stakeholders commended him for the consolidation of achievements in the sector.

According to the managing director/CEO, Finnum Aviation Services, Sheri Kyari, as soon as Chidoka assumed office, he tried to sustain the previous positive achievements in the aviation sector and initiated his programmes aimed at deepening service delivery in the sector that has capability to create massive impact in the Nigerian economy.

It became evident that Chidoka had not only learnt as he promised, but had also proved to have learnt quickly. Noting some of the activities of Chidoka an aviation industry consultant and CEO of Belujane Konsult, Chris Aligbe, said the minister is laying critical foundations but he may be constrained by time. And he was right, the man had a huge vision and great plans as a minister.

Chidoka, served as Nigeriaís Minister of Aviation for about 10 months before the cabinet was dissolved to end President Jonathanís tenure. The examples laid by the former minister in rebuilding the aviation sector must remain on course in the light of many issues that domestic operators have consistently put on the front burner for governmentís attention.

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