Air safety: Between South Africa and Nigeria

Published: Sunday, 5 Oct 2008

As South Africa Aviation sector is bubbling with life, competing in terms of infrastructure and safety with advanced countries in the world, Nigeria is still crawling and yet to start, writes Oyetunji Abioye.

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South Africa Minister of Transportation, Honourable Jeff Radebe

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Minister of Aviation, Mr. Felix Hyat

Participants at the recent Aviation Allied Business Leadership Conference organised by the Overland Airways/Landover Publication held in Johannesburg, South Africa were very surprised when the South Africa Minister of Transportation, Honourable Jeff Radebe, said "The first ever commercial passenger jet service was flown between London and Johannesburg in May 1952. Since that day, there has never been a fatal jet airliner accident on South African soil. This is a statistic to be proud of but it is not taken for granted."

Going further, he said, "Aviation Safety Oversight system in SA now exceeds International Civil Aviation Organisation required global standards and is rated with the top aviation nations in the world. The United States Federal Aviation Administration Assessment had confirmed SA as a Category One country."

Speaking about the 2010 World cup, the minister said that over 23 billion rands was being earmarked to still put its aviation nearly perfect aviation sector in top gear.

Local experts are saying that while South Africa has distinguished itself as the true giant on the continent through its virile and dynamic aviation over the years, Nigeria went to sleep.

Analyst and a member of the dissolved House Committee on Aviation, Honourable Bala Ibn N'allah, who was also at the conference, speaking with our correspondent after the two-day conference lamented that it was unfortunate that Nigeria, which had its first flight between Cairo and Kano in 1925, far earlier that SA had not nothing to be proud about.

He said that though Nigeria began its aviation on a strong note, it had backslidden.

He said that aviation equipment installed across the airports were as old as the airports themselves, adding that it was unfortunate that out of the 21 airports owned by the federal governments, only two has radar.

He said, "I can tell you categorically that apart from the Lagos and Abuja airports, there is no place where we have radar and even the radars in Abuja and Lagos cover only a radius of about 20 nautical miles.

"The navigational system has changed totally but we have not changed. Because the navigational aids on ground must conform to the latest technologies. We must confess that foreign airlines flying into the country rely on GNS that is in the aircraft."

Justifying the reason behind the SA's impeccable record, the lawmaker, who is also a licensed pilot said the apartheid-free nation had a very well-developed general aviation sub-sector, which he said usually serves as the backbone of any country, which knows the value of aviation. Nigeria, he said was grossly lacking in this.

He said, "You heard what the South African transport minister was saying yesterday. He said South Africa has 320 flying schools and over 168,000 registered aircraft of which 65 per cent belong to their general aviation.

"Now in Nigeria, we only have one flying school, which is the Nigeria College of Aviation Technology, Zaria. And you and I know that the number of aircraft registered in Nigeria is not up to 1000. Any country that wants to do well must have well established general aviation. This is what will prepare the civil and commercial aviation"

Speaking further, Bala asked why SA would have such aviation institutions that Nigeria could not boast of.

He said that in addition to the safety implication, the economic implication was also enormous for the country.

"As at the last count, 283 Nigerians are in various flying schools in South Africa studying as engineers, pilots, air traffic controllers e.t.c. Excluding those studying US, UK, Brazil, Dubai and other places are not included. Calculate what they are taking out of the country to; assuming each of them is paying N7m which of course we know is far more than that. That will be 283 times N7m. That is close to N2bn capital flight. Why is it so, why cant we establish these schools in Nigeria? Why? South Africa encouraged and sustained it. This has led to the development of their aviation," he noted.

The lawmaker also said that Radebe was talking from a point of knowledge and information unlike Nigeria where people are put in place to "fabricate and award spurious contract for their cronnies" under the guise of quota system.

He declared that for a focused government, that had the interest of the public at heart, quota systems should be disregarded when issues like safety and development are on line.

He said, "A lot of incompetent people were placed in strategic policy decision seat and therefore, we ran into problem with people who lack knowledge about the industry. If you bring somebody who read history or geography to come and head a very sensitive post like aviation, then there will be a problem.

The Technical and Training Director, African Airlines Association, Dr. Elijah Chigonsho, in his survey presented at the conference showed that out of 98 fatal accidents that took place on the continent between 1998 and 2007, eight occurred in Nigeria. He added that Nigeria and four other counties was responsible for 67 per cent of it.

The Chief Executive Officer, South African Civil Aviation Authority, Captain Colin Jordaan, in his paper titled Quest for a safer AFI region, declared that "Poor aviation infrastructure on the continent greatly compromises aviation safety and security in the region."

He added, however, that "Compliance with international standards is critical for SA, as major aviation country on the continent."

The Managing Director, Business Travels, Mr. Deba Uwadiae, pointed that while the Nigeria Civil Aviation headed by the able and dynamic leader, Dr. Harold Demuren, had been able to transform the nation's safety oversight after the 2005-06 crises era, the country's airspace and airport management was still very poor, principally due to obsolete equipment.

The General Secretary, Aviation Round Table, Mr. Sam Akerele, said that if the nation would get it right, it must plan far ahead ranging between 20 to 50 years, adding that was the only way, like SA, it could distinguish itself on the continent.

"Not the vision 2020 type that we will say will happen tomorrow. We must provide adequate long time of plan. Look at the Lagos international Airport. Since 1978, we have not been able to add ordinary apron or terminal. To maintain aviation system, training is necessary. This can only be achieved through the establishment of flying schools. Presently, apart from NCAT, I think there is one in the north again. That is all. We need a lot" he advised.

The Minister of Aviation, Mr. Felix Hyat, after a total blackout, which engulfed the Lagos airport recently said the generator there was about 30 years old.

But, the Minister of Transportation, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, said earlier this year that the aviation master plan was on the way.

N'allah said that the things take long before they take shape Nigeria, adding that all we see are only beautiful speeches but no implementation.

"Look at the South African minister. Did you see police or security men surrounding him around the whole place? Did you also see any convoy of cars following him about? But in Nigeria, we surround ourselves with all these things to the extent that we forget the real job we are put there to do. If you do well it is the people that will protect you," he added.

Jordan further said that, "The 2007 ICAO and FAA audits revealed that critical deficiencies existed within the CAA. Subsequent action was taken in terms of legislation, staffing and enforcement. "SACAA has surpassed the threshold Flight Ops Inspector staffing level required for ICAO-compliant safety oversight."

Jordaan said crucial challenges include extensive use of aging and discarded aircraft; technical skills shortage on the continent and globally; continental brain drain as the global skills shortage has resulted in aircraft maintenance engineers and pilots migrating to other continents like Europe and Asia.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation Secretary General on African Aviation Status, Mr. Taieb Cherrif, advised that "The prioritisation of policies and programmes by African governments will help to ensure effective safety oversight. ICAO will help African states in this area with the provision of technical support."

Practical solutions the SA aviation boss recommended were that African governments need to recognise the role aviation plays in their countries and make the resources available to increase the level of safety to that of the rest of the world.

He also added that aviation should no longer be viewed as a luxury, but a necessary catalyst for sustained economic growth and development.

Finally, he stated finally that it was possible to achieve a paradigm shift in oversight in a very short time, only that it requires political commitment at the highest levels.

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
Procurement Consultant
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East Africa
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