Issues At Port Harcourt International Airport Exaggerated – DG NCAA - INDEPENDENT
SEPTEMBER 29, 2021
By Olusegun Koiki
Capt. Musa Nuhu, Director-General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), in this interview with OLUSEGUN KOIKI, speaks on the recertification of Lagos and Abuja airports and challenges in remittance of the 5 per cent Ticket Sales Charge/Cargo Sales Charge (TSA/CSC) by airlines and the plans of the regulatory authority to tackle it, among others. Excerpts:
Sir, how far has the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) gone with the recertification of Lagos and Abuja international airports?
Lagos and Abuja international airports were certified a few years ago and presently, they are going through recertification.
There has been some progress. We have a few gaps that are to be closed. Some have been closed, others, we are in the process of closing them and new gaps have come.
So, we are working closely with the management of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to close those gaps so that the recertification process can be completed as soon as possible.
Some of the projects they have to do are quite capital intensive, but we are working on them and I think we are getting some assistance from the Ministry of Aviation to give them the support on those heavy items that they need to do.
Apart from that, we are also talking on initial certification for Port Harcourt, Enugu and Kano international airports. All the international airports have to be certified. It is quite a big project to certify five airports; two initials and three recertifications.
It is quite a heavy load to be done, but hopefully, we will get them by as soon as possible.
As we all know, the handling rates are deregulated, but the NCAA had to intervene in this recently, why did the regulatory agency get involved in this?
The new handling rates were done after consultations with the foreign, domestic airlines and ground handling companies.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) did not just wake up and put figures together. We had consultative meetings with all the parties involved.
Why should I be charging $300 in Nigeria and neighbouring countries are charging $4,000 and you expect the ground handlers to give you the same service? That is not possible. Those charges are a reflection of what is in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region.
So, the NCAA did not just wake up to come out with the charges, but significant consultative meetings with everyone like the Aviation Ground Handling Association of Nigeria (AGHAN), Airline Operators Committee (AOC), Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) and the Ministry of Aviation. It was agreed by everyone and we implemented the figures as agreed by all the parties involved.
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Some years ago, the NCAA directed all airlines to move to its portal for the remittance of the 5 per cent Ticket Sales Charge/Cargo Sales Charge (TSA/CSC). How far have you gone with this integration?
Almost all the airlines have integrated. What we have done now is that if you come in, you won’t be given an Air Operators’ Certificate (AOC) until you sign the tripartite agreement on the integration to the portal.
This will save us a lot of challenges we are facing at the moment on the debt. Also, if you are renewing your AOC, too, we ensure that you must have signed that.
What we do now is that we have stopped the growth of the debt. There is a legacy debt. We are working with airlines to come out with their plans and a lot of them have come out with their plans and very soon we are going to be talking to them one by one on how they are going to settle their old debts.
We know, we are all facing a difficult time, but also, you must have a visible plan on how to settle this debt. Maybe one or two airlines are in the process of integrating into the portal, and I think that should not be an issue.
Can you shed more light on the Legacy debts and is there any possibility that the regulatory agency would right off the debts?
I don’t want to give you a wrong figure. Even with legacy debt, when you say something, the airlines will disagree with you on the figures you sent out.
We need to sit down, do reconciliation with them. There is this reconciliation meeting that is ongoing with the airlines and that is why I don’t want to give a figure that I won’t be able to substantiate. The President and the Vice President of AON met with us on the debt issue and we are working on it.
I cannot write off any debt; I do not have the authority to write off a Federal Government’s debt without the approval of the appropriate authorities.
You see, we have to keep doing the reconciliation once the debts keep growing, but now, we have to stop the debts from growing. If we did reconciliation in 2020 and the debts are still growing, I have to do reconciliation, but now, we have drawn a line by insisting everyone has to come in newly. Some are paying and some have given us the timetable for payment.
If we say they should come and pay, all the airlines will close shop, but what have we achieved with that at the end of the day? Don’t forget, we are to also help to promote the growth of the industry inasmuch as we want our money and we want the airlines to pay back the government money.
What is the true position of Port Harcourt International Airport?
What were the reasons given for the airport to be shut down? This is a report from my Regional Manager in Port Harcourt.
Yes, there are some issues there, but a lot of the issues that were mentioned have been addressed. Some of the people were talking of the Instrument Landing System (ILS); the mandatory flight calibration and navigation were carried out on August 29, 2021. It is unfortunate and I wish people will clarify certain information before going to the public.
Some of the information you have maybe outdated, but we do appreciate people talking and raising those issues. Sometimes, they show you something you don’t see and you need to work on them.
They also said we have issues of cows straying into the airport regularly, but the last issue of cows we had at the airport was about 16 years ago. Since then, officially, the NCAA has never had any such issue.
Like I said earlier, Port Harcourt Airport is one of the airports we want to carry out certification on and one of the issues raised is on the fences there.
The fences at Port Harcourt Airport are porous and it is one of the things we are working on for the certification of the airport. It is an ongoing project and we are working with FAAN on that and it is one of the things that must be done before the certification. There is still a risk of wildlife coming into the runway and the risk assessment has been done and sent to the airport operator.
Another issue they raised is the unclear markings at the airside; runway markings are almost 95 per cent complete as at September 4, 2021, yes; there is an issue of runway central light. It is one of the issues we are also discussing on the certification of the airport.
Also, they said that there are several incidents of aircraft skidding off the runway at the airport, I don’t know which of the incidents they are referring to, but I know we had one in 2018. Runway friction test was conducted on the runway on July 21, 2021 at the airport.
Also, they said too much water on the surface of the runway, which leads to aircraft losing balance and skidding off the runway. When did an aircraft lose balance and skid off the runway? The derubberisation of the runway is done regularly. The runway was last derubberised on the 25th and 26th June, 2021.
The main issue I know we have at Port Harcourt is the issue of the backup generators for the runway lighting, the ones they have there had some problems.
I think they got burnt or damaged. To my understanding, FAAN has been notified and I think they are in the process of replacing those ones.
Yes, we have issues in Port Harcourt, like every other airport across the world, it could be better. There are issues we are working on to rectify them, but I won’t classify the airport as unsafe.
When is the next International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) audit coming up and how far have you gone with your preparations?
We are working on it and I think airport certification is a major issue for us all. We are in discussion with ICAO as to when the audit will take place. Certainly, it is going to be in 2022.
How many private jets do we have in the country at the moment?
I think in the last five years, the number of private jets we have has reduced. We all can understand why – the economy has not been buoyant. It takes a lot of money to run a private jet, depending the type of jets you have.
20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, how have we fared?
The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States has really changed the security apparatus in the aviation industry, a lot of security measures have been put in place.
Pre-9/11, you could virtually go to any airport, get approval to go in, but now, you are almost stripped naked for security checks.
It may sound inconvenience, but I will rather be stripped naked, than go and be blown to pieces up there. It is one of the things that we just have to live with. Security is very critical.