Tuesday 7 May 2013

NCAP: Beyond comfort, rethinking safety of private aircraft owners

Aviation Nigeria

Private jets are fast and wonderfully convenient. They can access hundreds of airports throughout the world, making it possible to go places you just can’t get into on large commercial aircraft. But there is also the downside.

Many were held spell bound at the awful fate which befell former Governor of Taraba state Dan Baba Suntai. Some refer to it as an act of fate, a plan by enemies or a will of God. For others however, like professionals in the aviation industry, it is a simple case of airline safety regulation violation.

There have been a string of irregularities by airline operators as well as agencies offering aviation services. The irregularities could be trivial, such as pilgrims complaining of having their seats sold out. Or in some cases complex, like controversies on whether the responsibility for the Helicopter crash which led to the death of Governor Yakowa of Kaduna state should have been allotted to the Ministry of Aviation as against the Nigerian Navy.

In a bid to ensure coordinated safe and secure airline operations in Nigeria, the Federal Government issued the National Civil Aviation Policy, 2013. A policy which the the Federal Government maintains is designed to provide a platform for the way forward and future prospects of the aviation industry.

The policy however has caused media up-roar, especially when representatives of private jet owners like Globalcom giant Mike Adenuga, Global fleets Jimoh Ibrahim, as well as business tycoons Aliko Dangote and Harry Akande have began to scrutinize for loopholes and clauses within the policy which may result in a conflict of interests.

A key area which has requested clarification in the recent policy is a series of clauses that have been interpreted as a move by the Federal Government to ban private Jet owners from carrying friends and relatives, with requests on clarification to which a response by the Federal Government is still being anticipated.

However it must be noted that the National Civil Aviation Policy, 2013 deals with issues beyond the interests of private jet owners. Issues relating to aviation financing, aviation training and development, safety regulations, as well as liabilities arising from crashes and related occurrences were key concepts tackled in the preparation of the policy. A majority of these adjustments have become necessary in the wake of new developments in the aviation sector.

Such policies are also not new, and in most cases are not for the short-run comfort of a few but for the safety of the majority in the long run. Notable in the US are policies requiring fingerprint-based background checks on pilots, as well checking passenger names against a government watch list and restricting what items may be carried onto the airplane.

Aviation regulations are key to the proper functioning of the industry. They help agencies required to not only run more efficiently and effectively, but also cut down unnecessary risk that may lead to loss of lives. They help to solve complex issues like working out legal knots in lease agreements as well as requesting simple information such as: Where the plane is flying, air traffic control, the type of plane, the age of the plane, the experience and training of the pilots and crew, weather conditions, plane and equipment maintenance as well as company procedures and policies.

Dan Baba Suntai was a Private Jet Owner. Like many private jet owners in Nigeria, he was not operating under prescribed regulations. He was fatigued, the weather was hazardous  the flight was un-scheduled and the timing was bad. There was a breach of several regulations resulting to complications for not just the people who were in the aircraft on that fateful jet that day, but also Taraba state and Nigeria in general.

The National Civil Aviation Policy, 2013 may require further clarification by the government as well as aviation professionals who participated in its drafting, in ways that will be clearer to stakeholders. However it must remain clear that the aim of the policy lies beyond the comfort of private jet owners.


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