The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has rejected an application from Nigeria Air, the nation’s national carrier, seeking certification to proceed to “phase two” in the process of obtaining Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC).
The development came less than two weeks after the airline’s aircraft was unveiled in Abuja.
In a letter titled “Request to proceed to phase two of AOC certification,” written by the NCAA and addressed to the management of Nigeria Air on Friday, the agency hinted that the certification process of Nigeria Air cannot progress to phase two due to the unavailability of a “formal application form” and other “necessary documents.”
“The authority is in receipt of your letter dated May 25, 2023, on the above subject matter. Quite contrary to our earlier letter of 16th May 2023, which enumerated the documents to be submitted with the formal application form OPS 002, your letter of request to proceed to phase two has no inclusion of a formal application form and the necessary documents referenced in the formal application form,” the NCAA said.
Based on this, the authority emphasised that the certification process of the controversial national carrier cannot progress to phase two without these required documents.
“Please be reminded that your post holders’ letters of commitment to Nigeria Air have a tenure of three months and, as such expire now,” the NCAA letter noted.
AOC certification is an approval often granted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to an aircraft operator to use aircraft for commercial purposes.
However, before such permission is granted, the aircraft operator is required to have personnel, assets, and systems in place to ensure the safety of its employees and the general public.
The certificate often bears the aircraft types and registrations to be used, for what purpose and in what area.
In Nigeria, five stages are involved in obtaining the AOC certification, according to the NCAA guidelines.
During the first phase, the NCAA appoints a certification team and processes the
pre-application statement of intent form (AC-OPS 001). It also entails discussing all regulatory requirements, the formal application and attachments, and other related issues. The process usually takes a week to complete, according to official regulations.
The second phase involves a formal application for intending entrants where documents and manuals (including the curriculum vitae of key management personnel) must be submitted for proper evaluation, and the minimum timeframe to conclude this phase is two weeks.
The third phase involves document evaluation. At this stage, which has a minimum timeframe of three months, 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.
After this, the authority’s scrutiny moves to the fourth stage, which involves demonstration and inspection. It is described as a key phase of the process, and it is carried out only after a satisfactory documentation evaluation phase.
In this stage, 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.
Also, in phase four, other demonstrations like the emergency evacuation and ditching will be carried out, and after successes in these exercises, a demonstration flight will be carried out. The minimum timeframe for this phase is two months.
The fifth and final phase is called the certification phase. 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 timeframe for this phase is a week, and after the issuance of the AOC, the applicant can engage in commercial aviation activities in Nigeria.
The NCAA’s rejection of the airline’s request brings to the fore again the controversies trailing the unveiling of the national carrier by the immediate past administration of Muhammadu Buhari.
Less than three weeks before the inauguration of Nigeria’s newly elected President Bola Tinubu, former Aviation minister Hadi Sirika, promised Nigerians repeatedly that the national carrier would commence operation before the swearing-in of a new administration on 29 May.
Amid concerns among aviation experts, the minister unveiled the airline’s aircraft less than three days before his from office, claiming that the airline would commence operations after getting approval from the NCAA.
But the NCAA’s rejection letter has shown no adequate preparation for the airline’s operation.
Several calls and messages sent to the NCAA spokesperson, Sam Adurogboye, and its Director General, Shuaibu Nuhu, for further clarification on the matter were left unanswered.
When this newspaper contacted Adewale Arogundade, an official of Nigeria Air who received the letter from the NCAA, the official declined comments on the matter.
On 18 July 2018, Nigeria Air, the nation’s proposed national carrier, was unveiled at the Farnborough Air Show in England. However, the project was shelved two months after being announced as critics raised concerns over its relevance and sustainability.
The airline was expected to gulp $8.8 million in preliminary costs and $300 million as take-off costs. The national carrier idea was raised many years after Nigeria’s defunct carrier, Nigeria Airways, collapsed due to corruption and poor management.
In July 2022, the Federal Executive Council approved the leasing of three aircraft to enable the airline to commence operations.
In September last year, Mr Sirika said at a press briefing in Abuja that Ethiopian Airlines emerged as a core investor in Nigeria Air with a 49 per cent shareholding.
The decision was trailed by a suit filed by local airline operators who claimed they could manage Nigerian Air better than a foreign airline. Some of the domestic airline operators are still in court seeking to stop the federal government from partnering with Ethiopian Airlines to float the national carrier.
When the minister unveiled the airline last week, only one aircraft belonging to Ethiopian Airlines was unveiled at the ceremony. The development generated concerns among Nigerians on social media, many of whom questioned the move and Mr Sirika’s handling of the airline’s proposed operation.
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