In this Interview with the Publisher of NewsDirect, Dr. Samuel Ibiyemi, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, speaks on the stride of development NAMA has undergone in his over two years of office, in capacity building, effort in eliminating blind-spots, and safety in air travelling records…Excerpts:
After two years in office, what can you say about your administration in NAMA starting from what you met on ground?
Depending on your kind of person; ordinarily if you ask me, I would have preferred to say; why don’t you ask the public or why don’t you ask my staff? But as a direct response , I think Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) on the whole has been better. It is not that I started building new things, but I took the journey from where I met it and improved on it. Today, we’ve had tremendous improvement in training, building human capacity, equipment, facilities and even technology but on the whole I would have preferred that other people will judge me rather than me judging myself. But as you have asked me, I like to believe that NAMA has improved, we’ve heard industrial peace; we’ve heard a lot of more training, we have equipment upgrade; we are also bringing in more technology and even where we are still late on issues, we are putting through.
What is your assessment on air fatality and safety in Nigeria?
Nigeria is pretty safe, we don’t have any fatality in 2018. There might have been cases of accident, but there are no fatalities. The issue is that if you ask me expressly on what I think, we are saying right now; the point is that we have continue to manifest for the past six years, and there has been improvement on our safety records. The records are there based on statistics and evidence. How you manage every situation is very essential. You can be driving just from a short distance to the main road and the car might have a brake failure. You can control it and that does not mean anybody will be hurt. Yes, the car can be damaged, but the fact is there is no fatality.
There is no machine-based system that will not have what I will consider as issues, but great efforts have been made by all the stakeholders to ensure safety and that is what you have seen.
There are still cases of complaints on the part of some Pilots about problems in the Nigerian airspace with cases of technical delay in air traveling blamed on lack of information. Can we then attribute this to failure in navigation equipment, and it is also said that blind-spots has been eliminated in the airspace, how did you achieve this sir?
Well, let’s start with the first issue relating to blaming the navigation aid. The question I will like to ask here is which navigation aid broke down? This is because when Port Harcourt ILS (Instrument Landing System) was damaged by an air-plane that crashed into it, that was not NAMA’s fault; but immediately we installed a new ILS. So, quiet honestly, I’m not saying this because I’m now in NAMA but, I’m saying this from experience. Our overall improvements in navigation equipment is there for the record. Many years ago, Port Harcourt ILS went down but we could still fly there with a VOR approach. These are procedures which use VORs as the primary navigational aid.
And the VOR approach is still there till today, but we didn’t say they should fly VOR approach, but we immediately installed another ILS there. I don’t mind responding to that issue if somebody will tell me which navigation aid broke down.
Can you comment on the Blind-spot?
Blind-spot happens when you have areas that are not covered. What we have done and what we are doing is to ensure that the radio propagation areas will cover all over Nigeria. And like I said in another place at another setting, when we look at the growth in air traffic in Nigeria, the demand on airtime has increased and therefore we have to continue to improve on the abilities of those who communicate, that is pilot and air traffic controllers being able to do so. As I was explaining earlier today, the ILS automated system that we are trying to bring will help us to provide backbone for the extended range VHF (Very High Frequency) communications which will virtually eliminate in its totality any blind spot
How has ILS installation help in night operations?
Let me explain a few things. We have to know that building an airport doesn’t necessarily mean we want to operate it 24 hours. There are reasons why you may not want to operate 24 hours. The questions are; do we have traffic going on there? Do we have the manpower? Do we have the requirements? It’s a global issue, and sometimes we look at Nigeria to say, only in Nigeria do airports not operate 24 hours? When you do a proper research, you will find out that there are also small airports in America that are not available at night.
(Cuts in) Operating not military airport like commercial?
Yes. There are airfields which are not operating 24 hours. Now on what determines an airport, you can decide to build an airfield for day operations in which case you don’t need to put landing lights there. So, if I put an ILS which is NAMA’s business in any airfield, what I’m doing is that I’m providing a navigation aid for the landing, but I am not necessarily putting an aid for night. This is because there are requirements for night. In this country there are no night VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flights, so technically every night flight in this country is an instrument flight. That means that the navigation aid must be working, but you will need landing light and approach light to be able to make that night facility. So, if these are available, even if I have an ILS, I would still not have a night facility. Let us say hypothetically you build an airport in a place, for assumption XYZ town. The airport is not required to be opened after 7 O’clock because nobody comes there. The traffic has been determined, and from the national grid, electrical power supply does not go there, which means that the airport has to run 24/7 on generator; and nobody comes there. Then do you think it’s going to be a waste if we just keep the generator running, and we keep manpower there, if we have so determined that it is not required. Yes, we can say, well, we can keep airports running because of emergencies, but there can be issues of proximity in between XYZ town and ABC airport which are only 5 minutes apart, and this particular one here nobody goes there at night. There are airports in this country that nobody was going to at a time. I can give you a core example. Until recently, there were no regular flights into Akure. So, if there are no flights coming there, then we don’t have to keep the airport open. That doesn’t mean that we cannot extend the operating hours. So, every airport has its own operating hours and as a matter of fact, we can always find out the operating hours of some airports.·
Talking about the capacity building and training you have mentioned, can you state specific areas where you have invested in manpower training to ensure improvement in the operations of NAMA since you took over and how much have you invested in this area?
I don’t have exact figures off-hand here, but I’m sure that last year we couldn’t have spent nothing less than close to N2 billion on training. We have done training for our engineers in improving basic skills. We’ve spent money on what I will consider as recurrent training. When we bought new equipment, we provided new training on these equipment. We’ve done a lot of training for air traffic controllers; we’ve sent them overseas, just as we did for the engineers. They were in Cairo, United States and they’ve had courses in developing airspace planning in managing airspace. We have not just taken the technical aspects because this is a technical institution. We’ve upgraded the training of air traffic controllers and engineers too, a lot. We have trained accountants! Our Accountants have gone through trainings on compliance to IPSAS (International Public Sector Accounting Standards). We’ve done the same thing for auditors. All our Staffs have had local training which we conducted at Centre for Management Development (CMD), also at Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) in Badagry. So for our Staff in general; office and support staff have underdone training. Even up to management staff, we’ve provided training. Overall, I think our training has been such that the staff have said that for years they haven’t seen this, and they are quite happy. Our belief as a management is that “if you think education is expensive, try ignorance”. Whenever you have people who are well trained, you spend less time at work. If an engineer has to go on the field to fix a problem or do a repair, if he is knowledgeable, it takes him lesser time; but for someone who is groping in the dark, who doesn’t know what he’s doing, this is going to take all days. Our investments in having our staff properly trained is not lost.
You have been an operator and a regulator. Now as the Managing Director of NAMA, how has this helped you to move on in the aviation industry?
Well, I’m thankful to God. I’ve been opportuned to have come through in the industry. I started as an engineer; I became a flight engineer; and I became a pilot. Yes, I’ve been an operator an instructor and a regulator. All this has equipped me with knowledge to be able to do my job. I’m sitting here as the MD of NAMA. When Air traffic controllers talk, I can empathize with them because I’m a pilot. When engineers talk about ground equipment, I know what it’s about because I use to be an Engineer. When an operator comes to me and tells me he wants to carry out an operation in a particular place at a particular time, and I say yes or no; it has to be because of the knowledge I have from the regulatory aspects; so it has helped me. Also, it has helped me to be able to explain to my clients and customers. In a nutshell, it has helped me to be able to do my job better, because the more knowledge you have about your industry, I think the better equipped you are to be able to do your job.
What significance does the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has to NAMA?
This is simple. The whole essence of having EFCC is to make sure that we are operating according to the law. For me, it is a gentle reminder on a constant basis to know that somebody is watching and that you are accountable to people. If you go to Church, and you are being preached to. Any time you see your priest, I’m sure it reminds you of God a little bit. Putting it another way, every time you go for a burial service, it’s a gentle reminder that time flies but death is certain. So, if you attend a burial service, it’s a gentle reminder that one day it will be your turn; and If you are a Christian or even a Muslim, you should know that there will be judgment. I don’t know of anybody who has gone over and is back to say there is no judgement. So, our believe is that there is judgement and once you cross over to the other side, it becomes too late to say I’m sorry.
Regarding all what you have said, are you assuring us that Nigerian Airspace is safe?
Surely, I will go into an airplane before I go into a car. Any time, I will do that. If you request we go to Abuja now, I will straight away ask you of the ticket.