AVIATIONLINE: It is about three years ago we met you last in this office for an interview. Will you comment on our aviation in recent times.

OJIKUTU: Nothing has changed significantly. That 11 accident reports are missing from the system tells a lot about the high level of decadence in the nation’s aviation sector.

In a situation where there are only five (5) technical personnel in the Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau (AIPB), you should expect such a scenario. The management of the Bureau claim that there are 14 staff in the agency; what we know is that nine (9) of them are on contract. Of all the Ministers of Aviation that had been in office in the recent past, only Professor BabalolaBorishade and the immediate past minister, Chief OsitaChidoka actually made impact. They contributed a lot to aviation development through the various committees they put in place and the policies they formulated.

Anytime we talk about government intervention in aviation it should not be limited to improving aesthetics through building of terminals only. This can be done through private initiative. The colossal sums of money committed to such projects serve the interest of the minority in this country; if you compare the number of air travellers with those who travel by other means. More emphasis should be laid on those facilities that guarantee safety and security at our airports. Terminal Buildings merely add to the beauty at airports and at best, would enhance facilitation. It is not the business of government, for instance, to build even runways, cargo warehouse and cold rooms at the airports; that is strictly the business of investors. Many of them (investors) are not well informed about what best to invest their money on. See the multi-billion Skyway Aviation Handling Company limited (SAHCOL) Warehouse and office complex at the Cargo Terminal of the Murtala Muhamme Airport, Ikeja in Lagos; it is strictly a private initiative. We need more of it in this country.

When you compare the number of Nigerians travelling by air to those that go by other means of transportation you will discover that it is not worth the investment of government on a few and insignificant percentage of our population.

AVIATIONLINE: Under the present circumstance, where do we lay the blame?

OJIKUTU: The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), of course. The agency is responsible for most of the problems of aviation in this country. For instance, should be conducting regular checks including economic regulation to determine whether or not the airlines are healthy. There is no doubt; failing airlines are more prone to cutting corners, especially compromising safety. Where was NCAA when domestic airlines accumulated debts to agencies providing them services, fuel marketers, financial institutions and workers’ salaries.

I can assure you, the present administration under President MuhammaduBuhari will not condone the type of indiscipline of the past; it is a serious government that will ensure that airlines pay their debts accordingly. Government is not Father Christmas.

AVIATIONLINE: Will you say aviation has grown over the years in Nigeria?

OJIKUTU: Where is the growth? In 1995/96 ADC Airlines was ferrying 2,300 passengers per month. If there is any growth that number should have more than double that figure but alas, the number is dropping daily.

In the area of professional staff the agencies are not faring better than what we witnessed in the past especially in the glorious days of Nigeria Airways when training and retraining of staff are given priority attention. Today in the NCAA the technical staffs are just 20% of the entire workforce where there should be more professionals than in the airlines and other agencies it is meant to regulate. Take the case of Inspectors; they should be at least three steps ahead of those they want to inspect.

I was in Rwanda for three or four months on International Air Transportation Agency (IATA) job. They do things differently despite the fact that they are still growing.

Are you aware that the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Ikeja, Lagos has no perimeter wall fence? I am surprised that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) did not comment on it during the just concluded oversight audit in which Nigeria was rated high. Anyway, I understand the ICAO officials left behind a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) meant to lapse within 30 days after which they would return to see whether or not government would make necessary corrections in the areas pointed out.

With the ailing status of our indigenous airlines they cannot compete effectively with their foreign counterparts in any respect. Take the Lagos/London route on which British Airways charge higher fares than the Accra/London route despite the fact that both routes take the same flight time. I laughed when government, at a time, wanted a cut in the fares.

What we don’t understand is that the premium on insurance is spread on passengers to pay. Apart from the FAAN screening machines used for security checks while boarding passengers, British Airways still deploys its own equipment for secondary screening knowing fully well that the former may be malfunctioning and aware of the security lapses at our airports.  The airlines build the cost of such additional screening into the ticket whereas there is no such thing in Accra, hence the lower fare.

Fire cover for MMA and the NnamdiAzikiwe International Airport, Abuja, should be Category 9 but what we have on ground is not more than Category 6 or 7 and the foreign airlines are aware and the Insurance premium is higher here in Nigeria because of the risk involved.