It is no gainsaying that Nigeria is no longer a pushover in world aviation going by its recent safety records.

Since 1925 when the first aircraft landed on a golf course in Kano, Northern Nigeria, the country has always been in the forefront in aviation not only in Africa but globally going by its antecedents as one of the few countries in the world then to have a national carrier, the Nigeria Airways (now defunct) few years after its independence.

No doubt, Nigeria is strategically located geographically as a natural aviation hub as it can easily access African destinations and those in other parts of the world from its airports.

Its human and natural resources, with a population of 173 million, no doubt, are intimidating. No wonder successive administrations in the country have adopted strategies to open up its stupendous natural resources to the world via aviation in a bid to grow the economy. Its rapid airport expansion of the 70s and 80s is second to none globally. The establishment of the first African aviation training institution, the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, NCAT, in Zaria, Northern Nigeria, was a pointer to its commitment to aviation as a tool for its economic emancipation as an emergent nation. No wonder then that one of its citizens, over the years, emerged the helmsman of the world’sregulatory body for aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, in the person of Dr. Bernard Olumuyiwa Aliu, now in his second term as its Council’s president.

However, beyond that Nigeria’s recent high profile in aviation is not unconnected with its strict adherence to ICAO’s Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs). The Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika told aviation correspondents in Lagos recently, that the present administration would not rest on its oars until Nigeria scores 100% in future safety audits organised by ICAO. According to him, even at the 67% and 97.4% we attained in safety and security audits respectively, we have surpassed the global average. Aviation is generally accepted to be about safety and security, ensuring that a passenger leaves an airport and gets to another safely and in comfort.

Senator Sirika, who himself is a pilot, knows what he was talking about when he said “those critical matters and those of security critical concerns were being addressed progressively by the present administration.”

The evidence is there for everyone to see as our airports, especially the MurtalaMuhammed Airport Ikeja, had witnessed a lot of transformation since the inception of the Buhari led government. No wonder the Murtala Mohammed Airport has been certified by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) as safe and secure going by a number of parameters. In addition to the certification, passengers’ testimonies that they now travel in comfort and on schedule are there to show that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the managing agency of the nation’s 22 airports, has actually performed to its billing to make Nigerian airports pace setters not only in the African continent but worldwide.

FAAN’s General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Mrs Henrietta Yakubu, in a press statement she issued recently, said the agency’s Aviation Security Personnel, AVSEC, in collaboration with military personnel and men of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), have increased the tempo of both static and motorised security patrols at the MMA with a view to ensuring that passengers and their baggage as well as aircraft are safe. Towards this end, she disclosed that FAAN has deployed no fewer than 10 Hilux vans as well as electronic devices needed by the security personnel to ensure effective surveillance of the entire airport and its environs including the airside, the land side as well as the perimeter wall fence of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos.

The deployment of the vehicles, according to her, was sequel to the agency’s adoption of new measures to enhance the operational efficiency of the security personnel and to boost security procedures at the airport.

‘’FAAN will like to assure airport users and the general public that it will continue to upgrade its facilities, processes and procedures in consonance with its core values of security, safety and comfort’’, Mrs. Yakubu stated in the press statement.

She disclosed to Aviationline that Murtala Muhammed Airport is being used as a model for all the international airports in the country as well as any other one under the management of FAAN.

The joint patrol team, according to FAAN, would maintain consistent and intensive patrols of all runways, taxiways and the entire length of the perimeter wall fence thus putting an end to porosity in the airport environment. The security operatives, who are armed, would also secure strategic locations especially A1, A2 and A3 apart from receiving and escort arriving and departing aircraft at the four terminals of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos.

Passengers, airport users and stakeholders are watching goings on at our airports particularly the flagship airport, the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, and they have returned a verdict that in recent times FAAN has been repositioned to deliver quality services in a bid to put Nigeria on the aviation world map. This recognition earned the FAAN Managing Director, Engineer Saleh Dunoma the 2017 CrimeWatch Exemplary Leadership Award recently. According to the agency’s image maker, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, the award was sequel to his efforts at repositioning FAAN for quality service delivery such that all airports across the federation especially the international ones are adjudged safe and secure for travellers.  As President of Airports Council International (ACI), African Region, Engineer Dunoma has been in the forefront in the region to ensure safety, security and comfort of not only passengers but also the aircraft that land and take off from the nation’s airports. For instance, at the MMA he ensures an improvement in airfield illumination and the enhancement of grass management system for the airfield and the elimination of thick belt of trees and shrubs adjacent to the aircraft holding area. In addition, Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is being installed at strategic locations to cover aircraft maneuvering areas.
Unlike in the past when intending passengers are welcomed into the hands of touts, the phenomenon called touting has been virtually eliminated courtesy of new measures put in place by the management of FAAN to boost security in accordance with international best practices.  FAAN, for instance, has domiciled the present administration’s Executive Order aimed at easing government’s procedures in doing business in order to increase profitability. Under the new order, FAAN has reorganised, retrained and motivated its security apparatuses including the AVSEC entire manpower in addition to reviewing current procedures and strategies to address the challenges posed by global terrorism, Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen. Similarly, FAAN has overhauled and reviewed Access Control/Permit systems at the airports in the country to ensure that those issued with On-Duty-Card (ODC) to have access to sensitive areas are vetted and their background checked adequately to eliminate insider and related threats. There is now a liaising between the agency and the airport adjoining communities with a view to improving security at the airside. Also FAAN has embarked on consistent and intensive patrols of all runways, taxiways and the entire length of the entire perimeter wall fence with the deployment of additional operational vehicles coupled with the constant repairs of the porous sections as well as height increase of the wall in order to enhance what the agency’s management referred to as ‘air tight security’. These measures are in addition to armed security escort and receiving of all departing and arriving aircraft.

Even with these measures and many more yet unfolding, the comfort of passengers and facilitation have not been abandoned as many outgoing or incoming passengers now testify that they spend less time either at the check-in counters or in collecting their luggage upon arrival. This is because check in counters have been reduced from the hitherto five to seven counters to three while new conveyor belts have been installed at the MMA. Also, AVSEC and other security personal at the airport have been provided with walkie-talkies, air band radios, mobile hotlines and other electronic as well as communication gadgets in order there is effective linkage with the control tower. The aim of this measure is to increase the monitoring and physical as well as electronic surveillance of aircraft movement areas, intelligence gathering and sharing for airport security.

A number of measures are either ongoing or in the pipeline to make the airports safer for passengers and aircraft. These include the installation of anti-intrusion devices and CCTVs along the airport perimeter fencing, the construction of static guard positions in the immediate vicinity of holding areas for armed protection of departing and arriving aircraft. FAAN also plans to install in the nearest future Watch Towers at strategic locations within the MMA while the issue of land encroachment is being rigorously addressed in liaison with the Lagos state government. Following the experience at the Akure Airport where the presence of cattle on the runway forced an Air Peace aircraft to make an air return back to Lagos, the agency is now handling with all seriousness the issue of incursion into the airport premises by farmers and other miscreants that pose safety and security challenges to airport users.