NCAA may suspend more airlines

Barely one week after grounding two domestic carriers, ChanChangi Airlines and IRS Airlines, indications have emerged that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority may still go tough on more domestic carriers over issues that bother on safety.

According to sources close to the regulatory authority, the NCAA may also ground the operations of some charter airlines or cargo operators if they are found wanting in an ongoing examination of their operations.

The sources said the recent Associated Airlines’ crash and a series of incidents that happened in the nation’s airspace had forced the regulatory authority to commence strict and tougher safety compliance regime that may see more airlines getting their operations grounded.

The Chief Executive Officer of a non-scheduled domestic carrier, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said, “I think the NCAA is taking things to a different dimension. They almost stopped my operation a few days ago. I had to provide more documents. I think they are adopting a tougher safety regime because of the series of incidents we have been having in our airspace recently. But they need to take it easy. This is getting too much.”

The CEO explained that the NCAA safety inspectors were frequenting the airports’ ramp to carry out routine and random check on parked planes than ever before.

Another top airline official explained, “They are not even sparing any category of domestic airline at all. Both charter airlines and cargo airlines are now having their operations and entire system scrutinised to the core. I just hope no charter airline or cargo carrier will have its operations suspended again with the way they are going with the safety regime.”

The nation has witnessed series of air incidents and one air crash that led to the death of 16 people in barely four weeks.

On October 3, an Associated Airlines Embraer 120 plane conveying the remains of a former Governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, and 20 people crashed near a fuel depot in Lagos.

On October 4, a Saudi Arabia-bound Kabo Airlines’ Boeing 747-400 plane, which left Kano with 512  pilgrims onboard,  made an emergency landing at Sokoto Airport with deflated tyres and damaged the airport’s Instrument Landing System.

On October 13, an IRS Airlines Fokker 100 plane with over 90 people on board also made an emergency landing at Kaduna Airport, after experiencing hydraulic failure mid-air. There were other minor incidents, including air returns made by some domestic carriers.

The situation has forced the NCAA to conclude plans to make the International Air Transport Association’s Operational Safety Audit compulsory for all domestic carriers in the country.

Aside from instituting a tougher safety regime on regular domestic airlines, the NCAA was said to have begun close monitoring of the activities of charter and cargo airlines.

Before grounding Chanchangi and IRS, the NCAA had two weeks ago suspended the operations of Dana Air to pave the way for a safety audit of the carrier’s operations.

Of the nine scheduled operators in the country, four already had their operations grounded. Apart from the remaining five, namely Arik Air, Aero Contractors, FirstNation Airlines, MedView Airlines and Overland Airways, there are several other cargo and charter airlines operating non-scheduled flights in the country.

However, the suspension of Chanchangi and IRS followed a memo signed by the Director-General of the NCAA, Captain Fola Akinkuotu, ordering all scheduled airline operators whose fleet size had been reduced to only one operational aircraft to immediately stop flight operations.

The memo, dated October 14, was addressed to all scheduled airline operators.

The memo, a copy of which was obtained exclusively by our correspondent on Wednesday, read in part, “You will recall that recently, the NCAA, through the director-general, expressly suspended the continued operation of airlines possessing otherwise valid Air Operators Certificate, but who were operating with a single aircraft.

“The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority regulations provide for more than a single aircraft for any operator to secure or operate under a valid AOC.

“This directive is, therefore, issued to formalise and clarify that prior order suspending such operations. As such, all AOC holders or operators whose operational fleet has been reduced to a single operational aircraft for whatever reason shall immediately and forthwith suspend their flight operations.

“Such operations may only resume upon clearance from the NCAA that there is more than one operational aircraft for continued flight operations and satisfaction that such AOC holder has the capacity to have safe flight operations prior to commencing any such operation.”

NCAA spokesman, Mr. Fan Ndubuoke, on Friday, said, “Safety compliance is an ongoing thing. If any airline violates the rule, NCAA will wield the big stick. It is important for all operators to comply.

“There are sanctions spelt out in our rule. NCAA will not take lightly anything that affects the life of Nigerians. But I cannot tell whether there are specific issues we are dealing with.”

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