Saturday PUNCH learnt that NCAA had never certified any airport in the country since 2006 when the law that gave it autonomy to certify airports in line with international regulations was promulgated. A source close to the agency told our correspondents that none of the airports in the country was certified before NCAA’s autonomy.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that the items on the checklist had to do with two major issues. They are security and safety. The security aspect has to do with control of access to the airport’s sterile areas or airside and the security of other major points like the catering departments, boarding gates, check-in points and perimeter fencing. The safety aspect, on the other hand, has to do with runway light, taxi way light, approach light, fire station and airport emergency response system, among others.
The essence of airport certification is to ascertain if there are enough personnel and equipment that can guarantee safety and security in any airport.
But Saturday PUNCH learnt that though the airports in the country had been given the checklist applicable globally, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria was yet to comply with the requirements on the checklist, especially the ‘open items.’
“The checklist is with FAAN. We have decided to start with MMIA and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. Certifying the airports is going to be in batches; once FAAN meets the requirements, we will certify the MMIA and Abuja,” a top official of the NCAA, who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter said.
He said as soon as the regulatory authority certified the MMIA and NAIA, it would move to license other airports in the country.
It was learnt on Thursday that FAAN had been battling lately to close the ‘open items’ on the checklist.
Although the MMIA, NAIA and other airports in the country were yet to be certified by the NCAA, regulatory authority officials said the situation did not mean the airports were not safe for operation.
According to them, it only meant that certain aircraft and certain operations could not be carried out in these airports.
Officials knowledgeable about the process said the NCAA checklist contained a number of safety and security issues which must be met.
The officials said the entire checklists of which some had been ‘closed’ while others still remained ‘open items’ were under several categorisations.
An official close to the certification, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said, “Under the security issues, we have a number of items under airport access control, catering department, cargo department, personnel, boarding gate, perimeter fencing and sterile area. Each of these has a lot of items under them. Some have been closed, while a few still remain open.”
“Under the safety issues, we also have items which include runway light, approach light, taxiway light, fire station among others. All these safety and security issues are subdivided into several areas. We have more than a hundred items. Some have been closed while a few are still remaining. As soon as FAAN closes them, they will invite us and we will certify the airports. From there, we will move to others.”
The General Manager, Corporate Communications, FAAN, Mr. Yakubu Dati, said the issue of non-certification of the airports was an age-long problem occasioned by negligence of past ministers of aviation in the country.
The situation, according to him, was one of the reasons the Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah, came up with the ongoing airport remodelling programme. He said as soon as the remodelling was completed, the airports would be re-presented for certification.
He expressed confidence that the airports would be certified, adding that a lot of works were currently ongoing at the MMIA and other airports in the country.
However, Dati stressed that, “This does not mean that our airports are not safe. Our airports are very safe and secure. Remember that before American airlines started flying to Nigeria, the United States Transportation Safety Administration officials came here and examined MMIA and approved it safe and secure. In fact, they gave us impressive marks. If the airports were not safe, all these foreign airlines, including American carriers would not have been operating in Nigeria. It is just that getting the airport certified by our own NCAA is just necessary.”
However, a former Military Commandant of the MMIA, Group Captain John Ojikutu, noted that no airport in the country had been certified.
He said some of the issues that might have been barring the regulatory authority from doing so might be related to lack of perimeter fence in some of the airports, poor lighting system and infrastructure in general.
He said, “To the best of my knowledge, no airport has been certified, and the only agency that can give such certification in the country is the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. But we know that it is almost impossible for the agency to certify any airport in the country because of the basic infrastructure that the airports are lacking.”
“For instance, we can see from the incident that occurred in Benin recently, with the stowaway boy, that there was no security fence in that airport and that was how that boy penetrated. You cannot operate an airport safely without a security fence. Again, a look around the airports would show that runway lighting for most of the airports is inadequate.”
He said that airports must put all those facilities in place before the NCAA could get them certified.
The President, Centre for Aviation Safety and Research, Mr. Sheri Kyari, said the NCAA needed to take safety issues such as the licensing of the airport very seriously, noting that this was a major challenge of the aviation sector.
He said, “The NCAA really has to do something about the fact that our airports are not certified. With the way things are going now, I think they have to refocus on that, because it is a safety issue.’’
He urged the regulators to look into the issue with utmost care, explaining that the fact that airports in the country were not privatised was also a major issue that was hindering the certification. He said, “Licensing and certification is mainly for airports that have been privatised and by the time government decides to privatise our airports, it will make a lot of difference.’’