Senate divided over grounding of Azman Airline operations

Senators were, on Tuesday, divided on the pronouncements of the aviation regulatory agency, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, ( NCAA) grounding the operations of one of the local airlines, Azman Airline.

The Senate Committee on Aviation, led by Senator Smart Adeyemi had invited the Director-General of the NCAA,
Captain Musa Shuaibu Nuhu for clarification on growing apprehension surrounding the safety of airlines.

Nuhu who maintained that the NCAA was doing its best to safeguard lives through surveillance and reprimand of erring airline operators further revealed that one of the local airlines, Azman was suspended because of a glaring breach of safety regulations.

He said: “We are doing all the best we can to comply with our mandates, and we do whatever is necessary to ensure safety.

“We have successfully managed the industry. Anytime we see any issue that is of concern to us, last night we suspended the operations of Azman until we conclude the security and financial audit and compliance with civil aviation regulations. Until we are satisfied, they can’t resume operation.”

Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation and Senator representing Kebbi South, Ibn Na’ Allah, however, expressed reservation over the action of the NCAA.

He said the step taken by the aviation regulatory agency could cause panic in the industry. He specifically demanded what he called compelling issues that instigated the pronouncements of the NCAA.

He said: “It was wrong to ground operations without a very compelling reason. If there are incidents, they must be directly related to discrepancies in their operations. Are they related to breach of safety regulations, breach of Civil Aviation Regulations?

“We are interested in knowing what are the compelling issues. We need to be careful in exercising those powers. I am not faulting your operations. Grounding operations without compelling factors could create panic in the industry.

“You also know that the industry is heavily regulated. You can’t ground an airline, except they breach aviation rules. It could be non-compliance with equipment and facilities. You know the implication because tomorrow somebody will say people shouldn’t fly Azman because of your pronouncements. Of course, you have the power to ensure that they operate safely.”

The DG, NCAA in his defence gave detailed accounts of several incidents of breach of professional procedures and guidelines in the last six weeks by the management of Azman.

He said: “They have had incidents of tyre bursts within a period of six weeks. They are issues of professional procedures, guidelines weren’t being followed.”

He recalled several attempts to make the operator of Azman airline sit up.

” We encouraged them to continue operations but resolved to do surveillance around their operations.

“But it is of concern to me, if you to continue to have a similar problem. It will be irresponsible and criminal for us not to take action. Our action isn’t to kill the airline but to identify the problem and take necessary measures.”

Senator representing Lagos East, Tokunbo Abiru, sympathised with the operators as he noted that they are operating under severe financial pressures.

“We know what has affected the industry, the impact of COVID-19. If you look at that and the kind of safety and maintenance measures, which are all dollar-dominated, the operators must be under severe financial pressures.

“But we need to know how they are coping. How do we get assurance that all the participants are getting the necessary support and if need be what could be done?”

Senator representing Ekiti South, Abiodun Olujinmi, who said Nigerians were justified in their apprehension however appealed to the DG, NCAA not to relent in pushing for adherence to safety regulations.

“Nigerians are losing confidence. You have established the fact that there are maintenance issues. You need to be on top of the game and the rule is money. If there is something we can do as a Committee, let us know.”

Chairman of the Committee, Senator Smart Adeyemi, however, commended the NCAA for seizing the initiative to axe Azman.

“The step you took was right but we were worried because the particular airline belongs to the President of the operators.”

He further restated his appeal to the present administration to continue to give incentive to the operators. “We may have to have an interaction with the Central Bank of Nigeria,” he said.

The raging controversy over the construction of two cargo airports in Ogun State was also raised as the lawmakers asked DG, NCAA to explain why approval was given for two cargo airports to a single state.

Nuhu, however, caused a stir at the Committee meeting as he said he was not aware of approval for the construction of another cargo airport in Wasinmi.

“The NCAA is aware of approval for Sagamu airport, not Wasinmi airport.”

The DG, NCAA maintained his stance even when Senator Ibn Na’Allah read a memo from the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika requesting Federal Government approval for a grant of N2billion for the Wasinmi airport.

Senator representing Ogun West, Tolu Odebiyi, who incidentally was Chief of Staff to the immediate past governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun however offered clarification as he said the proposed airport in Wasinmi was a passenger’s airport, not cargo airport.

“The NCAA was part and parcel of the project and necessary approval was sought and given for Wasinmi. It was not possible to put the agency in the dark about the project.”

Senator representing Lagos West and Chairman Senate Committee on Finance, Olamilekan Adeola, however, faulted the explanation given by Senator Odebiyi.

“The documents given to us were for a cargo airport in Sagamu. We don’t have any approval for passenger airport for Wasinmi.

“Yes, the Minister of Aviation is in the picture but the Senate Committee and NCAA aren’t aware, we don’t have the documents. We have listened to you ( NCAA) and you have established that you have a record for Sagamu airport, not Passenger airport at Wasinmi.”

Senator Adeyemi in his concluding remarks however said the Ogun state government has the financial capacity to run two airports.

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