The Assistant General Secretary, National Union of Air transport Employees (NUATE),Comrade Olayinka Abioye, said it would be a welcome development if the incoming administration of Muhammadu Buhari bring back the Nigeria Airways Limited(NAL) liquidated 12 years ago and that the Federal Government owe former NAL staff about N57 billion. He also spoke on both local and international aviation issues in this interview with Correspondent Abel Orukpe. Excerpts
What is the agenda of the union for the incoming government?
We want the incoming government to pay particular attention to the aviation industry in
Nigeria because the industry is the engine room of any nation’s economy. Whatever Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that is required also use air transportation. Taking a cue from the transportation agenda of the outgoing president Good luck Jonathan, the incoming government will review several of the mechanism put in place to revive the industry. Aviation industry is a very sensitive and sophisticated one for that matter, highly capital intensive. We want the incoming Government to review existing contractual obligation between the Federal Government and the several contractors handling these projects. We want the incoming government to partner the domestic airline operators in Nigeria, so much so that they have cost of operation which arises from the huge bill paid on jet-A1 would be dealt with. We have companies in the country in charge of aviation fuel; the government should reach agreement with them and find a way to bring down the price of the product. It is too exorbitant and it is one of the greatest problems the domestic airlines in the country are facing. If that is done, it would also help the system to move forward. Further to that, don’t also forget that we have passengers and handling companies in the country such as SAHCOL, NAHCo and PAHCOL. We are also looking forward to working with the government in ensuring that the equipment the handling companies purchase overseas are tax free. We appreciate the waivers granted by the Federal Government to airline operators on aircraft and spare parts. We also want the incoming government to extend this waiver to those who are handling the airlines .The cost of their equipment is so huge and by the time these equipment are brought to Nigeria, the handling companies pay high taxes as Customs duties. We will be willing to see a review or waiver for these categories of companies.
What are the specific things NUATE will like the incoming government to do?
For the industry to continue to enjoy some stability and sustainability, there is what I will say manpower shortage in virtually all the government parastatals. In the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) for instance, over 200 will be retiring by the end of this year; professionals that the Federal Government has spent so much money to train. If you go through the public service, there is a portion which talks about contract employment. We want to see a situation where emphasis would be placed on one bringing people in on contract to augment for the shortage that exist and then giving massive employment to suitably qualified Nigerians in this field because aviation is a specialized field. We must not also forget in a hurry that we used to be the pride of Africa with our Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL), which was arbitrarily liquidated. We thank the late President Umaru Yardua for accepting the fact that Nigeria Airways workers were first and foremost public servant and they deserve their severance benefits .He gave approval for five years to be paid these people while the Federal Government was working on the outstanding payment to them. Unfortunately, for the number of years that President Good luck Jonathan was in power nothing seems to be happening despite the several entreaties from the unions, stakeholders in the industry, and friends of the industry including international solidarity to the government. As I speak to you, the Federal Government is owing Nigeria Airways staff about N52 to N57 billion being outstanding benefits to all the patriotic workers, who were hitherto employees of liquidated Nigeria Airways Limited. One would wish that government would bring to the table a comprehensive review of the situation and a plan to pay them off as quickly as possible not minding the financial situation the government is facing. By and large we want the Federal Government to pay particular
attention to the decay in the system. There is a lot of infrastructural decay in the aviation industry not minding the so- called remodeling that we have seen. Anybody who goes to the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos will see a difference but the question is how far reaching is this difference. Go into the building from the first floor to the sixth floor, it is nothing to write home about because there is no remodeling, no rehabilitation going on there. Our elevators are not working .The air conditioner system in both departure and arrival halls are not functioning properly and many other inadequacies. This is compounded by epileptic power supply. I think the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) should be given the leeway to find a way to generate power on its own; it will go a long way to move the system forward.
Some experts have called for increase in the number of pilots in the cockpit as fallout of the Germanwings crash that killed 150 people on board. What is your take on this?
Africans would always look for excuses. The configuration of every aircraft entails two personnel; the captain and the first officer. In some other bigger aircraft especially in the past, you see what you call a navigator within the same cockpit .but modern engineering technology has gone beyond those things. I don’t think it is the number of personnel in the cockpit that is the matter, what matters is their mental stability before, during and after the flight. We have read stories severally about the co –pilot who locked his pilot out of the cockpit and allegedly deliberately crashed the Germanwings aircraft in French Alps killing all the 150 passengers on board. We have heard that he has suicidal tendency that he has been leaving and that he has also been accessing the internet on suicidal Technic. That has to do with the mentality of an average European. Suicide tends to be a taboo in this part of the world. Let us thank God for that and even when
crashes do happen here, majority of the findings thereafter would say human error or pilot error. I think that one of the things we should do is to ensure that our systems are serviceable and up to date and that every airline operator should ensure that his personnel are actually and adequately taken care of. We know airlines that do not pay their personnel three months salaries in the industry, which is an invitation to accident. We know airlines that pay personnel half salaries and they have no excuses for this because there is no airline operating in the country that does not carry its passengers and obtain their full fare from them. So there should be no excuse for any airline owing pilots, engineers, ground staff and other personnel. We have also warned severally against the casualisation of aviation personnel. It is an invitation to crashes, an invitation to disaster because a man that you employ that is supposed to earn for instance N100, 000 and you pay him N15, 000, if somebody offers him N50, 000 to drop a bag in the aircraft or anywhere in the airport, the fellow will do it willingly. I think as we go along in the incoming dispensation, the airline operators and stakeholders in the industry must be very cautious. We thank God for his mercies that we have been able to manage ourselves.
Some experts and stakeholders in the global aviation industry have also suggested that cockpit doors should be modified. Do you agree with them?
The door has been modified and re-modified severally in the past, because of terrorists’ attack, more security mechanism applied to the cockpit doors. If you are knowledgeable about how to operate that door, you cannot access it and as we speak it is found to be highly secured and impregnable by anybody that is not trained in this field. I would not know what this school of thought have in mind by seeking for a reinforcement of the cockpit door. In view of what happened, I think that the manufacturers of aircraft will begin to do a re- think and redesigning some of the security apparatus to ensure that we have the best.
Do you subscribe to a situation where the toilet is built inside the cockpit?
I don’t because there may not be reason for it. Don’t forget that the pilots have direct access to their cockpit and the toilet. The toilet is just when you open your cockpit door, you go in straight there and you don’t see pilots coming out often to use their toilets. That toilet is specifically shared between the business class passengers and the personnel on the aircraft. Hardly do you see him access it, may be once in awhile. It should not make any difference and anybody that is planning evil will know how to plan it and get away with it if the person is not apprehended before it is done. I think more fundamentally what we should be thinking about getting these people undergo certain physiological or clinical tests. Don’t also forget that they go for medicals, which is straight forward kind of thing because there are things that are targeted that you pass through but when it comes to psychological test; it also involves getting to the state of mind of the individual before he takes off .several aviation personnel has so much pressure on them that sometime they lose control and losing control is an invitation to calamity. One minute mistake is an invitation to disaster.
What can NCAA do especially as it concerns carrying out psychological test for pilots?
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has a department called Aero-medical. I think the Aero-medical is saddled with the responsibility of proffering far reaching measures in terms of medical examination for crew. It is embedded in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recommended practice and measures to take in this area. This department is in a better position to appropriately explain the several tests crews have to go through before they are issued licence.
Source : Independent