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Row over ‘poor’ pay, inexperience inspectorate in local aviation

By Wole Oyebade
28 January 2022   |   2:52 am
Airline operators this week stirred the hornet's nest with a call on the National Assembly to improve the condition of service of inspectors at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority

Hadi Sirika

Airline operators this week stirred the hornet’s nest with a call on the National Assembly to improve the condition of service of inspectors at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). Stakeholders said the operators have raised the right questions but the wrong answers. WOLE OYEBADE reports.

Purported plight of inspectors in local aviation came to the fore this week when the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) wrote to the National Assembly demanding better pay on behalf of the regulators.

The memo highlighted concerns about poor wages earned by the inspectors, alleged inexperience of the critical workforce and the grave implications for safe operations.

As a remedy, the operators recommended the removal of NCAA from the civil service structure to enable the agency to fix competitive wages that will attract and retain the most experienced safety personnel in the industry.

Apparently miffed by the request, other stakeholders have described the intervention as meddling in the affairs of regulators, with incorrect industry claims that will hurt the industry than help its cause.

Safety wheel horses of aviation
Indeed, aviation inspectors have specialised skill-sets that include examining aircraft and granting approval for use, ensuring aviation standard procedure, air traffic controls, navigational aids and communications equipment, suggesting repairs when necessary and investigating accidents and equipment failures. At every stage, they analyse safety protocols and review maintenance procedures to make sure that airports and aircraft are in compliance with safety regulations.

Due to the nature of the expertise and recurrent training requirements, they are among the highest paid in global aviation. For instance, an average Flight Inspector in the United States earns between $53,166 and $108,114 yearly, depending on assigned duty, qualification and years of experience.

At the NCAA, there are over 300 inspectors, but some of these professionals earn far less than airline crew.

A top official of the apex regulatory body told The Guardian that describing the NCAA’s pay as “poor” is relative.

“They (inspectors) don’t earn the same wages, though theirs cannot be compared with what airlines pay their pilots. They don’t perform the same task, anyway. Perhaps, the pay disparity would explain why some pilot-trained inspectors would prefer to work with airlines than remain at NCAA.”

A red flag
President of AON, Abdulmunaf Yunusa, in a letter to the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, said the NCAA has been unable to attract the best hands because of its inability to offer competitive wages in the local sector.

Yunusa stated that the NCAA needs to attract and engage a team of technically sound professionals in virtually every field of aviation, notably flight operations, engineering, safety inspectors, dispatchers, cabin executives among others, to conduct regular oversight of the industry.

“There is a growing level of deficiency today within the NCAA in the area of human capacity due to its inability to attract and retain experienced industry professionals as a result of its inadequate recruitment and salary regime compared to the offers they get from working for the airlines.

“Because of this situation, many Inspectors are leaving the NCAA and the few that remain are not well-motivated and hardly enough to meet the requirements of the industry. The young personnel that are in the agency currently do not have the required experience. The few hands remaining are either too old and tired or are too inexperienced to undertake proper and adequate oversight functions over airlines’ operations,” the letter read in part.

The AON added that the safety consequences are real and should be addressed through legislation to forestall “a potential beckoning disaster”.

“AON would, therefore, respectfully call on the National Assembly to urgently review the establishment Act of the NCAA and to immediately remove the agency from the civil service salary structure in order for the agency to be able to attract the urgently needed experts for the sake of safety,” the memo concluded.

Where is the money?
Findings showed that the NCAA had been exempted from the civil service salary structure some years ago. Currently, the NCAA fixes its wages though subject to the approval of the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission.

Besides, irrespective of who approves the wages, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd) reckoned that the NCAA would continue to face constraints without airlines fulfilling their financial obligations to government agencies.

Ojikutu, who was the Commandant of Lagos Airport in the 90s, said the question the AON should have asked borders on NCAA’s statutory earnings from service charges.

“What does the NCAA do with its 58 per cent shares from these earnings compared to other agencies like Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) and Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) that share the 42 per cent? My estimated earnings on the Passenger Service Charge (PSC) and Cargo Service Charge (CSC) from the traffic figures of 2019 is in the neighbourhood of about N100 billion.

“We must find out the reasons why the NCAA did not get that much first, and why it cannot have sufficient funds to regularly train its inspectors that are collectively less than 500. Note that the NCAA like the other civil aviation agencies is located in less than 10 airports whereas other agencies like NAMA and NiMET are in more than 26 Federal and States Airports operating 12 to 24 hours daily. It is not so with the NCAA.

“What the NCAA needs is continuous training for its inspectors and ensuring it has them skilled in sufficient numbers for the oversight of all aspects of the civil aviation regulations on the airlines, airports and the allied services,” Ojikutu said.

Former Deputy General Secretary of AON, Mohammed Tukur, felt there is more to the intervention than meets the eye.

On its own merit, Tukur described the operators’ memo as meddlesome interloping in the regulators’ internal affair.

Tukur said contrary to claims, the NCAA has the most skilled and experienced manpower in the sub-region, which enabled it to acquire the American Federal Aviation Administration, (FAA) Category One status.

He noted that the country “has laboured hard to build the regulatory authority to a global standard such that beginners in AON should not be allowed to pull it down through unguarded statements.”

“If the remunerations of the staff of the authority have become a contentious matter, it was not the duty of AON as a body to champion the cause. If there is a need for such input from the operators, there is an open channel of communication between the NCAA and the operators on one hand and the Ministry of Aviation,” Tukur said.