Renowned aviation trainer and CEO of WestLink Airlines, Capt. Ibrahim Mshelia, has defended the decision of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, suspending AZMAN Air’s Boeing 737 fleet.
The NCAA took the decision on Monday, following a series of incidents involving Azman’s Boeing 737 aircraft.
Pursuant to Section 35 (2) of the Civil Aviation Act, 2006 and Part 220.127.116.11 (A) of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig.CARs) 2015, the NCAA suspended the operations of all the Boeing 737 Aircraft in the Fleet of Azman Air Services Limited, with effect from March 15, 2021.
The NCAA said the suspension was to enable the authority conduct an audit of the airline to determine the root cause (s) of the incidents, and recommend corrective actions to forestall re-occurrence.
But in an interview with journalists in Abuja on Thursday, the pilot applauded the NCAA decision, noting that safety issues are sacrosanct in the aviation industry.
“There are two sides of the story. I don’t draw conclusions without hearing from both sides and analyzing the issues at stake critically. The NCAA has issued a statement as to why it grounded AZMAN, you will find out that NCAA could be vindicated.
“Just few weeks ago, Lagos airport was closed when AZMAN Airline had multiple tire burst on landing and the only serviceable runway was closed. It is in the public domain. So the NCAA has presented its position, which is factual and verifiable.
“Now the press statement we read purportedly coming from AZMAN is surprising, shocking and unprecedentedly mediocre. I can’t believe Azman wrote that, but since it is similar to their recent press release to travelling public and they have not in reasonable time come out to deny it, we will also reasonably assume it came from them.
“There are three fundamental principles in which aviation should be operated as recommended by ICAO . Thus, safety, economy and political considerations by individual states.
“ICAO recommendations are sacrosanct on the safety bit and number one! They equally emphasize that there can be no compromise on safety. Now if you are to classify what has happened, is it under economic regulations, or political or safety? It is about safety. So NCAA knows everybody’s book, they supervise us. And the Air Operator’s Certificate itself they issue us, we are supposed to self-regulate first to approved standards and they (NCAA) are supposed to supervise and ensure compliance. They are also empowered by same provision to apply sanctions, which is what NCAA did in the case with Azman. This is not the first time also that NCAA has done this. Only recently the entire EMB 145 of Air Peace was also grounded for reasons determined by NCAA. Air Peace obeyed and corrected their deficiency I believe and these planes are back flying.
“When NCAA gives an Operator AOC, the operator is under obligation to maintain its aeroplanes and operations in accordance with the regulations and approved operations specifications.
“For example, tire burst. Tire bursts can happen to a brand new tire, but when you can see a thread on a tire before it bursts, then that is negligence. A brand new tire can also blow off, If the anti-skid system fails, even if you have four brand new tires you are likely to lose all four of your anti-skid system malfunctions.
“But when the tire is showing you tear and wear signs that are visible, and you keep flying it, and then the tire bursts, that is punishable negligence. If you read between the lines as to what the NCAA said, the aircraft suffered the problem three times in a row within a short time.
“They also talked about hydraulic leakage. AZMAN needs to come and prove it’s not true, and that all those issues had not happened, then we will believe the NCAA has taken a hard knock on them unnecessarily. Don’t also forget that NCAA is like a landlord who rents you his house. As per agreement, he can enter to assess how you use the property. In aviation, AOC is like a legal rent agreement. NCAA has right to not only suspend but totally withdraw and even seek permanent ban through the courts for an operator who deliberately or proved beyond reasonable doubt to have violated safety and showed no remorse as it appears in this case.
Mr Mshelia also faulted the AZMAN’s vendetta claims over its refusal to pay for advertisement in an international magazine.
“The accusation of vendetta due to advert placement is not tenable, because the issue of advert is common to the industry. For instance, if West Link Airlines, my company, is approached to appear in ICAO magazine for a fee of N15million, I will look for the money to pay because it’s a global advert for Westlink. It will help you to get patronage and global recognition. For those who know the industry, a good name will take you far,” he said.
On the issue of denying AZMAN permission to hire expatriate pilots, Mr Mshelia said there is no need to hire foreigners to pilot Boeing 737 as Nigeria has more than enough pilots to be hired.
“There are times when expatriate pilots are necessary, and there are times when they are not desirable. To me as an individual, I believe we can save the capital flight by employing locals. AZMAN operates 737, and I think 737-trained personnel is the highest you can find in this country because Nigerian Airways – the only airline we had that time – operated predominantly 737. If you are looking for manpower in aviation, 737 will give you the highest in Nigeria,” he said.