The federal government has stopped the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) from sending its officials overseas to inspect aircraft ferried out of the country for maintenance.
The order also applies to inspection of aircraft before its acquisition by Nigerian airlines.
Top official of NCAA who confirmed this to THISDAY, explained that the decision was in line with the federal government’s policy of banning civil servants from travelling overseas in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and also to save airlines from huge expenses of paying for the trip overseas.
It was learnt that any airline that has its aircraft on maintenance overseas pays NCAA about N3 million for inspection, flight and accommodation.
The fee is for NCAA officials who are assigned to go and audit aircraft, which maintenance has been completed in maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility.
It was also learnt that when an airline is brining newly acquired aircraft, NCAA inspectors are sent overseas to inspect the aircraft before they are certified and allow it to be ferried into the country.
A senior official of NCAA who spoke to THISDAY, said: “Based on government’s directive, we stopped inspectors from travelling overseas to inspect aircraft because of government policy. We did that to also save money for Nigerian airlines and reduce cost of operation. We are going to keep to that decision till further notice. We have informed airlines that are acquiring aircraft, the standard the aircraft must meet before it is brought into the country.”
Commending NCAA for the new policy, the former Chief Executive Officer of Aero Contractors, Capt Ado Sanusi told THISDAY that the decision would save a lot of money for the airlines and also noted that paying for such trips overseas leads to conflict of interest and creates an opportunity for the regulatory authority to compromise its standard because an inspector who knew that an airline spent so much money on him to travel overseas may be tempted to withhold facts that could undermine the airline’s operation.
He however noted that that NCAA has been very firm so far, adding that bringing the aircraft into the country for inspection is very good because it not only saves money for the airlines but gives NCAA inspectors the opportunity to settle down and do their work.
Sanusi said that if Nigeria has MRO, it would save airlines huge resources and cited example of the MRO facility owned by Aero Contractors, which maintains Boeing 737 Classics and disclosed that for every aircraft maintained in that facility, the airline that owns it, saves between $200, 000 to $300, 000 because that is an extra cost ferrying the aircraft overseas.
He also said with the difficulty in sourcing foreign exchange, it becomes a more challenging situation for the airline.
“If you maintain Boeing 737 at the Aero facility, for a period of 18 months (which is the period C-check that is carried out on schedule aircraft in Nigeria), an airline saves about $200, 000 to $300, 000. That is the benefit of having an MRO in your country. Also when you take the aircraft there for engine change for example, it will take you three days, not including the day you will travel to the facility. Then we have to consider the difficulty in getting foreign exchange. So there are many benefits in having MRO locally,” Sanusi said.
But the NCAA official told THISDAY that the federal government might lift the ban, as it has allowed overseas training to resume.
The official said the agency would check if overseas inspection of aircraft would resume soon.
However THISDAY gathered that while NCAA officials who embark on such inspection would want it to continue, the Director General might have to review it because of the criticisms that trail the policy.
THISDAY learnt from airline operators that because of the cost they would rather want to bring the aircraft to Nigeria before they are inspected, which is what many other countries do.
The source said that when NCAA introduced the policy it was just to give incentive to inspectors who earn allowances from such trips, but that such incentive has become like a right, which they cannot do without.
“We know that there is a kind of arm twist that goes on without words. Of course, the airline that took you to inspect its aircraft overseas must do you well, but it could lead to compromise because when you are treated so well you may not like to indict the airline. Besides, there is no other thing done overseas that cannot be done here in Nigeria. The financial situation is getting worse for everyone, we need to also help the airlines, ”the NCAA source told THISDAY.
Most of the Nigerian airlines conduct their major checks, including C and D checks overseas. So as many aircraft as there are in an airline fleet, whenever checks are conducted on them overseas, NCAA inspectors would travel to the MRO facility to inspect them, but the current management in NCAA may not allow that tradition to continue because it drains airlines resources, THISDAY further gathered.