Introduction

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), in conjunction with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), has commenced implementation of the Africa-Indian Ocean (AFI) Plan Aerodrome Certification Project for two of Nigeria's 26 airports: Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja and the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos. These airports are believed to have been chosen for ICAO intervention due to their proximity to the nation's economic and political capitals, respectively. In addition, Nigeria has the highest volume of passenger traffic in Africa, most of which is directed through these airports.

AFI Plan

The AFI Plan, which was adopted by the 36th ICAO Assembly to address the safety status of aircraft operations in the AFI region, aims to:

  • establish and maintain a sustainable oversight system (eg, for infrastructure and capacity building);
  • assist states in resolving identified deficiencies within a reasonable period; and
  • enhance the safety culture of African aviation service providers.

Memorandum of understanding

On August 11 2016 the ICAO Western and Central African Office signed a memorandum of understanding with the NCAA and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). All parties agreed to ensure the certification of the Lagos and Abuja airports in line with the ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices by May 2017.

While the AFI Plan will be providing technical support, the Nigerian government through its agencies – the NCAA, the FAAN and the Nigerian Airspace Management Authority (NAMA) – must guarantee the infrastructure and skill set required to obtain the certification.

Under Nigeria's existing aviation framework, FAAN operates the airports and is responsible for ensuring safety at all times. Under Part 12 of the NCAA Regulations, FAAN – as operator of the airports – must establish a safety management system and ensure that the airports meet the certification requirements of the relevant regulatory authorities, both local and international.

Article 1.4.1 of Annex 14 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation reflects the agreement of ICAO member states (including Nigeria) to obtain certification from airports within their jurisdiction in line with international best practice and the ICAO guidelines. That duty, as far as Nigeria is concerned, has been assigned to the NCAA.

NCAA certification process

The certification process, as stated in Article 12.3 of the NCAA Regulations 2015, is notably similar to the ICAO certification procedure. Like the latter, it lists the following as the necessary steps for certification:

  • addressing the expression of interest;
  • assessing the formal application;
  • assessing the aerodrome facilities, equipment and services;
  • issuing or refusing an aerodrome certificate; and
  • promulgating the certified status of an aerodrome.

However, NCAA Advisory Circular NCAA-AC-ARD002 also cites the preparation of an aerodrome manual on certification of the aerodrome as "a fundamental requirement of the certification process". The manual must contain all of the information stipulated in the Aerodrome Standards Manual. The NCAA has completed the third phase of the aerodrome certification process. With only two more phases remaining, the two airports have significantly progressed on the certification timeline and should obtain certification shortly. While there has been a delay in obtaining the abovementioned status, the airports remain safe for operation, which has repeatedly been emphasised by regulatory officials.

ICAO certification process

The ICAO Manual for Certification of Aerodromes lists the bulleted steps above for the certification of an airport. It also mandates the airport operator to prepare an aerodrome manual, which must contain details of the aerodrome site and its operating procedures for air traffic management and safety management, among other things. In addition to the documents to be submitted to the ICAO, assessors to be appointed by the ICAO must undertake physical inspections at the Lagos and Abuja airports.

Airport facilities to be inspected before certification is granted include:

  • pavement conditions;
  • safety area lighting;
  • markings and signs;
  • hazardous materials;
  • traffic and wind indicators;
  • ground vehicles and driver training;
  • aircraft rescue and firefighting equipment;
  • bird and wildlife hazard prevention mechanisms;
  • self-inspection procedures;
  • airport condition assessments and reporting;
  • the control of construction hazards; and
  • emergency and snow removal plans.

The ICAO, the NCAA and the FAAN as parties to the abovementioned memorandum of understanding have agreed to work towards completing the steps required to obtain certification for the Lagos and Abuja airports by May 2017. In February 2017, inspectors from the NCAA and the ICAO visited the two airports to assess the facilities on ground. In March 2017, the NCAA announced that nine of its officials had qualified and been duly certified by the ICAO as training instructors, which is expected to boost the agency's regulatory competence. In addition, the Abuja airport was closed in March 2017 for repairs and its runway has been upgraded to meet global safety standards.

Comment

The ICAO certification essentially revolves around checks on infrastructure and regulatory procedures at the nominated airports, with a special focus on safety measures.

Accountability is also an area of focus. Article 1.5.4 of Annex 14 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation stresses that the safety management system created by the airport operator must clearly define safety accountability throughout the airport, "including a direct accountability for safety on the part of senior management".

Going forward, the responsibility of ensuring the success of this attempt to obtain ICAO certification for the Lagos and Abuja airports rests largely with the NCAA – which must coordinate FAAN and the NAMA and other stakeholders – in conjunction with the Ministry of Aviation. The benefits of ICAO certification are considerable – for example, it will help the government to achieve its aim of attracting investors into Nigeria by boosting the country's aviation safety rating.

In January 2017 Nigeria achieved a Level 3 rating in the State Safety Programme Implementation Process, tracked by the ICAO through its Integrated Safety Trend Analysis and Reporting System. The country thereby attained the same rating as the United States and the United Kingdom. The government has expressed its desire to achieve a Level 4 rating by the end of 2017 to further assure investors and potential tourists of their safety when flying into and within Nigeria. ICAO certification will undoubtedly help in this regard and may also attract other airlines to the country, thereby leading to sectoral growth – provided that other social, economic and political factors enable this.

For further information on this topic please contact Tobi Adebowale at George Etomi & Partners by telephone (+234 1 462 1660) or email (tobi.adebowale@geplaw.com). The George Etomi & Partners website can be accessed at www.geplaw.com.

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