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Cablegate: Nigeria: Consultants Concerned About Aviation

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 000647

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED


DOT ALSO FOR FAA


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR EAID EINV NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: CONSULTANTS CONCERNED ABOUT AVIATION
SAFETY

1. (SBU) Summary. Aviation consultants sponsored by
the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
recently completed an evaluation of the Nigerian Civil
Aviation Authority's (NCAA) efforts to improve its
safety oversight. They found few improvements since a
2001 International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
safety audit. Nigeria needs to implement the
recommendations quickly to be prepared for another
ICAO inspection in May 2003. The main concern remains
lack of legislation granting the NCAA Director General
autonomy over safety issues. Nigeria risks receiving
another poor safety audit, which could hamper its
efforts to attain Category I certification. End
Summary.


2. (SBU) Four FAA-sponsored private aviation
consultants came to Nigeria in March to evaluate
NCAA's progress toward implementing safety
recommendations resulting from a 2001 ICAO inspection
and a 2002 FAA advisory visit. In its 2001 report,
ICAO had voiced concern that "a large segment" of
Nigeria's aviation sector was not complying with
international safety standards. Last month, the FAA
consultants discovered that few of the ICAO
recommendations had been implemented although many are
said to be "in progress." To help the NCAA prepare
itself for another ICAO inspection, the consultants
are designing a work plan that may receive FAA
support.


3. (SBU) Next month's ICAO inspection will be an
important test of Nigeria's ability to pass a FAA
Category I inspection, as FAA and ICAO safety
regulations are based on the same standards. For more
than a year, Nigeria has been pursuing Category I
certification, a designation that would permit its
crews and aircraft to fly to the United States.
Ethiopia, Ghana, and South Africa are the only three
sub-Saharan African countries certified. Nigeria's
securing the top safety ranking would boost its
aviation industry and help position Lagos as a
regional hub.


4. (SBU) While progress has been made toward that end,
several hurdles remain. The major one is lack of
legislation granting the NCAA Director General (DG)
autonomy over safety issues. Under current law and
practice, the Minister of Aviation retains final say
on safety matters. According to NCAA staff, the
Minister has overruled the DG's orders to ground
aircraft for safety violations on several occasions
when the offending airline was politically well
connected.


5. (SBU) Action on legislation granting independence
to the NCAA has been pending for months at the
Ministry of Justice. Following ministerial approval
of the bill, it will be sent to the National Assembly.
To ensure that its provisions comply with
international standards, the FAA consultants sent
Aviation Minister Kema Chikwe a memo on
March 13 specifying provisions to make NCAA
autonomous.


6. (SBU) Even if a law were enacted granting NCAA
autonomy, Nigeria might still not pass an FAA
inspection because Nigeria lacks certified cabin and
operation safety inspectors. Its aviation inspection
office is understaffed, and its few inspectors are not
certified internationally to conduct inspections of
the most common aircraft operating in country. During
a March visit to Abuja, Kevin Sample, Senior DOT
Advisor, told Minister Chikwe that the USG can provide
training to remedy this deficiency. Such training
would be desirable since the FAA consultants have
suggested that the DG be allowed to approve necessary
training. All training requests require the
Minister's approval. On several occasions, employees
were unable to secure timely approval and consequently
could not enroll in desired courses.


7. (SBU) Besides identifying the major hurdles - lack
of an independent NCAA and qualified inspectors - the
FAA consultants highlighted NCAA organizational
deficiencies that weaken its ability to provide
effective safety oversight. Among their chief
concerns are the NCAA's lack of financial resources
and inefficient use of personnel. While the NCAA
charges various user fees, these funds go straight to
the federal treasury; consequently, the NCAA relies on
Ministry of Aviation budget allocations. To ensure
adequate funding for oversight, the FAA consultants
proposed that NCAA have access to budgetary funds
without ministerial approval. With respect to
personnel, the consultants concluded that Nigeria's
aviation authority employs more people than necessary.
Some of the excess staff, whom the NCAA is obligated
to employ, are the Minister's appointees. (Comment.
This problem is not unique to the Aviation Ministry.
The GON suffers from excess personnel across the
board. Regarding funding, the Minister is unlikely to
relinquish financial control, especially if she is
forced to transfer safety oversight to the DG. End
Comment).


-------
Comment
-------


8. (SBU) Nigeria's slow progress toward implementing
the recommendations of the 2001 ICAO inspection, even
with FAA technical assistance, is disconcerting.
While the Minister and the NCAA regularly express
their hopes of attaining Category I certification,
they have little to show to warrant such action. Why
so few recommendations have been implemented is
unclear. Limited institutional capacity, lack of
training, and an inadequate budget all partly explain
the reasons.


9. (SBU) The Minister herself is not beyond reproach.
She insists on maintaining tight control over all
civil aviation activities, from granting landing
rights to deciding who can hold placards for arriving
passengers at Murtala Muhammed International Airport
in Lagos. Her untimely approval of training requests
is an example of how her unwillingness to delegate
authority hampers the NCAA's effectiveness. It will be
interesting to see if the incumbent Minister returns
should Obasanjo win reelection.


10. (SBU) But the largest hurdle remains lack of
legislation granting NCAA autonomy over safety issues,
a problem that USG assistance cannot resolve.
Considering that the National Assembly's attention is
firmly focused on the April 19 national elections, a
law is unlikely to be passed soon that would permit
Nigeria to attain Category I status anytime in the
near future.


JETER

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