President Donald Trump’s cancellation of the Safe Skies Africa initiative for Nigeria and other countries has raised fresh concerns for safety in local air travel, especially the sustenance of gains already made.
Nigeria holds a record of three-year zero fatal accident in commercial air transport. She, however, risks setbacks without sustained safety awareness campaigns, training and retraining of investigators and operators on emerging dynamics of modern aviation.Against this backdrop, the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) Nigeria, has appealed to multinational bodies like the African Development Bank (AfDB), to sustain the programme through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
The Trump administration at the weekend, finalised plans to cancel about $4 billion worth of foreign aid funding, to decrease what it believes is wasteful spending, and make foreign aid more conditional on support for U.S. policies. The Safe Skies for Africa, already penciled to give way, was created by the White House under President Clinton two decades ago. The aim is to improve the safety, security of aviation, develop relevant policies and programmes for the continent.
The intervention costs the U.S. Departments of State and Transportation about $1.2 million yearly for the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) experts to hold safety symposia and programmes in African countries.
Managing Director of NTSB, Dennis Jones, at the two-day safety symposium, concluded in Lagos at the weekend, described the programme as a success-factor in air travel safety and security in Nigeria, among others. Jones said after spending 20 years in Africa participating in accident investigations, conducting workshops, helping improve accident investigation programmes, and training investigators, he had seen an increase in commercial air service between the United States and Africa, especially where none existed before, improved investigation quality, and a reduced rate of accidents involving commercial aircraft.
Chief Executive Officer of the AIB, the local host of the programme, Akin Olateru, said he had been informed that the U.S. government henceforth ceases to sponsor the programme, though he would not comment on the rationale for the decision.Olateru, who expressed grief on the development, said African countries also need to look inwards to independently strengthen their aviation safety programmes.
“It is unfortunate that the U.S. will no longer sponsor this programme that has benefit Africa greatly. I think we Africans can put our heads together to help ourselves. The reason is when an aircraft goes down, it does not distinguish nationality.“It is my initiative to get the AfDB to sponsor this project for safer skies for Africa. I had a meeting with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) President speaking on how the AfDB can sponsor the Safer Skies for Africa through ICAO. It is so because AfDB can sponsor only through an unattached independent agency like ICAO. And for the next meeting clear-cut modalities can be put in place to get this sponsorship running,” Olateru said.
Aviation Security consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), congratulated the AIB for organising the programme for the industry, saying that it was the remit of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to have organised such. Ojikutu said Nigeria didn’t need the U.S. fund to organise safety and security programme because NCAA should ordinarily hold such at least once in two years.
Unfortunately, “NCAA has not fully enforced compliance to safety recommendations from AIB’s accidents investigations and that should be worrisome to the industry stakeholders. So, if NCAA would not, with 58 per cent share from total charges in the sector, and AIB with only three per cent share of the generated fund has to do NCAA’s duty, then let us appreciate the AIB.
“For me, we don’t need the AfDB sponsorship for such programmes. We should stop giving the aviation global community the impression that we are prodigal with our earnings. NCAA has sufficient money from all its earnings to sustain yearly safety symposium for the operators in the sector,” Ojikutu said.
By Wole Oyebade