FirstNation Airways has switched temporarily from offering scheduled flights to charter services, following a reduction in its fleet size.
The Director-General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Capt. Muhtar Usman, who disclosed this on Monday, said the airline’s current non-scheduled status would remain so until it improved its aircraft fleet to at least two and met the requirements for scheduled services.
The airline, which had been operating with one aircraft, was recently fined N33.5m for safety violations.
Usman, who spoke about the airline’s suspension of its scheduled services at the commencement of the United States Federal Aviation Administration’s audit of the NCAA in Lagos, said the regulator was working with the airline to ensure the payment of the N33.5m fine.
He said, “The airline used one aircraft and they were on scheduled services, but the present status now is that the Certificate of the Airworthiness has been changed to non-scheduled service, which is charter service. So, they are no longer into scheduled service until they are able to meet the requirement.
“I will still reconfirm to you that whatever sanction we impose on any operator is in line with civil regulation and it’s not punitive, but corrective. FirstNation was sanctioned; they appealed; and the sanction was upheld. So, we are still working with them to pay the fine. We don’t want to cripple any operation but if it is safety related, we will not waste time. The payment is being worked out now.”
But in a reaction, the airline said its operations were not downgraded as being insinuated in some quarters.
A statement signed by its Corporate Affairs Manager, Rasheed Yusuf, FirstNation said, “Our airworthiness status was never downgraded as wrongly reported. There is a clear distinction between Certificate of Airworthiness and Air Operator’s Certificate.
“Our AOC fell due for renewal on July 31st, 2017, this is the third successful renewal that we have achieved working in good faith with regulatory authorities. The renewal process entailed subjecting our operations to rigorous and demanding audit processes covering all areas of our activity. Well before the AOC renewal, we voluntarily reduced our flight frequency to well within the capacity of our current fleet.”
The airline said it was already working on a fleet expansion programme and expressed confidence that it would return to scheduled operation during the fourth quarter of 2017.
Meanwhile, the FAA has commenced the reassessment of the aviation industry to know its level of compliance with international best practices.
Usman said he was optimistic that the country would not fail, adding that the NCAA was prepared to retain the Category One status the industry had attained earlier.
He said Nigeria attained the new status in 2010 and retained it in 2014 after a comprehensive audit of the sector.
According to him, the FAA team will focus its audit on personnel licensing, international operations and airworthiness.
The DG said the team would carry out the audit for five days and make their observations known through a report that would be sent to the NCAA after the exercise.
He said the NCAA had done a lot in areas that the team would audit, not only for the purpose of the exercise but as part of its statutory responsibility as a regulator.
Usman said, “We have the new civil aviation bill, which is on its way to the National Assembly. The bill is to enhance the current Act of 2006 and it’s supposed to be in line with the new annexes of the International Civil Aviation Organisation convention. We also amended our regulation, which is the 2015 Civil Aviation Regulation. Reorganisation has also been going on to make sure the organisation continues to discharge its responsibilities as it should be, which is to be in line with ICAO.
“We want to continue to attract and retain qualified personnel in the industry in sufficient numbers to make sure we carry out the safety as required by ICAO. In the area of enforcement and compliance, we have done a lot. We make sure that our regulations, which are mainly safety, are enforced.”