Friday, December 04, 2015

Captain Ado Sanusi: Why Airlines Prefer Expatriate Pilots

Deputy Managing Director and Head of Flight Operations at Arik Air, Captain Ado Sanusi.

Deputy Managing Director and Head of Flight Operations at Arik Air, Captain Ado Sanusi, in this interview with Chinedu Eze, explained why some airlines prefer foreign pilots, and spoke on the need to embark on training of Nigerian pilots. He also called for a review of the aviation policy to ensure the autonomy of the regulatory bodies. Excerpts:

Now that new Ministers have been appointed, what do you think are the main challenges facing the aviation industry, which the minister should tackle first?

Well the most important thing is to rectify the aviation policy, because as I have said at different fora, inconsistency in government policies in aviation by subsequent leadership of the industry has derailed progress in the sector from the beginning. So there should be policy review that takes cognizance of new realities.

I think that is the basic thing to do, then you can now start looking at the challenge of infrastructure, challenge of safety oversight, challenge of efficiency, challenges of duplication and multi-taxation, challenges of the airlines, survival of the airlines and creating more enabling environment for the airlines to grow. 

The policy is the backbone that will guide whatever development and actions you want to take to move the industry forward. So based on that policy you can now start going to tackle these issues.

A CEO of one of the airlines, said recently that in all the countries he had gone to seek for flight operation,  he always had to relate with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), not the Minister of Aviation or Transport or any other government representative. But in Nigeria there seemed to be duplication of efforts between the CAA and the Ministry. Don’t you think this erodes the autonomy of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA)?

Again, that goes back to the policy. If they have been sticking to it that FOP (Flight Operation Permit) are not given by the Ministry but are given by the Civil Aviation Authority of that country, because flight operation permit are very technical and we need technical people to look at those airlines that are going to fly into your country or to your state. And you need to make sure that they meet a certain requirement of safety before you allow them to come into your country. So FOPs definitely must be given by the CAA, now the bilateral air service agreement is political; the Ministry with the participation of the airlines and the CAA can champion it.

Observers say that NCAA as a regulator must ensure that other agencies train their personnel, from marshallers to the vehicle drivers at the apron, but a decree establishing the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) designated it as an authority thus bringing in a conflict of interest. How can NCAA oversight FAAN and other agencies?

First of all it is extremely important for us to have one regulator, you can only have one captain in a ship or else you are going to have confusion and chaos.  And that is exactly what we are having. You have just said it, FAAN is self-regulatory, maybe the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) is self-regulatory, and maybe the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) is self-regulatory. It is not that the agencies deliberately did that; it is the Act establishing them, before we had the NCAA as the sole regulator. The Act establishing them allowed them to have self-regulation before NCAA was made the regulator of the industry.  When we moved from being self-regulatory to full regulation by NCAA, we should have gone back to the Acts establishing these parastatals and remove that power from them. If you remove that power from them and amend the Acts establishing them; if that was done then we will not have this problem now.

Of course you can see how we are having issues with a lot of runway incursions because the agencies don’t realise they have to be regulated. Such incidents like runway incursion that happened with two aircraft hitting their wings at the airport show us that there are problems. And we have to go to the root cause of the problems, which include the agencies not taking directives from NCAA because they think they are self-regulatory. FAAN feels they are self regulated and so they don’t feel that they should be licensed and then they should operate within a certain regulation; that NCAA needs to do an oversight on them.

NCAA said the airlines do bonding with pilots without their consent so when there is an infraction in the bonding; the airlines now come to them. It said the airlines should seek their partnership when they do bonding with pilots. There was this suggestion that the airline association should bring airliners together and agree that no airline should poach pilots from another member of the association?

Yes, it will be a good initiative, it will help grow the industry because a beginner airline will have to come and train his own pilots rather than poach other pilots. So it is a good development and then it will create jobs for a lot of people and there won’t be that headache. Yes, I agree with NCAA that when you enter the bond you should involve NCAA into it in the beginning so that when somebody is going to jump the bond you can bring NCAA into it. But this has gone farther in developed countries where they license the crew to a particular airline, so you cannot even use that license to go and fly in any other airline. This is the advanced stage of it because they don’t even want to say, okay you are going to jump bail, no; you won’t even have the license to do that because the license you have limits you to a particular airline. So these are the things I think the airlines should look into and I think it is a welcome development.

The NCAA will definitely be part of the bond and ensure that it is being implemented to the letter. It is not good for the industry for a beginner airline to come in and decides to pay maybe N10, N15, 000 or even N200, 000 extra to poach the pilot and then he will not train his own pilots from the beginning, that is another problem.

An operator told me he prefers to employ expatriate pilots to Nigerian pilots because the foreign pilots are more reliable; you pay them, they do the job and go, but there are issues with the Nigerian pilot; that they can leave your airline anytime, no matter how you are committed to them. What is your take on this?

For an operator to tell you that he prefers to have something higher in cost than to take something that is lower in cost then definitely there must be a reason. Let me give you a simple example, why would an operator decide to go for something more expensive? It is very simple, reliability like you said, but most importantly I am taking a very low hour Nigerian pilot with 250 hours flying experience. I am risking everything to bring him on board, to now take him and give him a type rating on my aircraft; to put him inside a jet aircraft and then to train him to be a co-pilot from 250 flying hours.

In developed countries if you finish with 250 hours you don’t go to airlines, you go to flying school till you get a 1,500 hours before you start coming to fly for airlines. It is when you get Airline Pilot License (APL) before you even come to fly for an airline. But we take them with commercial pilot license, with very low hours, we train them or let us say they even trained themselves, they come to us with very low hours, 250 hours, 300 hours.

Taking a trainee pilot with that number of hours will increase my insurance premium because I am putting an inexperienced, low time co-pilot inside the airplane, increasing my insurance premium and then putting a lot of stress on the aircraft because they are going to be doing training and everything. And when the pilot becomes proficient, then he now says I am paying him small remuneration and he leaves.

In some airlines in Europe you pay to get that kind of experience, when you come in with low flying hours you pay the airline to gain up to 500, 1000 hours on the type of the aircraft. But now I am bringing you in, giving you this training on the aircraft, giving you the opportunity to have this experience, without government incentive to the airline and I am a privately owned company, I am doing business purely on profit basis, I am not doing it on charity. Then after you have been trained, after I have paid my insurance premium very high, after I have suffered a lot on my landing gear because of hard landings that pilots do while training, after I have suffered all that expense in maintenance of the aircraft and other expenses you now say I am paying you little, so you want to leave me and go to another airline.

That is why the operator said he prefers foreign pilots to Nigerian pilots. He is a businessman, so he will look at it that this is a readymade pilot, he is an expert, he has 1,500 flying hours on type of the aircraft, not total type but on particular aircraft type and he is well experienced. When I submit his resume, because at the end of every year before I do my insurance renewal I submit the hours of each of the pilots. When I submit his hours to the insurance company my premium will go down, that is because you have pilots that are well experienced; so it is less likely that you are going to have an accident. So it brings down my premium and then the maintenance culture of it. I am not stressing the airplane because the guy has already had the hours of 1.500 and he flies the airplane the way it should be flown.

It is more expensive for the operator to bring in expatriates but when you look at it in the long run he is saving money in training cost and everything. But still Arik Air, apart from Nigeria Airways, we have trained the highest number of pilots with low time in the country.  We have trained many Nigerian pilots, close to what Nigerian Airways had done. So if you look at it we have taken a lot of people with low time in Nigeria. And two years ago we took 80 first officers that we selected from 120. 80 persons were successful. And we have finished training those batches, and some of those batches have even gone as senior first officers and some have left and some have gone to the Middle East, some have gone where they will be paid higher. Which I don’t blame them; they can go to where they feel is good for them but they have to understand that we took them when nobody could touch them. We took them, brought them in, trained them to that international standard when nobody could touch them. So that is the dilemma we are facing which is very wrong and we are not a government institution we are a privately owned company that we, our main aim is to make profit. So it is a big problem.

You know the poaching is creating animosity in the industry. Some operators are fighting themselves over this and it adds to the rivalry and the bitterness in the industry, don’t you think that there should be a decision on that?

Well, I think there should be a decision. I think the NCAA should champion it, bring the airlines together and then have some kind of some agreement, even if it is an unwritten agreement, to ensure that there is harmony in the industry. We personally have agreement, not written agreement but a gentleman understanding with some of our friendly airlines; that we will not take their pilots. We don’t take any pilot from any airline. We usually ask questions. Has he paid his dues before intending to leave? We will always do that. Even outside the country when we are getting pilots, we always employ based on the recommendation of his last employer. So if he is not in good terms with his last employer we can’t even take him.

You know this thing is very critical because of safety. About two weeks ago an airline took off from Uyo airport without locking the aircraft fuel tank valve. Who are you going to blame in that situation?

First of all, it is the captain because the captain has the full responsibility of his airplane. Maybe he forgot t check before take off. However, I wouldn’t say that I would blame him directly; maybe the thing fell off in the air. Maybe he failed to close it, I don’t know the whole story but if there is an issue like that, if you investigate and you find out that he actually left it open or he forgot, he didn’t check, then he is the one to be blamed. If it opened in the sky then it is a maintenance issue. I don’t know the system of this MD because it is an old airplane I never flew it. If you ask me of Boeing 737 then I can tell you or a Boeing 727 I can tell you. But such valves are not meant to open in the sky only the B727 are meant to open and that is when you are going to do over weight landing and you dump the fuel.

And it is a process; it is not something that you just accidently open, it is a full checklist that you follow step by step. Because you don’t want to start dumping fuel on people and you don’t want to dump on the place where you will come back the fumes will be there and you burn. So you need to know exactly where the dumping area is. You need to know the time that you will dump and then you don’t dump while you are going out; you dump while you are coming in, because you don’t want to go out and you cannot come in again.

There are so many things that are on the B727, on the B737 it doesn’t have that capacity, so you can’t dump. Because in the landing and taking off, you are allowed to make over weight landing then they will do an inspection. It is a progress on the older airplanes, because after the accident of the Halifax in Canada where they went out and they were checking an electrical problem and the captain didn’t want to come back and do an overweight landing, so he went out into the ocean to dump fuel so that he can come back and land. As he went out the electrical fire kept burning and burning. They were still trying and then as he was dumping electrical smoke filled the cockpit and they all died. And he would have landed; it would have been a heavy landing. They would have carried out an inspection and everybody would have been safe; maybe the damage on the aircraft would be total, but they would have been safe. That is why they changed that technology.

A lot of people are saying that NCAA is not doing enough in terms of having aircraft inspectors reviewing the airlines regularly and also inspecting activities of other agencies and handling companies.  They said there is no definite delineation between the technical people and the administrative people in NCAA. That everybody is struggling for training. What do you expect from NCAA?

You see because of our peculiar nature it is very difficult to have experienced engineers in all the types of aircraft that is flown in Nigeria. It is not that it is impossible but it is difficult to have. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot effectively do a safety oversight. What I think is that there should be more emphasis on the airlines itself, allow them to do their maintenance or they go and contract it out. But you do an oversight on the maintenance that they do. Like you said, you should have a basic knowledge on that aircraft that you are inspecting. So lets say for instance Airbus A320, and you want to have an inspector, at least that inspector should have gone to training for Airbus A320 type and then you must have some kind of license on that airplane. So making it easier for the inspector to do an oversight but he doesn’t need to go and actually see or do the repairs on the airplane, no.

As an inspector he will like to see what the engineers in the company have done, whether they have done what the books say, whether they have cut corners. Because he has a broad knowledge of the aircraft and of the maintenance of that aircraft he would quickly know if that engineer of that airline is trying to hide something from him or he did not do something or he has just cut corners to make the airplane fly. He will notice that and then that is when they should sanction that airline heavily. That is when they should even suspend the license of that individual and then sanction the airline heavily.

Do you think it will be an imposition if government suggests that particular aircraft types should be flown for schedule passenger service?

I don’t think the government should say particular aircraft types should be used for commercial operation. Even the idea if limiting the age of the aircraft that will fly in the country is not good enough. I don’t think it is a good idea. It is bad enough to say you have age restriction, which I understand the government position for the age restriction because of lack of Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility. It is okay because we don’t have a maintenance facility so older airplanes tends to have more maintenance than newer airplanes. So we limit the age. I would say looking at it broadly, yes it is a good thing but if you go deep, if an airplane is built to fly for 25 years based on the maintenance; that should be recognized and accepted. But if we don’t have a maintenance culture or we don’t have a maintenance facility then newer airplanes are better and more efficient and even friendlier to the environment. So now to even go to the government and say you want a particular airplane to fly your passengers, I think that would be monopoly.

But it is the responsibility of NCAA to have the engineers of particular aircraft types that are flown in Nigeria?

Yes, in fact as an operator or as a would be operator, when I am going to apply for an Air Operator Certificate (AOC), in that AOC application before I start operating I would have told the NCAA in my forms that these are the aircraft types that are coming. This is way, way before I even get the AOC, so what I believe should have been done is that before that airline starts going into operation, the operations, airworthiness, licensing, all the departments must have actually seen this company that is coming in. Now, if it is a brand new airplane in the world then when the company shows interest of buying those airplane, usually what they do in other countries is when they are doing the certification for that airplane, the CAAs of different countries come and share and then do training so that they can include the new aircraft in their register.

First Nation the other day said they have got IATA Operational Safety audit (IOSA), and Dana, Medview, Air Peace are in line to get theirs. Arik Air already has advanced IOSA. Do you believe that if we make IOSA a standard for operation it will improve safety, and how does a new airline coming fit in?

I think what we can do is to incorporate IOSA when an airline comes in. he will be allowed to operate first 24 months after he has received his AOC. When he is in the process to renew its AOC after the first two years, NCAA will say we will not renew your AOC after the first renewal unless we see an IOSA certification. That would be good because the airline has operated for 24 months. Renew your AOC now and then the next renewal is in another 24 months but it would not be renewed unless you show IOSA certification. It will go a long way; it would make the airlines sit up. Because you can’t tell an airline that is just coming in or has not even started operation to present and IOSA certificate.

Is it possible for NCAA to incorporate all those requirements of IOSA in their audit for AOC?

No, they cannot do that before operations start. You can’t do an IOSA audit before you start operating.  You must do an audit after you have started operation because you have documented a procedure and proof that you are practicing that thing that you have documented. So if you have documented that this is what I will be doing, then show me that you are doing that.

The quest for national carrier seems to be dying, relying on the feedbacks I have been getting. I spoke with an aviator and he suggested that government is really determined to have a national carrier but that what they should do first is to have flag carriers. When they have flag carriers they think about establishing MRO in Nigeria. That they should use the first four years as planning years, while in the second four years they would usher in the national carrier. Is this realistic?

Listen, everything is realistic, everything that you want is realistic. It depends on the amount of resources that you have. If you have the resources and today you want to start a national carrier, if you have the money you can do it. If you have money to go and buy airplanes, start-up and office, you can do it. Yes without MRO, you have to have resources. You see, I keep saying is it practicable? You want to crawl before you walk, before you fly, so if you put all that in a chronological manner, of course what you have just said will be the perfect thing to do, to make sure that you have put everything in place and then you gradually build it up.

Just as when we were in a recent conference organized by Akwaaba. The Ethiopian Airlines representative said that you don’t build an airline in one day or in one year; that you gradually build it. That means that you are building it on solid foundation, it cannot shake. Because you have MRO there, you have this and that, everything is done. And I think that is the model that Ethiopian Airlines has adopted and they have looked at all options while they were building it. They have looked at the management of it; they have looked at everything. They now have to separate the ownership from the management, which he mentioned clearly, the ownership is the government and the management is totally different. Now they are maturing into another form of enterprise because they have created Ethiopian MRO as a separate company, Ethiopian catering, a separate company, Ethiopian handling a separate company, and Ethiopian Airlines as a separate company. The Ethiopian training is also a separate company. And all of them have their CEOs reporting to them. You see that is not done within a day or within a year or two years. They are almost 70 years old. So if we want something that is good, I think we have to look at the foundation. They have built theirs on a solid foundation and I think we should build our own too on a solid foundation. And I think that is the only way we can achieve a viable, strong national carrier because whatever we do we have to reflect the next 30, 40 years not what will happen after the end of this administration.


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