TBY talks to Capt. Muhtar Shaibu Usman, Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), on the steps being taken to raise standards and the opportunities those steps yield for investors.

Capt. Muhtar Shaibu Usman
Capt. Muhtar Shaibu Usman attended the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, in 1975, where he earned a diploma in aero electronics and telecommunication. From there, he attended City and Guilds of London Institute, Burnside-Ott Aviation Training Centre in Miami, and Oxford Air Training School, and received his Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) in New York in 1992. He started his career working as a Flying Instructor at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria, from 1981 to 1985. He proceeded to Nigeria Airways, Lagos between 1985 and 2004 and rose to become the Fleet Captain’s Assistant.

What are the biggest challenges that you have to overcome to provide world-class aviation standards?

The drop in oil has sparked a large diversification drive, which has resulted in the deregulation of the economy whereby the naira is allowed to find its own level. This has affected access to spare parts, which are not manufactured in Nigeria. It is a challenge and we are going through a transition; however, we will overcome these hurdles and will, soon enough, see massive investment flow into the country again. One benefit of the drop in oil prices, however, has been the drop in the price of aviation fuel. Two major airlines recently pulled out, United from the US and Iberia from Spain; however, we still have applications from companies that want to come to Nigeria because they see the long-term potential of the country. They understand that the current problems are temporary and things will stabilize.

What trends are you seeing in the development of the sector?

The government is looking at expanding and growing the aviation sector in line with international standards and best practices. We want to become a regional aviation hub in order to take advantage of Nigeria's strategic location. Additionally, we want to build other facilities for maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) so that the maintenance of heavy aircraft, the type we use for commercial operation, can be done in the country. We do all this outside Nigeria. Hence, if we have the requisite facilities to do it here, it will not only develop our own industry but also attract other players. The plan is to use a public-private partnership (PPP) model. The process has already begun and the provisions are in the 2016 annual government budget.

What type of opportunities can international investors find in the Nigerian aviation sector?

Nigeria is a large market and along with West and Central Africa constitutes almost half the population of Africa; roughly twice the population of the US. Nigeria offers one of the highest returns on investment at over 30%. It is a place that people should explore and invest; especially in aviation. Companies can dabble in MRO, move into the manufacturing of aircraft parts, or explore the abundant opportunities in airport development, catering services, and aviation training. The UN set up a Basic Aviation Training College in Nigeria in 1964 that recently obtained the status of Regional Center of Excellence from the International Civil Aviation Organization. We are working together to ensure that in the area of human capital development for aviation, we are able to do most things locally.

What role does NCAA play in training within the country?

The responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority is to regulate aviation safety, security, and economics. Under these ambits, we also have training. Specifically before you conduct any aviation training, you must be approved by the NCAA. It means that we must approve the curriculum, test and certify before we give a license. We have a major role to play when it comes to aviation. A key area required is ensuring that we attract and retain qualified and experienced manpower in sufficient numbers. We are guided by all the standards and recommended practices prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

What are your goals and objectives for 2017?

Our objective for this year is to do better than we did last year. 2016 has been quite difficult, but that is unsurprising given the transition the economy is undergoing with the unpegging of the naira. We still want to do better in terms of safety, and keep incidents and accidents to the barest of minimums. We want to sustain and build on the successes that we have attained and also attract more businesses in the area of aviation. Our target is to use aviation as a catalyst to propel the economy of Nigeria.