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NAMA: Tackling Challenges Of Air Space Management Systems

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In recent times, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) is beginning to address some of the key issues in airspace management, particularly in the areas of communication, human resources and industrial harmony within the system. In this piece, ANTHONY AWUNOR looks at the first year and half of the new management of the aviation agency.

W

hen the Federal Government, on 9th January last year announced appointments of heads of four agencies in the aviation sector, the case of Capt. Fola  Akinkuotu as the new Managing Director, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) was received with the highest endorsement.

There were two reasons for that; first was that NAMA, at that point in time needed a leadership focus that would key into the dynamic global aviation sector. Secondly and most importantly, Capt. Akinkuotu, having been an operator as in the case of Aero Contractor; a regulator due to his short stint and meritorious service he rendered in the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and now as a service provider. He was therefore, seen as the right tool to revamp NAMA.

But just at a time, the ovation was getting to its loudest, two major challenges faced NAMA at that same time. The challenges were like a litmus test to the new leadership of not only NAMA, but to almost all the aviation agencies in the country.  On March 7, 2017, few months after Capt. Akinkuotu’s appointment, the Federal Government approved the temporary closure of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja to pave way for rehabilitation of the runway for six weeks. Consequently, Kaduna Airport was adopted as the alternative airport to those travelling to Abuja.

Ever before the Abuja airport was finally closed, NAMA had got a marching order to ensure that Kaduna Airport got calibrated in three weeks and the staff of NAMA did the calibration under the eagle eyes of Capt. Akinkuotu, which was quite commendable. Although the herculean task threw a very big challenge to NAMA but with the kind of leadership and experience of the management team, they were able to weather the storm within the right time frame. In a show of professionalism, NAMA was able to round off the routine calibration of the Very High Omnidirectional Radio Range/Distance Measuring Equipment (VOR/DME) and the flight commissioning of the Instrument Landing System/Distance Measuring Equipment (ILS/DME).

The calibration exercise was geared towards ensuring accuracy, reliability and efficiency of facilities at the Kaduna airport, ahead of March 8 closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

The component parts of the facilities which include Two VOR transmitters, two DMEs co-located with the VORs, two localiser transmitters, two glideslope transmitters and two DMEs co-located with the glideslope all passed the flight calibration test to the admiration of Nigerians.

The flight calibration was handled by Omni-Blue Aviation Ltd along with their technical partners (FCSL of United Kingdom) in collaboration with NAMA engineers who carried out the installation, alignment and parameter adjustment during the exercise.

It was through these daunting efforts that enabled Kaduna airport to safely land aircraft at that closure period and even in critical weather conditions as far as Navaids are concerned.

In a quick succession, the Federal Government in May also issued the Executive Order signed by the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo to change some of the ways government business and operations are conducted in the country forthwith.

As a follow-up, it is on record that NAMA under the leadership of Akinkuotu was the very first aviation agency that ensured strict and unhindered compliance to the implementation of the Federal Government Executive Orders.

NAMA was able to record huge success in this regard because Akinkuotu began its immediate implementation, making himself available to drive the process personally. Within that period, NAMA’s website was regularly updated showing the requirements, conditions and procedures for doing business or obtaining services in NAMA including all fees and timelines necessary for the processing of applications for the services.

The NAMA boss was also able to organise workshop sessions to adequately enlighten and sensitise both staff and industry stakeholders on the essence and imperative of the executive orders with a view to harmonising processes in order to achieve the single user interface at the airports as directed by the federal government.

Encouraging his workers in a keynote address at an enlarged management meeting with the nation’s Airspace Managers which held in Lagos shortly after the Order was issued, Capt. Akinkuotu said “we must individually and collectively, in our operational and administrative procedures resolve to make the Executive Orders successful as it gives us the opportunity to correct our shortcomings, perfect the system and also set the template about what excellent service delivery  should be,” stressing that “as my representatives on the field, Airspace Managers must ensure that staff under their different jurisdictions are conversant with the spirit and letters of the Executive Orders to ensure seamless implementation nationwide.”

Akinkuotu who was optimistic that acceleration of approvals and permit processes, as contained in the Executive Orders would significantly increase revenue, attract investment and boost economic activities in the country, warned that there will be no room for wilful or deliberate negligence of established procedures as defaulters must be ready to face appropriate sanctions.

While expressing gratitude to them for their collective effort at ensuring safety of air travel within their various domains, the NAMA boss called for synergy of operations among departments in the agency and even agencies within the sector.

He equally explained that it is only when there is unity of purpose, teamwork, harmony and co-operation at all levels that the agency can realise its cardinal vision.

Beyond that, NAMA under the current leadership has been able to impact positively its workers. It has also demonstrated to airlines and other airspace users of the determination of the agency to work assiduously towards building upon the current safety profile of the nation’s airspace.

Despite several challenges the agency faced in the past year, it also recorded remarkable achievements and significant progress in certain critical areas such as the replacement of Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) in two strategic airports in the country, increase in staff trainings, improvement in staff welfare amongst others.

In NAMA of today, there is also adequate provision of necessary facilities especially in the key areas of Communication, Navigation and Surveillance equipment.

Confirming these great feats, the President National Association of Air Traffic Engineers (NAAE), Engineer Ishaya Dung,  while commending Akinkuotu said “The management team of NAMA is living up to expectations because when they came in, we enumerated quite a number of challenges. As I am talking to you now, part of the challenges we had before the management came in have been taken care of. So that tells us that management is a responsible one and out to ensure the system functions very well. I will say they are doing very well”.

Corroborating Dung’s views, a NAMA staff, James Olukayode Olalekan commended Akinkuotu, stressing that the Managing Director is out to take the agency to the next level.

“I want to use this opportunity to give kudos to the present management of NAMA. Prejudice apart, the present management of NAMA within a year the Managing Director has come, he has really proven himself to be a man that can be trusted. That is in the areas of welfare and training. That notwithstanding, aviation training is continuous and very necessary. It means that, those that have been trained in the past need retraining because our equipment are changing on daily bases”, Olalekan said.

Shortly after he resumed office, Akinkuotu  had put in place a mechanism to look into the lingering issue of harmonizing the salaries and allowances of staff under its payroll with those of their colleagues in other agencies in the aviation sector. Today, that singularly step has promised to change the life of numerous staff economically and socially.

Due to Akinkuotu hardwork, NAMA in recent times has attracted an avalanche of commendations from both local and international organisations. Late last year, the agency got commendation from Virgin Atlantic for its excellence in delivering expeditious air navigation services within the nation’s airspace.

In a letter of commendation addressed to Capt.  Akinkuotu, the Airport Manager of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd, Justin Bell said the airline appreciates NAMA’s efficiency in ensuring seamless, smooth and timely movement of aircraft across the Nigerian airspace, adding that the flight control team in the United Kingdom also appreciated the agency for its excellence in air navigation service provision.

Back home, the Minister of State, Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika had also given kudos to NAMA for its “diligence and astuteness” in the discharge of its duties. In a letter signed by the Asst. Director of Air Transport, Richard Pheelangwah on behalf of the Minister, Sirika advised the agency to “keep up” the good job it is doing in ensuring safety of air travel in the country.

Most recently, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has equally lauded NAMA  for its consistency in the rendition of qualitative bills in the last three years.

This feat according to IATA has ensured that the error rate in bills posted by the agency for its services to airlines has reduced to less than 2 percent from over 30 percent nine years ago.

Making this commendation during the IATA/NAMA Service Review Meeting which held at the IATA corporate office in Geneva Switzerland, the Director of Airline Settlement Services Manfred Blondeel said “NAMA has carved a niche for itself as the best out of 75 authorities and over 4000 airlines we deal with globally in terms of reduced error rate and disputes in bills posted by the agency to us.”

Blondeel said “considering the myriad of disputes that we notice daily from errors by some authorities, some errors even exceeding 50 percent, it is to our delight that the dispute/error rate of NAMA billing has consistently remained the lowest in the world with over 98 percent accuracy.”

Be that as it may, industry analysts have disclosed Akinkuotu’s strength and turnaround magic which they attribute to the latent strong character which are usually possessed by most professional pilots and experienced pilots. Apart from being an operator, regulator and now a service provider, they are of the view that the NAMA boss has a deep understanding of the role of human factor in Air Traffic Management safety from the unset.

They are of the view that the robust environmental, organisational and job factors which the pilot has built since over a year he assumed office in NAMA, are the reasons NAMA progressed rapidly under his watch.



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