Capt. Abdusalami Mohammed is Rector, NCAT, Zaria. In this interview, he outlines plans of the college to increase its IGR. He tells young aviation professionals what to do to be employable, while revealing plans to take the institution to an enviable height.
Since you were appointed rector of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) in 2017, what changes have you brought to the college?
When I was appointed in January 2017, the immediate mandates were to restore the status of the college, to attain the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Regional Training Centre of Excellence (RTCE) status, to attain the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) for our diploma grogramme, also, to complete the ongoing projects that I met on ground.
I am pleased to report that we have met majority of these mandates. As you are aware, we achieved he RTCE status back in 2017. When we came, the college had developed two standard packages. One of the requirements by ICAO to be considered for RTCE is the development of a minimum three standard packages.
So, when I came on ground, my immediate interest was to conclude the Standard Training Packages (STPs) that were going on and I am proud to announce to you now that as at today, the college has developed eight standard training packages. This has surpassed most of our training institutions that are under the ICAO TrainerPlus.
I met a lot of projects that were ongoing, we have successfully completed most of them and those that are still ongoing, we hope to complete them by 2020. In terms of staff welfare, I recognize the need that for you to get the best out of your staff, you have to get the best out of them. I met on ground a situation whereby the college did not meet on ground an approved scheme condition of service. This was something I took up personally and I am glad to tell you that for the first time in the annals of the college, it now has approved scheme condition of service in the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation.
We also encourage and promote capacity building among the staff by sending them on training and at every opportunity that we have, when they are conducting training at the college, we also put in members of our staff in such programmes for them to benefit from these training.
As you are aware, I have over 40 years in aviation industry and my last position was as a staff of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority which gave me the regulatory perspective of aviation. With this pedigree, I have been able to look at the college critically and be able to reposition the college. One of the things I emphasised then was prudence, considering that we have limited funds. We have been able to instill some sorts of financial discipline in the college.
Going forward, my plan is to double our activities in the college by introducing new courses, which is to enhance our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). We are hoping to establish a course that will train people on the use of drones. As you are aware, during the one of the symposiums on Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) that was held in Abuja in 2017, the college was mandated to come up with a training programme for RPAS, popularly known as drones.
So, the college is taking up this mandate. So far, we have trained our personnel that will acquire this training. We have acquired the drones that will be used for this training. We are still waiting for the necessary regulatory framework that will guide us on this training.
We have plans to carry the college forward. As you are aware aviation is a very technical and evolving industry. There are always new technologies coming up, in keeping up with this advancement, the college is always procuring new equipment so that our engineers and pilots, ATC and others, by the time they come out, they are trained in the use of these facilities.
As you are aware, the NCAT bill for the amendment of the Act that set up the college is presently before the National Assembly, we have been waiting for this quite for some time now. With the passage of this bill, the college will be able to access the Tertiary Education Trust (TET) fund, which in turn will now help us in addressing some of our infrastructure and staff training needs. We seek support of the media in this.
As of Monday this week, we had 10 aircraft serviceable in the fleet of NCAT. The daily serviceability fluctuates because as the aircraft are utilised on a daily basis, they go in for maintenance. They have 50hrs check and 100 hours check. So, when the hours are exhausted, they are pulled into the hangar and the maintenance carried out before they are pulled out. As it is, we have 10 aircraft that are fully serviceable, which is a good improvement on what we used to have.
What is the current situation with the plan of NCAT to acquire additional 20 Diamond aircraft to uplift its operations, years later?
The Diamond Aircraft, the supply is for 20 aircraft. That was DA42, which has two engines and 15 DA40, which is single engine aircraft. Because of budgetary constraint, you cannot order for the entire aircraft at once. So, we ordered for the aircraft in batches.
When I assumed duty in 2017, the college took delivery of only one DA42 AIRCARFT. This was because when the initial orders were placed, the aircraft were manufactured, but due to the failure of the college then to make payment, the manufacturer decided to sell the aircraft. So, they couldn’t get the aircraft any longer.
So, we said we were not going to place any other until we have money. So, last year, I placed orders for six DA40 aircraft, we made all the payments that is required to guarantee the payment of the aircraft. We are going to perform factory acceptance check on these aircraft in the third week of January 2020 and thereafter, by two weeks after that, sometime in the mid-February or so, the six aircraft would be delivered to Zaria.
This will greatly enhance our training capacity. With the delivery of these aircraft, we intend to place order for the batch of another aircraft. So, we will be ordering them in batches until we take delivery of the 20 aircraft.
Can you let us into your programme for staff training?
We have three types of training at NCAT. The training that we provide at the college; when we are conducting training, we involve our staff. When we identify training needs in certain departments or units like record keeping, computer appreciation, these are courses we conduct at the college, rather than sending them to conduct it outside the college.
We have training, which we send our staff to do either in Kaduna or Abuja. Then, we have foreign training, which involved technical ones that are licenses. These training are required of them to maintain their currency of their licenses.
In 2018 alone within the college, we trained 104 staff and in 2019, we trained 181 of our staff within the college. In addition to that, we have sent over 80 people in batches to public services institutes in Abuja annually for training and these trainings cut across the ranks. That is from security men, cleaners up to the chief inspector. We didn’t differentiate. We recognise the need for these kinds of trainings for being civil servants for civil service rules and procedures by the public service institute, which is ongoing and we carry on annually.
I keep trying to explain to people to stop looking at training as their welfare. Training is not a welfare, but for capacity building.
Foreign training is for licensed staff like pilots, Air Traffic Controllers, aircraft maintenance engineers and instructors. All these ones are NCAA requirements for recurrent training. In addition, we also send the staff to do attachment on the industry. For ATC, they go to the facilities of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA). For the pilots, ground instructors, we send them to the airlines and for the engineers also go to the airlines and the maintenance organizations. So, all these are parts of the local trainings.
What is the school doing to ensure that some of the unemployed pilots who graduated from the college are engaged?
I am very concerned about employment for graduates and not only pilots and the issue is not about type-rating, but the experience. Even when some of them come back from America, they still don’t get jobs because they have not gathered the necessary hours. Different airlines have different requirements. Most of the airlines require a certain minimum of hours for insurance purposes before you can fly their aircraft. So, these pilots before they are employable need to build up these hours. This is where the General Aviation comes in because they don’t have these requirements. So, we encourage the young pilots to go into General Aviation. That is the practice worldwide. If they are able to build more hours, that will make them marketable and employable.
How far have you gone with the PGD programme you commenced some few weeks back?
Our Post Graduate Diploma (PDG) we are running in Lagos has been a success. This is the second course that we are running outside Zaria. The first one is our license preparatory course for the engineering school, which we are going to complete this month. Already, we have had request for another one.
We have realised that there is a huge demand for NCAT to conduct site courses. So, in the next few years, we are going to be conducting more courses especially in Lagos where there is huge concentration of aviation personnel in the country.
In 2018, NCAT signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Air Mark from Niger, what is the update on this?
Air Mark is a school in Niamey, Niger Republic and it is owned by ASECNA with Air Traffic Controllers (ATC). We signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with them in English language training for ATCs in the ASECNA region. Air Mark has still not started sending students. They normally send the students by bus to Zaria and it is usually a class of 40 students, but they are now concerned about the insecurity on the border road between Niger Republic and Zaria. That is stopping them from actualizing what we agreed.
But, I discussed with them in an ATTO seminar conducted recently and they wanted NCAT to conduct the courses for them either in Abuja or Lagos where they can fly these students directly for training. We have agreed to do that in principle, but we are still looking at the modalities because we have to relocate some of our equipment for the training.
How do you intend to collaborate with universities to run aviation courses?
We are presently collaborating with the Ahmadu Bello University (A.B.U) in Zaria; they are our next door neighbour and we even share staff quarters with them. Things are moving, it could have been faster. While this is going on, we have also approached Kaduna State University and about two days ago, I received the letter from the Vice Chancellor indicating their willingness to partner with us. So, this is another angle we are following up and we hope that at the end of the day, we affiliate with the two universities.
We are also a non-accredited member of Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) from the United States. The board accredits educational institutions. We have been in talks with them, we have gone very far and they are expected in the first quarter of 2020 to visit Zaria for inspection of our facilities and our instructors with a view to give us accreditation.
If I may add this, by virtue of our being a RTCE, ICAO has asked NCAT to post ICAO Training Package (ITP). These are training packages that are developed by RTCEs and are used worldwide. We have successfully hosted this training in Abuja. One on dangerous goods training and the other was on authenticity of travel documents, which is targeted at immigration officers. This was provided by ICAO for immigration officers in West Africa sub-region. In collaboration with these organisations, NCAT is able to conduct many more courses now, thereby increasing our exposure and increasing internally generated revenues.
What is your assessment of the aviation industry in Nigeria?
Nigeria aviation industry has come a long way. Things used to be really bad in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, we didn’t have NCAA then. So, we never had the enabling regulation; the airlines were not disciplined. The safety status was not there and the Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) became like a status symbol and having an airline became a status symbol.
A lot of airlines in Nigeria didn’t succeed because they didn’t have very good business plan and where they have a good business plan, they don’t follow it. And, they all try to do it alone. This industry has evolved. The days of being on your own has gone. That is why if you look around you, we have these major alliances; OneWorld, Start Alliance and others. Also, you can’t operate successfully as an airline without belonging to the International Air Transport Association of Nigeria (IATA). Most of our domestic airlines seem to be shying away from that. They don’t want to join IATA.
In the last 10 years or so, there has been great improvement in the Nigerian aviation industry. That is why you notice we have fewer accidents. The country was subjected to a lot of audits by ICAO and the Federal Aviation administration (FAA). That has resulted in safer operations across board and people are learning now to do things the right way.
But, we still have a long way to go. There is need for cooperation among the airline operators. They can do a lot more together, thereby saving money. They can share resources, help each other out, instead of trying to drive each other out of business.
So, my assessment is that there has been some progress, there is still room for improvement and I believe that there is need for this country to have a national carrier. If we have a national carrier, it will address some of these challenges that we are facing now. The country will have an airline that will be able to compete favourably with foreign airlines that come here with state-of-the-art aircraft.
For an airline to succeed, it must be able to compete favourably with its competitors. So, you have to be able to use similar type of equipment. The reason airlines go for newer equipment is because of fuel savings. As you know, fuel constitutes about 40 per cent of airlines’ operations. Even if you can save 1 per cent on fuel and you operate 100 flight operations that is a lot of money. For all these new aircraft, they offer minimum of 4 per cent savings over the older ones. So, when you do the calculation, you will discover that you will be saving millions of dollars annually. Also, you end up spending less on maintenance. So, it is difficult when you now use an old aircraft to compete with somebody who is using a brand new aircraft, even though, the passenger entertainment, interior and others will not be the same.
I saw that in Virgin Nigeria when we started operating with the London and Johannesburg flights with Airbus A340 and we later downgraded to Boeing 767 aircraft. We lost a lot of passengers; they said the inside of the aircraft was scrappy. So, it is important for you to keep up with the changes in the industry and I believe also that the creation of national carrier will create huge employment; direct and indirect opportunities in this country.
Is it possible for NCAT to expand its runways and make it commercial in order to increase its IGR?
Our runway is only 1.6km long; it is certified to carry an aircraft in the passenger capacity of 10-seater private jet. It’s not a commercial airfield. It was built specifically for flight training. The college some years back was looking at the possibility of extending the runway and making it a commercial airport, but with the change of government in 2015 that project was set aside because we had other priorities. But now, we have realised the need to extend the runway even if we are not going to have commercial flight.
For instance in May this year when the minister of aviation went around to commission some projects, he wanted to go to Zaria, but he couldn’t land. He and his team had to land in Kaduna Airport and had to go to Zaria by helicopter. A few months later, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo was going to Zaria on official visit, so, he too had to land in Kaduna and go by helicopter. So, with these experiences, we have now revisited the idea of increasing the length of the runway, but we need additional land.
The current land the college has is not enough to accommodate the extension. So, we are looking at the possibility of acquiring additional land. The problem as you know is the issue of land encroachment. Some of the settlers in the neighborhood of the college have encroached into our land and the case is in the court. Unfortunately, the judge that was handling the case before died and it was reassigned to another judge. So, we can’t touch anything there until the case is determined in the court.
I don’t know if we commence the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) will give us any money. FAAN is in control of all the airports and they keep all the revenues they make. They claimed that what they generate out of Zaria doesn’t even cover the overhead cost, but we are exploring other avenues of increasing our IGR.
What is NCAT doing about type-rating of young pilots who graduated from the college without a job?
As you know, when a pilot graduates from school, he comes out with a Basic Commercial Pilot License and then with the type on the aircraft that he used for training. So, when he comes out and gets a job anywhere, if they are operating that kind of an aircraft he trained on, he doesn’t need additional training, but if it is in any other aircraft that is different, he must undergo type-rating training regardless on the size of the aircraft. So, you can imagine the number of training facility that you will need. For the bigger commercial aircraft, most of the training is done in simulator for cost effectiveness. We call them complex aircraft. When you fly complex aircraft, some of the maneuvers and the emergencies that you have to be trained on cannot be carried out on actual aircraft. You can only do them on simulators. That is why you have to go to where they have simulators. For each aircraft type, there is a simulator that is providing this training.
At NCAT, we recognised this gap and that was why we embarked on the acquisition of the B737NG simulator. That is the type that Arik Air operates. We envisaged that the B737 Classics are on their way out. That is why we decided to go for the NG. This project would have been completed a long time ago. The initial process was to site the simulator in Lagos, but when this administration came into power in 2015, the decision was changed to site it in Zaria and there was no provision for the building that will accommodate this simulator. We looked at the possibility of using existing structures, but they are not suitable.
So, we now had to start afresh by getting consultants that will design the building, we had to go through full procurement process, selecting contractors. We awarded that contract last year and the building as we speak is about 60 per cent completed. The structure is completed. We are only doing internal wiring, painting and stuff like that. That simulator we hope would be delivered to the college within the first quarter of 2020.
When we have that simulator installed, we will be able to offer type-rating courses on that B737NG. Now, as part of our plans for the future, we also made provision for a second simulator. So, if you go to the building, you will see that we have two simulator bases. We intend to install a second simulator. We are watching the industry to see if the national carrier comes; the type of equipment they are going to use will now guide us on the type of simulator to install. Once we have the national carrier, NCAT will play a big role in training a lot of the personnel.
Which aspect will NCAT be looking at in conducting training for the use of drones?
As you know that we have security consideration on the use of drones. We have seen in some of the countries where they used them, the disruptions they have caused in some of the busy airports. We have had cases where Heathrow, Gatwick and Dubai airports were all closed because of drone activity.
We also have the security implication Nigeria. As you know, we are facing serious security challenges in this country. So, the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) is monitoring closely the importation and operation of drones in Nigeria. So, our training is going to focus on the knowledge of the regulations so that the operator will know his or her limitation. The envelop within which he or she can operate and the type of drones because they come in sizes and shapes. Not all types of drones is individual is allowed to purchase.
We will also provide hands-on training for people who will operate these drones so that they will operate them safety and securely. We are still waiting, like I mentioned earlier for the NCAA, what we have now is circular that has been issued, but we are still waiting for the appropriate regulatory framework for us to finalise on this training packages.
What effect will the establishment of University of Transportation in Katsina State have on the operation of NCAT?
The University of Transportation in Katsina is a good development. Our engineering students, especially the diploma students go out in the field for on-the-job training and they also go to inspect facilities that they read about in books or see on the slide screen, but they have never seen in real life. As part of their training, we take them to Ajaokuta Rolling Mill where they now see the machines at work. We also take them to some of these big factories in Kano for training.
I believe the main focus of the university that is coming up will be on railway transportation and they will also be using similar equipment. I want to believe that there will be some kinds of collaboration and cooperation between us where we will be able to train some of our students there or even use some of the members of their faculty as resource persons in some of the technical subjects that we will teach.
As you know, Zaria is the Regional Headquarters for the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) and they also have a training school and a big yard in the state. With that I think that will open a big collaboration between us.
What is your say on the IATA figure for more pilots in the next few years?
The IATA figures will continue to show that there is a demand for more pilots because this is based on aircraft orders. People are always ordering new aircraft and we have people who are retiring. So, there will continue to be need for more pilots.
In Nigeria, we don’t order a lot of aircraft, the biggest orders IATA is quoting are taken from Middle East and Asia. This is where most of the big orders are. In Europe and America, most of the aircraft are owed by leasing companies. These leasing companies are the actual owners of these aeroplanes and then they give them to airlines.
If you can recall, one of the projects the ministry is pursuing is the establishment of leasing company. You know one of the challenges facing our domestic airlines is their ability to lease aircraft. Because of the past behaviour of airlines in Nigeria, the leasing companies are not willing to lease aircraft to Nigerian operators. That is why we identified the need to have our own leasing company that will now make it possible for Nigerian operators to have access to some of these new-state-of-the-art aircraft under comfortable and profitable terms.
There will continue to be this gap for some time in Nigeria because we have quite a lot of unemployed people. So, it will take time before they are all fully employed and we as a training organization will continue to train more personnel for the industry. Like I told you, we intend to increase our training capacity, but hopefully, the industry is growing, Africa is growing and there is a huge demand for air travel because people realize it is the safest and the most convenient form of transportation.