By NBF News

The Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN) has advised Nigerians to dismiss the soothing news that the country would soon attain the much-celebrated Category 1 status, expressing fear that inherent deficiencies in the aviation sector would likely scuttle such robust ambition.

Cat 1 represents excellent standard in aviation business and the United States Federal Aviation Administration (US-FAA) awards it to deserving countries upon scaling various security and economic audits. Should Nigeria become Cat 1 compliant, local airlines designated on the Lagos-US route can commence the operation using Nigeria registered airplanes and crew under the Open Skies Agreement (OSA) signed by both countries in 2001.

At a press conference in Lagos at the weekend, the National President of ATSSSAN, Benjamin Okewu, explained that part of the impediments on the road to attaining Cat 1 is the absence of a national carrier, stressing that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority's (NCAA) continuous flaunting of Arik Air as one would be inimical to realizing the goal.

He stated emphatically that for the successful attainment of Cat 1, a national carrier, not a flag carrier airline was paramount. 'As far as my own understanding is concerned, we can't have Cat 1. No matter how we paint it to the world that Arik is a national carrier, it won't work. We have told them that we are in International Travel Federation (ITF), World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and we have told them that we don't have a national carrier.'

Okewu explained that before the visit of the experts from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the US-FAA for various aviation certifications, the nation's aviation regulatory agency, the NCAA, ought to have done its homework thoroughly to ensure that the external audits were no major hurdles.

'What we have in Nigeria are flag carriers and if the requirement for Cat 1 is a national carrier, then government must give us a national carrier before we get Cat 1. They are positioning Arik as a national carrier but the truth of the matter is that Arik is not a national carrier. It is a flag carrier and there is no way you can attain Cat 1 without having a national carrier. We have made it known to the government. It is painful, no matter how they look at it.'

On his assessment of the aviation minister's 90 days in office, Okewu said he started zestfully but lost the steam few weeks later.

He said his continuous interference into the NCAA's duties as a regulator is counter-productive, adding that a lot of issues needed to be addressed if the nation's aviation sector was to remain relevant in the next decade.

On the ultimatum given to the minister by the National Assembly to fix the Nnamdi Azikiwe and Murtala Mohammed International Airports within 90 days, the union leader said the only way to realize the goal was for the Federal Government to allow the ministry access the Bilateral Air Service Agreement fund domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria.