TASKS BEFORE AVIATION MINISTER
In an apparent response to the rising bombing incidents in the country, Aviation Minister, Mrs. Stella Oduah- Ogiemwonyi, recently announced plans by the Federal Government to install explosive detectors at all entry points in airports across the country. Specifically, the detectors and Close Circuit Television (CCTV) will be installed at all airport gates and car parks to improve security and boost the people's confidence in safety of the ports.
She named improvement of security of airports as a priority to be tackled in her first month in office. Her other plans for repositioning of the industry for effective and efficient service delivery include completion of perimeter fencing of all airports, tackling of high cost of aviation fuel and completion of Runway 18 left of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
We welcome the prioritisation of security at airports by the minister. This is an indication of her appreciation of concerns of Nigerians on air safety following incessant bombing incidents in the country, and the rising challenge of terrorism across international borders.
The installation of explosive detectors and CCTV cameras at airport entry points and car parks is long overdue. It is the norm at airports across the world and Nigeria should not be an exception. Security is such a big issue in Nigeria today that everything that could be done to improve it, including full perimeter fencing of all airports, should be done as quickly as possible.
It is good that Oduah-Ogiemwonyi elected to work on improvement of security at airports in her first month in office. We applaud the sense of urgency she has brought to bear on this great necessity. The challenge, then, is for her to ensure she does what she has said. The effort will improve not only safety, but also efficiency in screening of air travellers as it will reduce delays associated with manual screening processes. It will also improve efficiency of manpower.
Concerning perimeter fencing, it is a shame that cows and rams compete with aircraft on our runways. This situation cannot be divorced from the quality of leadership in the sector over the years. In view of the danger posed to air safety by this problem, Oduah-Ogiemwonyi should do everything within her power to ensure that all airports are properly fenced.
Aviation is a highly technical field. There is, therefore, need for efficiency and professionalism in the sector. The overall objective should be to ensure that all our airports and airlines operating in the country adhere strictly to international standards. Already, the African Civil Aviation Commission has issued an alert on repeated disobedience of civil aviation regulations by some African countries. The commission, through its Aviation Safety Officer, Mr. Mesfin Fikru, said the granting of Air Operator Certificates to airlines in Africa without adherence to stipulations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is one of the major causes of frequent air accidents on the continent.
This situation, he explained, makes fliers regard African airlines as unsafe, and so, opt for foreign airlines. This negatively affects air transport development in Africa. It is also responsible for the situation in which international air transport giants such as British Airways, Air France, KLM and Lufthansa take the bulk of money to be made in the international air transport sector. The challenge before the Aviation Minister, therefore, is to make sure Nigeria adheres strictly all regulations of ICAO to improve safety of air travel in the country.
She must do her best to correct the negative impression that our local airlines are short on safety standards. Safety and efficiency are the key words in aviation. Patriotism is hardly a factor in fliers' choice of airlines, so Nigerian and all African airlines must put their houses in order. It is the duty of aviation ministers in Africa to ensure that this is done.
Oduah-Ogiemwonyi and all African aviation ministers must understand that we live in a market-driven economy. So, airlines must be well managed to ensure safety, efficiency, professionalism and comfort to get a good chunk of the air travel market. Nigeria and other African airlines must be able to compete favourably with foreign airlines. Our aviation experts and managers must put heads together to provide competitive service rather than lamenting over competition from foreign airlines.
We expect Oduah-Ogiemwonyi to lead this effort. Let her muster political will to transform our airports and airlines. Aviation is a huge employer of labour that should be nurtured to good standing so that our airlines can take their rightful place in the world.
We welcome the aviation minister to office and urge her to expedite action on all her promises, including the construction of a terminal building at Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri. The Total Radar Coverage (TRACON) project should be made to do exactly what it promises — total radar coverage of Nigeria's entire airspace. Let her get the best expert advice available on critical aviation issues, and strive to promote the interests of aviation professionals in Nigeria
There is so much to do in aviation, so we urge the minister to hit the ground running. We wish her well in this challenging assignment.