By NBF News

Recently, it was reported in the media that government was planning to merge Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) with Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) as part of President Goodluck Jonathan's transformation agenda. According to the report, the planned merger came from a proposal submitted by a consultant to the federal government.

The main reasons advanced by the consultant for the proposed merger included, too much corruption in the civil service, too many agencies and lots of wastages on the various boards of directors of the agencies. The proposal sighted examples in the US and UK among countries where the merger of such airport service providers are working.

Corruption and inefficiency in our public service particularly the aviation ministry are genuine and worried concerns not only for the government but also for the stakeholders and the travelling public. However, sighting these concerns as the reasons for the planned merger of FAAN and NAMA at this time of the industry development, progression and recognition in the international aviation community can only compound the inefficiency and expose the critical sector further to abuses of grave concern.

Merging, therefore,, cannot be the solution especially when we have deliberately failed always to apply or enforce the established laws and regulations in the sector. In my letter to Mr. President early this year, I suggested the merging of ministries of intermodal relationship particularly the ministries of aviation and transport, sighting the global trend and the establishment of the regulatory agencies such as the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC), Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) as reasons for the previous merging of the two ministries and the ministries of information and communication in 2007.

The aim was to create a single intermodal policy and ministry for rail, marine or waterways and air transportation which offers savings in terms of cost and reduces unnecessary duplication of efforts. The merger of the parastatals under the ministry of aviation was never considered in my letter because there were no basis for merging the agencies that were demerged on the recommendations of Vision 2010 Report in 1997 and the Aviation Safety Reforms Report of 2006.

There are six agencies under the supervision of the ministry of aviation and there are no two of them that their operations and management can be merged. Aside from FAAN and NAMA, there are; the National Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigeria College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) and Nigeria Meteorological Services (NIMET). The NCAA regulates, carries out oversight functions and enforces operational standards of all civil aviation operators, while NCAT is responsible for the training and manpower development for the industry at all levels for aircraft piloting, air traffic controlling, aircraft engineering etc. AIB is cut out for accident investigation and prevention.

This is as agency that could be merged in future with Federal Road Safety Commission(FRSC) and develop into investigating accident in the other modes of transportation such as in the marine or waterways, rail, road and highways like the US Nation Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

NIMET is a meteorological service provider not only providing weather forecast for aviation, but its services are equally extended to marine navigation, forecasting planting seasons for the agricultural sector, and warnings of imminent disaster to the entire nation's environment. Because of the peculiar services that NIMET provides outside aviation and transportation ministries, it could in the future become an autonomous agency and separate from the ministry of aviation.

FAAN and NAMA like the other four agencies, provide services that are different in the sector just as the laws that established them are separate. FAAN is an airport terminal ground operator and service provider at twenty two local and international airports but its operations have no international boundaries. Whereas NAMA manages and provides Air Traffic Services of all kinds to all air traffic flying over the Nigerian airspace covering 960,000square kilometers land areas and 100,000 square kilometers territorial airspace over the sea. It also shares international air traffic services boundaries with five countries.

While FAAN can outsource ground facilities services or go into partnership with private investors to develop airport facilities and provide passengers comfort services, the law that established NAMA forbids it from outsourcing any of its services which essentially are critical to the safety of all aircraft flight operations. The law mandates NAMA at all times to provide aeronautical navigation, surveillance and communication services at all airports to enable public air transportation and private business aircraft fly safely as far as practicable and for military aircraft to fly with tactical freedom without interference. Therefore, no consultant familiar with international air traffic safety and security standards and with knowledge of Air Traffic Control Service (ATCS) architecture or, civil servant with high responsibility in national security will recommend the merger of FAAN and NAMA.

Stakeholders would recall that International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) had in 2006 at a conference in Kenya, examined the possibility of private investors' participation in airport devel

It is, therefore, an illogical notion that merging these agencies would translate to qualitative change. Sure, there would be fewer numbers on the board of directors if FAAN and NAMA are merged thus saving cost sort of, but that does not change the character or quality of the members of the new board except they would be hired from abroad or replaced by professionals and would no longer be the ineffective and inexperienced politicians.

Ojikutu writes from Lagos.