‘Why AIB can’t use drones to probe crashes’ September 28, 2020 in Business, CEO, News Update

‘Why AIB can’t use drones to probe crashes’ September 28, 2020 in Business, CEO, News Update

Aircraft accident investigation is rigorous, requiring men and materials and the collaboration of many government agencies and the private sector. This is why the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) is striving to tackle the challenges of investigating not only aircraft accidents, but others. AIB’s Chief Executive Officer/Commissioner, Akin Olateru, in this interview with KELVIN OSA-OKUNBOR, speaks of the bureau’s march towards a more-robust operation and his vision for same, among other issues.


What is your assessment of the global aviation industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

In the last few months, developments in global aviation have been altered because of the ravaging pandemic. The aviation sector, like others in the global economy, has witnessed phenomenal changes in the way businesses are done.  The air transport sector as a physical contact industry is undergoing a lot of reforms as part of global containment strategies, which have forced countries to design protocols for players in the sector. COVID-19 has affected the aviation industry worldwide, and by extension, it has greatly affected our industry, especially in the area of revenue. It’s a very expensive virus which has crippled a lot of activities, many families witnessed distortions due job losses and half pay. But I believe it’s a matter of time, things will return to normal.

How is your organisation addressing the challenges brought about by COVID-19?

In terms of performance, we refused to let the pandemic affect us. We are still doing what we normally do, COVID-19 or not. We still ensure we deliver on our mandate, We ensure we do what we have to do, but the only problem is funding. COVID-19 has affected our revenue greatly.

You know our source of revenue is from the three per cent we get out of the  five  per cent that the regulatory body, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), collects from the Ticket Sales Charge/Cargo Sales Charge (TSC/CSC). So, in terms of affecting us, it has in the area of funding. We are getting lesser funds from our statutory source. But, in terms of delivering on our mandate, it does not affect us in any way.

What plans do you have to expand the scope of the bureau in probing accidents involing other modes of transportation?

There is a proposed Bill at the National Assembly for AIB to investigate other accidents. At the House of Representatives, this Bill has passed the second reading; we are waiting for a public hearing on the Bill. At the Senate, we are waiting for a second reading and public hearing. Thereafter, it will be sent to the President for assent. For us, in air transport we have been able to mitigate many risks; we have managed to learn from our mistakes in serious incidents. Aviation  is a highly-regulated industry, very expensive, highly technical, the fastest and the safest means of transportation and it is because of all the checks and balances. There is a difference between investigating for liability, criminality and safety. AIB has been investigating for safety, not for liability and it is the same we want to take to other modes of transportation. It is not about who is at fault, it is about how we can prevent re-occurrence. This is our core mandate and what we want to focus on. That is where we are, and it’s going to take effect as soon as we have the greenlight from the President.

What are the peculiar challenges of accident investigation?

Challenges could come in four major areas: equipment, infrastructure, human capital and systems, processes and procedures. I always say that if you score less than seven out of 10  in any of the four areas, you still don’t have a company. If you have the best equipment and you don’t have manpower, you are not going anywhere. And if you have the best manpower, equipment, but you don’t have a good infrastructure and there are no systems and procedures to help them navigate their workings, you are not going anywhere. So, those four areas, I will say, we had huge challenges in them when I assumed office a few years ago. Of course, the pillar of all the four is funding, but with the support of the Aviation Minister and the National Assembly, we have been able to navigate around those.

How expensive and cumbersome is accident investigation?

No two accidents are the same; they may look the same, but there are no two accidents that are the same. Also, in terms of costing, I don’t think I have been able to break it down to an exact figure. So, I will not be able to give you the exact figure, but I can describe the process for you. The accident will determine the cost. Sometimes, we have to send an engine back to the manufacturer, they call it engine teardown. So, we have to factor in the cost of shipping, and estacodes the engineers that will go with it. What we want to ascertain is wether the  engine was producing power at the time of a crash. So, there are several things that can push up the cost in accident investigation. It is a painstaking process, very detailed exercise, tasking and, sometimes, it can be daunting because you must get it right. This is what accident investigation is all about. You must ensure whatever fact you put out there, you have enough evidence to back it up and this is why we go through so many processes, depending on the crash. We get support from engine manufacturers, airframe manufacturers, and from some countries because it can be very complex sometimes.

Besides flight safety and material science laboratories secured by the AIB, what  other projects are you pursuing?

Currently, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved the construction of AIB headquarters and AIB training school in Abuja. These projects have started; we have two laboratories – flight safety and material science. For the material science laboratory, it’s work-in-progress because we want to transform the material science lab into an avenue for making money. We cannot charge for what we do. We don’t charge for accident investigation; we don’t invoice anybody. We can look for little areas where we can use our resources to make money. That is the way we are going so that we are able to address the issue of funding.

How important is collaboration with other agencies to AIB?

It’s a very serious issue and I will be honest, it can be frustrating sometimes because some agencies of government don’t really understand the need for collaboration. They don’t understand why we are pushing for cooperation. I will give you an example, God forbid an aeroplane drops into the sea, AIB doesn’t have the capacity for sea divers to retrieve any wreckage or black boxes, but the Nigerian Navy does. In the last few years, I have been pushing the Nigerian Navy to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with AIB. It is not the day that we have an accident that we will start looking for who to call. This is the essence of these MoUs. Recently, we signed an MoU with the Nigerian Air Force and one of the benefits  is that the aircraft could drop off anywhere; bad terrain, difficult terrain that we cannot access. The Air Force can help us with the logistics. We, too, can be of help to the Nigeria Air Force because we have a world-class safety lab in Abuja, rather than the Air Force sending their black boxes overseas for download, they can use our lab in Abuja to do the download and save our country some costs. At the end of the day, it is to the benefit of the entire nation. Even the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), we have been on the issue of MoU with them since 2017; we are still talking and that is what I mean by saying sometimes it can be frustrating. AIB is not Akin Olateru’s company, it is a Federal Government agency; we have a mandate. We have got some recognitions from some organisations like the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), you could see the way Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) performed during the last accident and that is why we are taking it further to sign an MoU with LASEMA to see how we can train their staff on how we work; what we expect from them when there is a crash. We have done a lot of training with the Nigeria Police as the first responder. We have trained Civil Defence, but like the Nigeria Police, I am still waiting for the MoU to be signed. I agree with you that it is 100 per cent important for relevant agencies to come together and work as a team. There is no confusion as to everyone’s roles. We all have independent roles to play, but when we work together we can deliver a much-better, coordinated service.

Do you agree with the use of drones for investigating accidents?

The AIB has not deployed any drone in investigation of any recent accident, including that of the helicopter operated by Quorum Aviation. No, we didn’t. AIB is a responsible agent of government. We can’t flout government rules and regulations. To operate a drone, you need a licence and we are yet to sort that out with the NCAA. In getting the licence, part of the requirements is to train your people on how to handle the drones, which we have satisfied. The operator has to be licensed by NCAA. So, we are in the process of normalising our documentations. That is one thing we do here, we see how we do it and how we can better or simplify the processes or get a better result from better performance.

Is AIB thinking of how it can generate revenue like other agencies in the industry?

Under the United Nations (UN) Charter, we cannot charge for our services, which is accident investigation and it’s our core mandate. But, there is nothing stopping us from looking at other areas. I have made mention of the material science lab; we have signed MoUs with the University of Lagos, University of Ilorin and we are talking with a university in the United Kingdom on the things we need in this material science laboratory so that we can start earning money from it. The training school is another source we hope to earn money from. Of course, we are looking for a way or ways of improving our funding position.

Will the coming on stream of the AIB Training School not be in conflict with that of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT)?

First and foremost, we are doing this in conjunction with NCAT, we are not licensed to train, but NCAT is. We developed this curriculum together with great input from world-class institutions around the world, because this is new to NCAT as well. Once the training school is built, we will move in. We want to produce world-class training; that’s what we are trying to achieve so that we can get the best from what we are trying to do.

What should the industry expect from the bureau in five years?

I will like AIB to be rated a minimum of eight in each of these – equipment, infrastructure, human capital and system processes and procedures. Also, I would like to make AIB an enviable place to work in. I would like to make AIB a world-class institution. These are the things I would like to achieve before I take a bow. The first thing that drives me is value-addition. If I am not adding value to things, I don’t feel fulfilled: I like making positive change and impact. As I am achieving, I keep going; it is something that makes me happy.


The Nation

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