By Gift Samuel, The Sight News
Abuja-The Rector, Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria, Capt. Abdulsalam Muhammed has disclosed that against peoples opinion of the school being expensive, NCAT is the cheapest place to train anywhere due to the government subsidy.
The Rector who disclosed this in an interview during the International Civil Aviation Organization , World Aviation Forum in Abuja, said that NCAT’s charges are about one third of what other schools charge for the same training, adding that the subsidy policy of the government is out to make the training affordable to ordinary Nigerians.
With NCAT recieving the ICAO Certification as a Regional Centre of Excellence, Capt. Muhammed noted that NCAT will use its position as a Regional Center of Excellence to promote the activities of African Training Organization in the west African sub region.
See Excerpts from the Interview:
Cost of Training Pilots
It is very expensive to train pilots so if at the early stages it is discovered that a trainee pilot doesn’t have what it takes, it is better to terminate the training at an early stage so that he can go and do other things rather than let him spend so much money and then later down the line he loses his license or is not able to even get the license.
In regards to cost, NCAT is government owned, we get government support so our courses and the school fees are subsidized. It may sound expensive but it is the cheapest place that you can train anywhere because of the government subsidy.
What we charge is about one third of what other schools charge for the same training and this subsidy policy of the government is to make the training affordable to ordinary Nigerians so when you really look at it, it is not that expensive.
In the last few years that our currency has lost its value, we still maintained our school fees even though we have dollar denominated expenditure. We buy aircraft and spare parts in US dollars and we even buy aircraft fuel sometimes in US dollars, so we are not over charging contrary to what people seem to think.
NCAT Certification by ICAO as Regional Training Centre of Excellence.
ICAO has a training unit called Global Aviation Training Office. They regulate and oversee aviation training in the world and you have to meet certain criteria before you are eligible to join this organization. NCAT started the process in 2006 and since then we kept metamorphosing because there are various stages. The regional Training Centre of Excellence was the pinnacle and certain things has to be done to be able to qualify for the next stage and one of the basic requirement is for ICAO to come with a check list and a team to assess your facilities to ensure that they meet minimum international standard.
We had the audit carried out by ICAO, some gaps were identified and NCAT embarked on a programme to upgrade our facilities and standardize our class rooms as are the requirements which included having new class room furniture, installing modern equipment such as smart boards and projectors in all class rooms. In addition, in terms of academics, NCAT was expected to develop standard training packages as ICAO requirements and to achieve this status we have had to develop a total of 4standard training packages and the packages are available to ICAO members worldwide to conduct trainings and the attainment of the regional training centre of excellence opens a world of opportunities for NCAT as we can now develop training programmes in all the ICAO annexes that is in fields of air transport, navigation, facilitation, environment, safety and security. It also gives us the opportunity to send our qualified instructors any where in the world to go and conduct trainings. This also gives our instructors international exposure.
Currently NCAT has the highest number of qualified instructors that are certified by ICAO in the TIC. This is an achievement which we got for two consecutive years now so ICAO recognises NCAT leadership role in this area.
NCAT’s Position in the Training of Pilots
I will like to bring to your notice that NCAT consists of five schools and the flying school is just one of the schools and the flying school trains more than pilots. Under the flying school we also train flight diapatchers and cabin crew. In the other schools we have air craft maintenance Engineers and also train air traffic Controllers we train in aeronautical telecommunications and we also have an aviation management school that teaches management courses including post graduate diploma in aviation management. When you talk of the number of pilots, they constitute less than 10 per cent of the studentspopulation at the school.
The pilot training takes the longest time amongst our courses because the students’ turn out is not as fast as in the other schools. Recently we graduated over 70 aircraft maintenance Engineers last month and some pilots as well. Typically for pilots training, a class has about 20 so we offer admission to about 20 but some of them are not able to make payments so we end up starting the course with about 12 to 15 and in the course of the training, some are not able to complete the training either due to payment inability or due to medical reasons or due to poor performance.
Establishing another Training Organization for Aviation in Nigeria.
I don’t think there is a need to establish another training organization for aviation in Nigeria. As you know we have the international college in Ilorin that trains pilots, we have the school in Enugu that trains helicopter pilots, so I don’t think there is a need to introduce another training school. What we need to do is just to expand our training capabilities so that we can introduce more courses that are especially relevant to the airline industry so that they would not have to send their staff abroad for training.
It is in recognition of this that the management of NCAT decided to acquire a Boeing 737 simulator. As you know there is a legal requirement of pilots of commercial aircrafts to undergo recurrent trainings every six months and that training is done in simulators and the practice up to date is for the pilots to go outside the country because we don’t have such simulators in Nigeria. So NCAT analyzed this and decided to install a Boeing 737 simulator in Zaria. The choice of the 737 is because it is the most commonly used aircraft by Nigerian airlines including the presidential air fleet so that is what informed the decision to purchase a Boeing 737 simulator and arrangements have gone very far, we ought to have that simulator installed in Zaria sometime next year. So when that is done, we will be able to give 737 type ratings so pilots will not have to go abroad to get trainings in the 737 and they can also do their recurrent trainings in Zaria, thereby saving our meagre foreign exchange and saving the airlines a lot of money.
Takeout from the Just Concluded IWAF
As you know, IWAF is talking about financing infrastructure in Africa and most of the participants are aviation ministers from participating countries and then we have the monetary organizations that can facilitate these infrastructure. What has come out from the sessions we have had, is the fact that there needs to be a greater coordination between the policy makers who attend meetings where decisions are made and then the rest of the ministries that are supposed to implement these decisions.
This forum has identified this gap and I am sure that when the ministers go back they will address this. The emphasis is on financing. The problem is that our airlines in Africa do not do a good feasibility study to come out with a good business plan that they can sell to these finance houses for them to secure the facilities. We had the representatives of the aircraft manufacturers in this forum, they will play a key role in facilitating the acquisition of aircraft by African airlines.
In Nigeria, Private airlines have difficulties in leasing aircraft and this has been identified as one of the major causes of the high cost of operating an airline in Nigeria because of the high cost of borrowing and leasing aircrafts. If these issues are properly addressed and the Honourable minister has expressed great interest in tackling this issue that is why one of the items on his road map is the establishment of an aircraft leasing company that will facilitate the leasing of aircrafts by Nigerian airlines.
Training By NCAT
In terms of training where it concerns me most, the Global Aviation Training Office (GAT) was represented here and we have had the opportunity to interact with them and discussed ways in which the GAT office can assist NCAT and other training organizations in the African continent. NCAT will use its Position as a regional Center of Excellence to promote the activities of African Training Organization in the west African sub region
Infrastructural Deficit in NCAT
Like I mentioned earlier, when ICAO came to audit our facilities, they identified some of these deficits, namely: inadequate classrooms and offices and some of these class rooms did not meet ICAO standard so we had to embark on a programme of rehabilitation to make sure that these class rooms meet the standards and ICAO verified that was why we were able to get the certification but this is an ongoing programme because we planned to expand and introduce more courses and in anticipation of these, NCAT made provisions in its 2017 budget for the construction of classrooms, offices and hostels and this was appropriated. We are just waiting for budget release for us to start some of these projects.
As you know, some of our aircrafts are old and we also have issues with getting fuel for that type of aircraft and because there are very few of such aircraft in Nigeria, the fuel marketers don’t bother to import this fuel so it is usually in short supply and very expensive. It costs about four times what you will pay for jet fuel in this country so in light of this, the college management few years ago decided to reflate and change training aircrafts to those that use the jet fuel and that programme was started and we took delivery of the first aircrafts earlier this year.
NCAT has approval to purchase 20 Diamond aircrafts, five of which will be single engine and the remaining 15 will be twin engines and these aircrafts are state of the arts that use the aviation jet fuel and they are also equipped with the latest avionics that most modern aircrafts are equipped with now so when students graduate, it will be easy for them to transit. When students graduate from flying school, they come out qualified to fly the type of aircraft we have in the school then when they get employed by an airline or a private company wherever they go then they have to be trained for that type of aircraft. Any time a pilot changes aircraft, he has to go and train for that type of aircraft. In some cases, you are not even allowed to fly two different types of aircraft so that they don’t mix procedures and that is for safety reasons.
We have take delivery of one of the Diamond 42 the twin engine in April this year, we want to bring in the single engine called Diamond 40, it is presently being manufactured in Austria and it has been relocated to Canada and they have not been able to produce aircrafts. We have suspended that until they finish relocation. We hope to take delivery in the next financial year 2018 we plan to order minimum of 4 of these Diamond 40 Aircrafts. We have one diamond 40 given to us by an insurance company as a settlement of an insurance claim. Right now we have two Diamond aircraft, in addition we have a TBM 850 that uses a Jet A1 fuel in total we have 5 aircrafts that use the Jet A1 so that reduces the amount of hafgas that we need to purchase
Pilot Training Abroad.
When pilots finish their training here, they are issued with a commercial pilot licence, Nigerian one so it allows them to work and fly Nigerian registered aircrafts. Any Pilot that flies outside Nigeria will be issued with a license for the country where he trained. If he trained in the US he will get an FAA license, in Europe he will get a European license and when he comes to Nigeria, he cannot use that license without converting it to a Nigerian license because he is going to fly a Nigerian registered aircraft.
One of the processes is to go and sit for an air law exam so that he will familiarize himself with the local aviation regulations in Nigeria and this applies to all the foreign license holders that want to fly in Nigeria, the same thing applies in other countries. Each ICAO member state has its own local aviation law to take care of local requirements, that’s the major difference between people who train in Nigeria and people who come with foreign licence
Lack of Jobs for Pilots
NCAT as a training organization cannot be involved in looking for jobs for pilots, we can provide references. What we have done and we are still engaging the airlines is to encourage them to employ some of these young men and women so that they can get the opportunity to train. Normally when you come out from flying school you just have a basic license of 250 or 300 hours depending on how your training went and you find that most of the air lines have a minimum experience requirement for insurance purposes and a fresh pilot like that does not have that minimum requirement so what we encourage the pilots when they come out of school is that some of them can convert and become instructors so that they can build time. Some of them can go and join the general aviation they can fly lighter aircraft that are necessarily the scheduled commercial air crafts and try to build time which is the practice in most parts of the country.
If you come straight out of school in the United states which has the largest pilot population in the world, you cannot go and join for instance American Airline or Delta, you cannot, you have to have a minimum of 1,500 hours before you can do that, that 1,500 hours is what qualifies you for the next licence which is called the Airline Transport Pilot licence. When you graduate, the types of licenses will limit the types of aircrafts that you can fly by weight. When you have a basic license, you are restricted to taking commands on the lighter aircrafts. We are encouraging people in general aviations especially the owners of private jets to employ these young men and women so that they can build up the time and we hope that once the National Carrier is set up, there will be a lot of employment opportunities not necessarily for them in the National Carrier but a lot of the Pilots that are currently working in these airlines now will move and join the National Carrier thereby leaving opportunities for the young men and women to fill up. We are very hopeful that in a not too distant future we will have employment opportunities.
Training of Foreign Pilots by NCAT
NCAT has always been involved in the training of foreigners, what happened over the years is that schools now started sprouting up in other parts of Africa so there was no need for them to come here. After Apartheid people from other parts of Africa started training in South Africa. We still attract foreigners. Right now in Zaria we have two students from Sudan undergoing training, few weeks ago we had a student from Mauritius and Equatorial Guinea has indicated interest to send students here for training and we are collaborating with the Accident Investigation Board(AIB) to start training Accident Investigators and we expect to have students from other parts of West Africa
We are still involved in the training of foreigners and our being certified as a regional Training Central of Excellence is going to open up more opportunities for us to attract and bring in foreigners. I think we are doing quite well with foreign students.
Challenges Faced by NCAT
Since we are a government organization, the major challenges is funding, whatever we do had to go through the budget process and has to be appropriated by the National Assembly and then now you have to wait for the money to be released so this tends to delay some of our projects like every body else. We have solicited for the kind understanding of the people in the various ministries and the National Assembly to try and extend the unique nature of our kind of business. The rise in dollar has doubled the cost of this project . we understand, the Minister of Aviation understands, being a pilot and he goes out of his way to get us as much assistance as possible and it is through his efforts that we are able to meet some of these challenges and we are able to execute some of these projects.
Over the last few years, things have really improved at NCAT , there are some challenges that are beyond our control like for the pilot training, the weather affects the training especially when you have harmattan. When pilots starts training, we teach them how to fly by reference to the ground, basic navigation, map reading so that the Pilots have to be able to look out of their window and follow the map to see when they are crossing a river, road, rail line and be able to find a way and to do that. There is a minimum visibility requirements before they can fly and it is below that level in the harmattan period so you can find a student sitting for weeks on the ground without being able to fly.
On the other end of the scale during the raining season, clouds cover the top of the hills, so low clouds affects the training as they are not allowed to enter clouds in their early stages of trainings, they have to stay away from clouds and in sight of ground and water that is the law. So these are some of the challenges that are acts of nature and beyond us and when they happen they tend to increase the training period.
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