Capt. Chinyere Kalu is the Rector of the Zaria-based Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT). In this interview, she speaks on innovations at the college, the transition from certificates to degree-awarding institution, commencement of helicopter pilot training and the need for helicopter and fixed-wing operators to do way with expatriate pilots and engineers so as to create employment opportunities for the indigenous personnel. She spoke to IME AKPAN
Changes at NCAT
A lot has been happening; there have been tremendous improvements in the college in every area including equipment and infrastructure upgrade, raising the academic standard to be in sync with international standard and best practices. NCAT has been admitted into the Train Air Phase which is the training arm of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
It was first admitted as an associate member but now we have become a full member after developing aerodrome preparatory course. This means that anywhere such a topic is taught, they are going to borrow the training package NCAT has developed. It means NCAT has produced something that will be used worldwide and it will become a reference point for training organizations. This school has actually become a reference point when it comes to aerodrome emergency preparedness.
We have been able to acquire Visual Tower 3D for the training of air traffic controllers; we have acquired a similar equipment for the training of pilots; we have also acquired a B737 aircraft for the training of cabin crew. NCAT now has a dedicated power supply that operates for 24 hours.
In terms of infrastructure, the auditorium is 98 per cent completed. This project has been going on for close to 10 years but when we came on board, we needed the building for various reasons hence the need to work on it. We have worked hard with the contractor and consultant to realize its completion. The construction of the library has been completed. Two new hostels have been built; we have executive hostels for students and another 70-room hostel.
We have introduced post-graduate diploma courses which did not exist hitherto. The college has obtained accreditation from the National Board for Technical Education (NABTEC) to offer national diploma and higher national diploma. We offer over 150 courses at NCAT.
We are growing and our intention is to make NCAT a one-stop shop for all aviation training needs. Yes, we have a number of courses and our intention is to go on to offer degree courses; the process we are pursuing, seeking accreditation from the United States-based Aviation Accreditation Board International. As soon as we have that, we will be able to offer degree course on aerospace engineering, flying dispatch, and aviation management, among others. So there are lots of courses we would want to offer beyond what we are offering now.
In terms of student population, we have over500 students. In the past we used to have 250 and maximum 350 but now there has been an increase in students’ enrolment. When we have new intake or students for the HND programme, the number will even increase; infact we are anticipating that we will have over 1,000
In 2012, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) adjudged NCAT the best training institution in Africa and in 2013 the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) conferred the centre of excellence award on the college.
Personnel and training equipment
We certainly have to employ more. As our courses develop, we will require more personnel. For now, we want to pursue and make sure we have the courses running before employing more manpower.
We have about 23 aircraft and we need more. We are in the process of re-fleeting because the single-engine air craft we have been flying are depleted by age and incidents. Many times, when we have an incident with an aircraft,it is almost impossible for us to repair the aircraft and put it back into use. We are trying to putour third hanger into use. By the time we have repair facilities we will be able to do in-house repairs and some aircraft that have been damaged will be repaired.
State governments and training of pilots
Some state governments are sponsoring their students but not as much as desired. In particular, Kano State has sent 500 of its indigenes abroad and what they have been bringing here are not even up to 100. However, we appreciate the state government for the number it has sent here. We are expecting about 45 cabin crew students from Kano to train here. We have the man power and facilities that can absorb them and it will be not much cheaper to send them abroad. Niger State government has sent their students because we opened a campus in the state. Kaduna, Benue and some Niger Delta states have also sent some students. We still need a whole lot more.
Reasons for acquiring helicopters
Over 80 per cent of helicopter pilots in the country are foreigners and you know helicopters are used for off shore operations. It is a very sensitive area and key to our economy and should be well secured. For having such operations done by foreigners, you will agree that it is not the best for our nation. It has been going on and it deprives our young people the opportunity to pursue their career. If Nigerians are trying to take over fixed wings and are in the forefront, I don’t see the reason rotary wing should be left in the hands of foreigners. So, we saw the need that it is high time we got into training of helicopter pilots.We are very hopeful that helicopter pilot training will commence this year because we are at the final stage of the receipt of Bell 206 aircraft.
Growing manpower for aviation sector
Well, the level of man power training needs to improve; we need to train some more and the intention is not just training for Nigeria but the sub-region and if possible, Africa. Nigeria has what it takes to produce aviation manpower for the region and if possible for the world. I don’t see why we cannot do that. So I am not happy and there is room to do more and that is why we want to embark on massive training of aviation professionals through the graduate programmes. When these programmes start, they will be running concurrently; we will not stop our licensing diploma programmes.
Goal of the college
Our goal is to ensure that in a few years, we will not have any need for expatriate pilots and engineers in this country. But my disappointment is that Nigerian businessmen or operators are not patronsing home grown pilots and engineers. They will rather employ a fresh form with 200 hours from the United States or anywhere instead of employing our own home grown with 250 or 300 hours. I don’t know where that mentality is coming from. When Nigeria Airways was in existence as people graduated, they were absorbed by the airline.
Our people are well groomed and we want to encourage operators to patronize our people as it is the only way this industry can grow. Our people are not patriotic; they do not employ the people that we are producing. There are many of them out there looking for jobs; jobs that they can do better than any foreigner. They were trained here and they know the terrain. They know the weather and they have the standard. Our people are working all over the world with the license and training we have given them.