The Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT) in Zaria, Kaduna State, is an institution that prides itself as the only school of aviation in West Africa where pilot students cough out N7.5 million just to train for two years. Yet, the only school of aviation in Nigeria was allowed to degenerate to an abysmal level. Even though a lot of renovation work is currently ongoing, the physical state of the school has remained appalling for an institution that plays a very crucial role in the aviation sector.
The Nigerian College of Aviation Technology is funded by the Civil Aviation Department in the Federal Ministry of Aviation. Formerly known as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Centre, the school was established in 1964. It has a fleet of about 25 training aircraft. As of 2010, about 6,500 students had graduated from the college, which offers courses in flying, aircraft maintenance, air traffic control and aeronautical telecommunications. Its Rector is Adebayo Araba and Chief Dayo Abatan is its Chairman.
A tour of the institution leaves one bewildered. For instance, the hangar, built in the 1960s, has remained the only one for aircraft maintenance. The second one built with several millions of naira years after to replace the decaying hangar has never been completed and has now become abandoned. The simulators, necessary to train pilots, are either not functional or partially in use. The college was neglected so much that there was no expansion and the local community started encroaching on their land. The two parties are now in court.
The hostels for the students are in a deplorable state. Some pilot students sleep barely on the floor as some beds have been broken. In some rooms taken over by mosquitoes, students have to combine two mattresses to form a bed. Chairs or tables are broken and toilets and bathrooms are a no go area. Doors to rooms can barely lock.
The main auditorium is now being tiled in anticipation of a planned visit of the Minister of Aviation today, Mrs. Fidelia Akuabata Njeze. It was in a deplorable state as well.
Lecturersâ€™ offices look like junk yard. Most of them have now been destroyed and are being re-constructed. Nobody can better capture the situation in the college more than a security guard who has been working there since 1994. â€œThings are going down. Things are really going down,â€ he said as he was struggling to lock a door that could not close very well.
Electricity is also being rationed at the college. In the hostels for example, students can only expect to have light between 6.30 p.m. and 11 p.m., they must rely either on candles or rechargeable lamps to read after 11 p.m. The problems are countless and the response must be urgent.
The training of pilots, aircraft engineers or air traffic controllers is so crucial that if not properly handled, it will have grave repercussions. Imagine a situation where a pilot, an aircraft engineer or an air traffic controller is not properly trained, many people, mostly the elite, will suffer for it. These are professions where precision cannot be compromised since mistakes or errors have grave consequences in the aviation sector.
Safety in the Nigerian aviation industry really starts from the school where these aviators are trained. No amount of money or sophisticated radars can replace human capacity building.
We believe that no effort should be spared to resuscitate the dying college. It is good that the Federal Government is said to have earmarked N4 billion to upgrade and refurbish the college. The money must be judiciously used to stem the rot in the school.
Apart from Arik Air and Aero Contractors airlines that are currently partnering with the college through scholarships to some indigent students, we believe that other airlines must support the institution as the aviators being trained at the college will eventually be absorbed by these airlines. Above all, government must wake up and do the right thing by paying more attention and investing heavily and constantly in the college before it hits another low.