By Ndanki Kahiurika
THE alleged shortage of staff to train at the Namibia Civil Aviation Authority might prolong the stay of international experts, who have been in Namibia for 10 years.
Namibia signed an agreement to bring the aviation experts with the technical cooperation of the bureau of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in 2008 after the country's first downgrade of Hosea Kutako International Airport in 2006.
Documents show that Namibia asked for assistance in capacity-building, restructuring and management of the aviation regulatory authority under the project called Nam08801 which ran until 2014.
An evaluation of project Nam08801 seen by The Namibian states that in all areas, the then directorate of civil aviation was significantly short of suitably qualified personnel.
According to the report, across all areas, "employees lack qualifications, experience, attitude and the ability to learn". But those close to the situation denied this, saying these were used as excuses not to train Namibians, and to keep ICAO experts in the country longer.
"This affected the achievement of project objectives because it provided the project team with an insufficient number of people to train. Furthermore, existing staff were heavily committed to routine tasks, reducing opportunities for on-the-job training, practically in surveillance activities," claimed the experts in the evaluation document.
Although NCAA executive director Angeline Simana said most Namibian pilots and engineers prefer to work in other countries where they get higher salaries, she insisted that some training was done.
"The problem in Namibia has been a lack of skills and experience, while the aviation industry has continued to expand with more aircraft and demands on the air operators and airports," she said, adding that this is common.
Simana stated that the ICAO experts held 90 training fellowships, and spent 1 563 days training Namibians.
As a result, there are more Namibians appointed to the positions previously occupied by ICAO experts, and also in some vacant positions.
"The NCAA is proud to state that Namibian citizens now hold approximately 50% of all management positions, and that more will move up this year," she added.
According to Simana, most positions were vacant at the time the authority was a directorate in the works ministry, with just eight positions filled.
On how long ICAO experts will be in the country, she said it depends on the ability of the NCAA to offer competitive salaries to what all the nationals in the senior inspector and junior inspector positions were getting.
Documents show that the experts then shifted aspects which include capacity building, operational assistance in airworthiness, capacity building of staff in flight operations, aviation safety, and aerodrome safety as well as certification to ICAO's second project, Nam14801.
The government has pumped millions into the ICAO project since 2008 in a bid to have the experts promote training, coaching and mentoring Namibians as qualified air safety inspectors.
The expatriates, who were also blamed for the country's second downgrade back in 2014, had been claiming that there are not enough Namibians to train, while those close to the situation insisted that not enough training was being done.
There are 15 ICAO experts for the second project, which started in January 2015, and has been extended to December 2018. For this extension, the NCAA board agreed that the government forks out US$5 million (N$53 million).
Simana claimed that some nationals working under ICAO are being paid as per UNDP salary scales to compensate for the public service's unattractive conditions.
"This staff complement has been trained, and are still in some cases under on-the-job training as the different specialist areas such as flight operations, airworthiness, air navigation safety oversight, aerodrome and ground aids have different requirements for training, experience and qualification," she said.
The Nam14801 project was signed at a cost of US$19,1 million (N$241 million) by Simana and ICAO secretary general Fang Lui after the works ministry's permanent secretary Willem Goeiemann had written to ICAO on 19 October 2016 that administration as per the Civil Aviation Act would no longer fall under works, but under the new NCAA.
The Namibian has reported in the past how former works minister Erkki Nghimtina came under fire from Cabinet after the country suffered a second downgrade in 2014, which led to the grounding of the Airbus A330.
Nghimtina had blamed the downgrade at the time on the ICAO experts, whose presence was meant to strengthen the country's aviation sector.
The country might face another downgrade should an ICAO audit be carried out in November this year as renovations to bring the HKIA in line with international standards are only being done now. Simana told The Namibian that the NCAA had carried out renewal inspections since the 2014 downgrade, adding that another will be done soon.
The works ministry's spokesperson, Julius Ngweda, did not respond to questions yesterday.