Though the final result of the investigation into the cause of the Dana Air crash is still being awaited, Street Journal’s findings have shown that unless some measures are put in place without delay, the country may witness more air crashes.
Two successive air crashes in June were all it took to open the eyes of Nigerians about the true situation of things in their country’s aviation sector. Just a little over 24 hours after a Nigerian cargo plane crashed near the Kotoko Airport in Ghana, a Dana Air flight from Abuja crashed on Sunday June 3 killing all 153 people on board and about 10 people on the ground.
The two accidents exposed the danger of the safest means of transportation. In a matter of days, insinuations had started flying about what could have been responsible for the crashes. Street Journal’s findings have revealed that Nigeria normally makes reforms after air crashes sadly however, not long after, things return to the way they were and it becomes “business as usual”.
Findings revealed a lot of problems in the aviation sector ranging from technical to human resource matters.
Maintenance is one of the factors found to be militating against safe air travel in Nigeria. Most aircraft in the country hardly get the required maintenance as investigations have revealed that a high percentage of the airlines operating in the country are more interested in how many passengers board the planes and how many trips the plane can make in a day than how such planes would be maintained. Flight schedules of some airlines are like typical bus shuttles. Safety of the passengers is thus a secondary issue, coming only after profit. Incidentally, not much of the money made by the airlines eventually gets used for the maintenance of the aircraft in their fleet.
The age of the aircraft is another issue. Though experts have continually stressed that the age of an aircraft does not necessarily matter as long as it is well maintained, in the Nigerian context, it has been found out that age might be an issue after all, especially with Nigerians’ attitude to maintenance.
Street Journal’s findings revealed that older aircrafts are costlier to maintain than newer ones. It was also found out that ageing aircraft have maintenance programmes that should be adhered to as such plane gets older. Age therefore being a factor in the maintenance of the plane cannot be ruled out as a factor in the safety of passengers.
Moreover, it has been pointed out that periodic C- checks may not be enough to guarantee the air worthiness of an aircraft.
Another factor that has become a topic of debate is the quality of personnel in the airlines operating in Nigeria and the procedure being used to employ them. For instance, earlier in the year, Americans released a damning report on Nigeria’s aviation sector. One of the revelations in the report was that before Lambert Imasuen, the pilot of the Bellview plane that crashed in 2005 was engaged by the aviation company, he had not flown any aircraft for 14 years. It was also discovered that Imasuen worked with a dairy company in Ibadan and only got the airline job after he quit the dairy company. During his 14-year break from flying, he was shot in the head by armed robbers, yet he was allowed to work as a pilot.
The report made nonsense of safety regulations in Nigeria’s aviation sector. For instance, it was stated that the late Imasuen’s, “medical records do not contain any medical or hospitalization history of the event”. Though it was also stated in the report that follow up investigations would be carried out on the issue, there was no evidence that it was done.
About the October 29, 2006 ADC flight from Abuja to Sokoto which killed 96 people, including the immediate past Sultan of Sokoto,it was contained therein that the plane crashed 76 seconds after going airborne.
It was stated in the report that just before the crash, alarms began sounding in the cockpit and the pilots’ incorrect actions stalled the plane.
In the course of the investigations into the Dana Air crash of June 3, 2012, the Accident Investigation Bureau pointed out that the pilot of the crashed plane was employed by Dana Air on March 14, 2012 and that he began flying line operations for the company in late May 2012. A surprising revelation was that he had since accrued over 120 hours of flight time.
Chairman of the Concerned Aviation Professionals, Captain Tito Omaghomi stated that the profile of the pilot of the crashed plane should be traced to know how he got 120 hours of flight time between the time he was employed and when the plane crashed on May 3, 2012.
One challenge that has also continually put air travellers at risk is funding. A brand new Boeing 737 costs about $ 75 million while a new Airbus A318 costs $ 67.7 million. From the prices of brand new planes, it is obvious that running an airline involves huge amounts of money and it may therefore not be wrong to conclude that no airline in Nigeria has enough capital to run as a real airline should.
To salvage the situation, it is being suggested in some quarters that the capitalization of the aviation sector might help save the day. It is believed that if airlines merge and put their resources together, the industry would be the better for it.
Meanwhile, in the Nigerian setting, it has been found out that the country is always slack when it comes to the enforcement of rules and regulations. Back in 2002, the National Civil Aviation Authority issued a directive that planes older than 22 years should not fly in Nigeria’s airspace. Then, it was an open secret that the order was mainly to ban BAC 1-11 planes which were in vogue in Nigeria then. Incidentally, the model had been retired in most parts of Europe in the 1990s.
The rule was however not enough to stop planes above the age range from flying in Nigeria. It was observed that after the BAC 1-11 models were done away with, older ones continued to fly. In spite of NCAA’s 2002 rule, it was discovered that the Dana Air McDonnell Douglas 83 that crashed in June was manufactured in 1983 and it had its first flight in 1984.
The Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah has set a new age limit of 15 years for aircraft operating in Nigeria, the new limit vacates the previous one. It is however believed that with time, that too might be jettisoned just like the 22-year age limit. Those in this school of thought have opined that if the rule stands, most of the airlines may not be able to operate as only a few of the planes available in the country now are below 15 years.