Home Features Nigerian air transport and safety: The telltale signs and alarming signals

Nigerian air transport and safety: The telltale signs and alarming signals

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A major landmark was recorded in Nigeria, in the Aviation Industry particularly in 1925 when the first plane landed in the ancient city of Kano. The air trip which was led by Flight Authur Coningham landed in the ancient city on November 1 1925. The Royal Air Force, acting from the directive of the colonial government flew three De Havilland DH 9A aircraft from the British air base in Khartoum Sudan to look into the face-off between the local residents and British officials that erupted at that period. That means that November 2017 marked the 92nd birthday of the Aviation Industry in Nigeria.

The first airport was built in Kano in 1936. In the early decades of its operations, the airport was a major base that served as fuel stops for airlines that used to fly long distance services between Europe and Africa. The airport was later named after late Aminu Kano, one of the frontline politicians in the First and Second Republics. The Lagos airport (which was later renamed after Murtala Mohammed) came into being in the early 40’s during the period of the Second World War). After the two first airports, several airports were built later.

Several airlines were also established; many of them have slided into comatose while some are still in existence. For instance, we have had Nigerian Airways that was owned by the Federal Government, we had the Kabo Airline, we had the Okada Airline that was owned by Gabriel Igbinedion, and we had the Concord Airline that was owned by late Moshood Abiola.

The list of airlines ever registered in Nigeria included: Nigeria Airways; Aero Contractors; Arik Air; Allied Air; Associated Aviation; Hak Air; Kabo Air; TAT Nigeria; Bellview; Sossoliso: Chanchangi; Skyworld Express; EAS; Max Air; Air Peace; Med-View and Dana Air. Others are: First Nation; Overland Airways; Azman Air; Virgin Nigeria; Air Nigeria; Aviation Development Corporation (ADC) airlines; IRS; Albarika Air, Sosoliso and Odenge Air.
Others are: First Nation; Overland Airways; Azman Air; Virgin Nigeria; Air Nigeria; Aviation Development Corporation (ADC) Airline, Concord Airline; IRS; Albarika Air; Odengene and Okada Air.

The airlines that are still active among them are: First Nation, Azman Airline; Med-View, Dana Air, Overland Airways, Arik Air. It should be noted that Arik,when it went red, was taken over by the Federal Government through the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON). The same trend happened to Aero Contractors; so at present, both are being managed by AMCON.

The advent of air transport in Nigeria, of course, marked a paradigm shift in the mode of transportation in the country. To travel out of the country before its advent was only through the seas, which used to take months before you get to your destination. However, by using air transport, you could get to any part of the world in hours. The same thing with intra-country journey. For instance, Lagos to Abuja can take you up to ten to twelve hours with land transport; but if you choose to move by air transport, it will be between 45 minutes to an hour. With that unique feature; it is crystal clear that the air transport system added remarkable milestone to the movement of goods and passengers in Nigeria.

However, as unique and fast as the the 92-year old system is, Nigerians have swallowed a bitter pill of it as regards the aspect of safety. For some decades, the country has recorded series of plane crashes that have claimed many lives, while some people were incapacitated for life. Vices that are affecting other sectors in Nigeria like massive corruption, poor and inefficient management, weak regulatory framework by the government, ineffective planning and so on are also part of the factors that constitute albatross to the Aviation Industry. For instance, many airlines in Nigeria barely survive for ten years before they fold up.
Although, Nigeria is not the only country that has challenges in its Aviation Industry, but the serial cases of aircraft mishaps and technical faults in the country, calls for serious concern and has been in the front burner.
The first major fatal plane crash in Nigeria happened on November 20, 1969 when Nigerian Airways Flight 825 crashed while approaching Lagos. The incident led to the death of 87 people which included 76 passengers and 11 crew members, The ill-fated airline was from London enroute Lagos with intermediate stops in Rome and Kano. It was gathered that the VC-10 hits trees, 13km short of runaway and crashed into the ground. Another fatal crash involving Boeing 707 of Nigerian Airways was recorded in Kano in 1973 and it claimed 176 lives.
Also in November 7, 1996, a Boeing 727 belonging to Nigeria’s ADC crashed while flying from Port Harcourt to Lagos, killing all the 142 passenges and the nine crew on board. Also, on May 4, 2002, not less than 148 people kicked the bucket when a Nigerian EAS Airline crashed. 75 people reportedly died on the plane while about 73 people on the ground fell victim of the fatal crash. In October 22, 2005, A Nigerian Boeing 737 of Bellview Airline crashed suddenly after taking off from the nation’s commercial capital, Lagos. None of the 111 passengers in the plane survived the accident.

Nigerians were still nursing the psychological wound of the Bellview crash when another deadly plane crash occurred on December 10 2005; just three months interval! This one happened when a Nigerian Sosoliso Airlines DC9 coming from Abuja crashed while landing at the Port Harcourt International Airport. What made the crash more touching and emotional was the large number of students of the Loyola Jesuit College Abuja that were involved. The students constituted more than half of the 106 passengers that died on that fateful day. A prominent Pentecostal female pastor, Bimbo Odukoya was part of the passengers that did not survive the crash.
The torrent of plane crashes did not end there, on September 17 2006; just less than a year after the Sosoliso crash, about twelve top-notch in the Nigerian Military were killed when a Military plane crashed in Benue State; six of the Military personnel survived. The memory of the Military plane crash was still fresh in Nigerians memory when an ADC airliner that caught fire briefly after taking off in Abuja crashed again in October 2006, the same year. About 114 passengers, which included the former Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammad Maccido died.

A popular local adage says “Lot of rainfalls have been leaked by the ground.” All those accounts of plane crashes are part of several aircraft mishaps that have taken place in Nigeria.

Series of the air mishaps that are happening in the recent times, speak volumes about the safety nature of Nigeria’s Aviation Industry, and largely show that Nigeria is still in the murky waters. Between last year and this year, the Nigerian media have been awash with serial news of air mishaps; although, most of them did not lead to fatality; however, it is self-evident that the sector is not out of the woods yet. For instance, in February this year, Dana Airline that was going to Port Harcourt took off from Lagos at about 6.48am. The aircraft with registration number 5N-SRI overshoot the runaway and landed in a bush in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

Speaking to journalists after the incident, some of the passengers complained that they noticed that the door was in an unstable condition throughout the flight and the emergency exit was not latched properly before taking off from Lagos. A passenger said: “I was one foot away from the emergency exit door, so I could see the handle was popping out. We informed one of the air hostesses who insisted that it was locked.”

“We were in the process of landing; that was when the door just opened. The white man by the door had to shift because the door would have hit him. When he shifted, the door now fell on the floor of the plane.Maybe it was breeze, but the door came off completely and the passengers came to check and began shouting and taking photos. I wonder what would have happened if the door fell off mid-air,” the passenger who was in thanksgiving mood added.

Responding to the incident, the Accident Investigation Bureau, AIB said it would look into the matter so as to avert such incident in the future. While confirming the incident, General Manager, AIB Tunji Oketunbi said that two investigators from AIB had been sent to the scene of the incident so that any useful evidence would not be tampered with. AIB promised to commence investigation on why the plane overshoot the runaway- a situation that would have led to the death of about 50 people. 

In January this year, flight operations at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport were briefly relaxed when a Gulfstream G200 jet with registration number 5N-BTF skidded off the runaway at the nation’s capital airport. The damaged jet had to be evacuated before normal flight operations resumed. In fact, it was so serious that the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika announced that the airport should be shut down for about 30 minutes after the incident. Aircraft that were scheduled to land within that period hovered in the air for some time while others landed at Kaduna Airport. However, just like the Dana incident, no casualty was recorded.

Also in February this year, not less than five persons were wounded when Delta Airline made an emergency landing at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos. The Delta Airline which took off around 10:50 pm made a quick return in less than an hour after the plane developed a fault in one of its engines. Although, the jet landed safely, but the passengers had to be evacuated unto the runaway down emergency slides; it is through that process people sustained injuries.

In March this year, Aero Contractors airline flight that operated with Boeing 737/500 aircraft narrowly escaped crash when it made an emergency landing in Sultan Abubakar III Airport in Sokoto. It was reported that the incident occurred because of faulty landing gear of the plane. The passengers were thrown into an atmosphere of panic as the plane which was coming from Abuja made the emergency landing. By the time the plane finally landed about 2:45 pm; two fire service vehicles and an ambulance had been on ground in case of emergency medical cases.
Worried by the spate of air mishaps, the Nigerian Senate recently called on the Minister of State for Aviation, to appear before it. Supporting a motion moved by Gbenga Ashafa, Senator representing Lagos West, the Senate asked the Minister to come and explain the steps being taking to address the torrent cases of mishaps and human errors that plaque the nation’s air transportation
The motion titled “the Need to Minimise the Possibility of Air Mishaps and Fatalities in Nigeria,” was moved by Ashafa.

Ashafa said: ‘’They are saddled with the responsibility of guaranteeing safety to carry out their due diligence before issuing clearance for aircraft to operate within the Nigerian airspace.

“Nigeria has experienced a significant number of air catastrophes that cost the lives of hundreds of Nigerians, due to a range of causes, including human and technical errors,’’ he said.

The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremandu who presided over the session, said that it is high time the government did something to tame the incessant mishaps that are being recorded in Nigeria

“We had a resolution which was sent to the Federal Government and today, we are back to the same issue; debating the Aviation Sector and security concerns.

“This shows that we must do something quickly. It is important that this matter is settled quickly so that we ensure that those who fly in Nigeria fly safely,” he added.

Some stake holders have also lent their voices on the matter; when the Dana Airline incident happened, a Senior Official of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA who craved anonymity while speaking to Vanguard said: “At the moment, all the Aviation Agencies are suspects. Has NCAA been carrying out due diligence on aircraft and crew, is FAAN up to date in the provision of the required infrastructure for safe operations in Port Harcourt Airport”?

He asked further: “Has Nigeria Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, provided the necessary Instrument Landing Systems for safe operations during inclement weather? Was the weather report at the moment of incident as given by Nigeria Meteorological Agency, NIMET, up to date and correct?” He queried.

A former Director of Operations, Chanchangi Airline, Mohammed Tukur heaped some of the blames on owners of airlines in the area of funding.

He said: “The indiscriminate pulling out of finance from operations by airline owners is the worst practice in the airline business. Any money taken out of the airline’s daily operations is capable of crumbling the entire system of that airline. Management of various airlines should stop living expensive lives with monies meant for operations of airlines.”

However, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has promised to intensify surveillance on all the operating airlines on account of some incidents that are occurring in the sector. Muhtar Usman, Director General of NCAA, made this disclosure while speaking with journalists at the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos recently.
According to Usman, the NCAA’s inspectors were now monitoring activities of the airlines particularly at the ramp areas, stressing that the regulatory authority would continue to sustain and improve on the current safety level in the industry.

He said the NCAA was learning from the recent major and minor incidences that occurred in the country’s aviation industry within the year, adding that the lessons learnt from the incidents would be put to use to prevent major calamities from happening in the industry.
Usman said: “The year 2018 has been turbulent in the global aviation industry generally with incidences and accidents.

“The NCAA will continue to sustain and improve on the safety level in the past years, while the safety recommendations of Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) will be followed to the letter in order to improve safety in the system.

“We will continue to adhere strictly to the eight critical elements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), in order to prevent accident from happening in the system.”

He said the NCAA has consistently carried out safety oversight functions of operating airlines in the country and would continue to beam its searchlight on them.
Commenting on the incursion of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) into aviation activities, Usman advised the Agency to focus attention in other areas with lesser regulation, noting that the Aviation Industry is one of the most regulated sectors in the globe with international annexes and documents.

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