Published On: Sun, Feb 25th, 2018

Danger signals in the aviation sector

Recent reports from the aviation industry are foreboding enough to raise red flags to those managing the sector. Several ugly and untoward events have happened in the sector since this year that urgent action may be required to preempt what may ultimately lead to catastrophe and collective grief.

Last week a Dana aircraft over shot the runaway in Port Harcourt, although all the 64 passengers and crew escaped unharmed.  The reason for this near mishap was bad weather and strong storm, yet the flight was cleared to land. Under what compelling mitigation was the authorization to land granted air traffic staff? Would it not have been better and safer to divert the flight to a neighbouring airport to avert a disaster that could have happened? It would not be a surprise that a ‘big man’ may have been on board.

A week before this a Peace Airline plane could not land on schedule at the Akure airport as a result of runway invasion by herd of cattle and had to hover in the air for some time to allow frantic effort by authorities to clear the runway. Although action was taken by suspending the manager and querying others, this could amount to medicine after death had the worst happen.

One can only imagine the psychological trauma the people on board went through because of this after being told of preparation for landing. Again, imagine what could have been the potential hazard and danger if the plane did not have sufficient fuel to accommodate the extra time spent waiting to land.

We recall another incident of cattle invasion of the runway in 2005 in Port Harcourt which caused an international flight operated by Air France plane to over-run the runway.

Shortly before the Akure misadventure, another Dana aircraft came close to tragedy when its door yanked off on taxiing for take-off, which was blamed on error by maintenance engineers. Fair enough, but could that explanation have saved or replaced the lives of the endangered passengers and crew? Imagine the danger if the plane had taken off!

In the midst of these, a Delta flight was aborted after take-off and had to return for what official described as routine check. This is not only insulting to the sensibilities of Nigerians but a clear dereliction of duty and ridiculing of the nation by the agencies concerned. These are warnings too many and government should take immediate action to overhaul the regulatory agencies and ensure proper attention to duty.

The Nigerian air space has been relatively quiet and safe in recent time but that is not sufficient reason to drop the guard and lose sight of the worst scenarios. There are several regulatory agencies in the sector such as FAAN, NCAA, NAMA and their combined effort should be enough to keep the industry safe.

Obviously, accidents do occur but some are avoidable and should be avoided. Unfortunately, all that comes out of these agencies is about money and debt. The sad truth is that operators will not be inclined to pay regulatory charges if there is no commensurate performance or contribution by the agencies to their operations. Of course the frequent changes in the leadership of these agencies also make them lose confidence and independence required to do their job as they are constantly looking over their shoulders for government next action.

Basically, the problem of the industry is underfunding and poor infrastructure. Virtually all the domestic airlines are in one form of distress or the other and this is hardly acceptable in the industry where safety is of utmost importance. Nigeria must hold the record of the highest airline mortality rate in the world with none existing beyond a decade. Expertise comes from practice and experience and with such high turnover, such know-how is lacking.

Moreover, the cost of maintenance has become prohibitive give the high exchange rate as the country does not have international standard hangar for routine checks. Also, air fares do not respond to the demands of operations because of government regulation, while aviation fuel is often unavailable.

The canker worm of corruption which has become the bane of our nation should not be allow to jeopardize the lives of the flying public by ensuring that agencies and officers responsible for safety in the sector are held accountable for lapses that may lead to accidents.

This newspaper therefore believes there may be need for consolidation in the sector for economy of scale and also special forex window for them to procure spare parts and undergo routine checks.



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