Posted by ISAAC UMUNNA, AMECHI C. OBIAKPU, THERESA MOSES and BETTY ELIJAH | 14 June 2012 | 2,798 times
DANA AIR CRASH
Return of the evil days
ISAAC UMUNNA, AMECHI C. OBIAKPU, THERESA MOSES and BETTY ELIJAH report on danger signals in the aviation sector even as the nation mourns victims of the June air crashes involving Dana Air and a Nigerian cargo plane that crashed in Ghana.
Going by indications, Nigeria could be said to be back to the days of evil and sorrow in the aviation industry. While the country continues to mourn the twin crashes of June involving two of the country’s airlines, Transport & Business Express has learnt that the worst may yet be ahead unless government takes urgent action to sanitise the sector.
For one, Air Nigeria appears to be barely managing to pull along, with terrified passengers and even the company’s insiders raising an alarm over developments at the Jimoh Ibrahim-led airline.
Henry Mallet, a Ghanaian frequent traveler, recently sent a distress message to the Publisher of Transport & Business Express to lament his woes in the hands of Air Nigeria. “How do we sue Air Nigeria?” Mr. Mallet asked in an e-mail following his ordeal and that of other passengers on an Air Nigeria flight to Monrovia, Liberia, on April 14. He said that as a result of their sad experience, “The conversation on the trip from the airport veered on whether one can trust an African to render service to their customers’ satisfaction at all times or above average.”
On May 20 Kola Johnson had recounted his woes in the hands of Air Nigeria in an article he published in The Guardian on Sunday. In a piece entitled ‘Air Nigeria: Darkening Nigeria Further’, Johnson wrote: “If you want to avoid head and heart ache, and want to live long, please, stay away from flying AIR NIGERIA. And if Nigeria wants to better its image, it had better issued the strongest warning to owners of the airline, that is purportedly the successor to the national carrier, Nigeria Airways. It is bad enough that the airline that bears the name of the country is already renowned along the West Coast as the most unreliable, customer unfriendly, incompetent and irresponsible.”
Johnson went ahead to narrate details of their ordeal flying Air Nigeria from Kotoka Airport in Accra, Ghana, on May 19. According to him, the flight was scheduled to depart at 7:35am but was first delayed by three hours, during which time the staff disappeared into thin air and abandoned the bewildered passengers to their fate. The passengers finally boarded at about 11:20am, the aircraft eventually taking off at 11:50am.
According to John I Nnorom, until lately Executive Director Finance, Air Nigeria, the long delays which characterise Air Nigeria’s flights are unmistakable danger signals. In a public statement entitled ‘Plane Crash and Loss of Over 100 Souls in Nigeria’, which he issued in the wake of the Dana air crash of Sunday, June 3, Nnorom exposed the rot in Air Nigeria, writing: “I wish to bring to your attention, the serious urgent issue involving the lives of Nigerians who fly Air Nigeria’s unfit plane, which I call flying coffin. I appeal to Nigerians to stop flying Air Nigeria unless the Aircraft are properly maintained.
“I resigned my job with Air Nigeria on the 1st of April 2012 and sent mail to over 100 people. I attach my mail sent on 2nd April, 2012, wherein I stated that I prefer to die as a martyr than to remain in Air Nigeria as Executive Director Finance, when Nigerian will lose over 100 souls.”
According to Nnorom, “Air Nigeria is in financial crisis because money loaned by BANK OF INDUSTRY of N35.5Billion has been diverted into NICON INVESTMENT LTD, a non-finance company popularly called wonder bank, owned by Bar Jimoh Ibrahim and SAFETY IS BEING COMPROMISED. There is a great possibility of Plane crash, where over one hundred souls may be lost and this can occur any time. In Jan 2012, Licensed Engineers in Air Nigeria went on strike because they were being forced to certify unfit aircraft into the air. Another strike was averted in March 2012 through the intervention of the DG-NCAA, Demuren, and this was also based on FAILURE TO MEET SAFETY STANDARD. These are verifiable information and the public is aware . . .
“Most times, Air Nigeria Aircraft are delayed for 8 hours. It is because, while passengers are waiting, Engineers are battling to put the Aircraft on Air. Several times our Aircraft on Runway taxiing to takeoff, turns back to offload passengers due to some technical faults observed by Pilots. Out of the eleven Aircraft operated by Air Nigeria, only one embraer is safe to fly Nigerian air space. All other Aircraft need deep and heavy TECHNICAL maintenance.”
But in a statement, the management of Air Nigeria debunked Nnorom’s allegations, disclosing that he is currently facing charges for stealing $100,000. “The general public is advised to disregard any such negative stories and false information by Nnorom (either in the print, electronic or online media). Air Nigeria has been flying the air space in the last 10 years with first class record of safety, without any accidents or even emergency landings,” Air Nigeria said in a statement.”
THE DANA CRASH AND WHY IT HAPPENED
After six years of relative safety, the Nigerian sky seems to have become unsafe again as indicted by recent developments. On June 3, Dana Air flight 0992 crashed into a two-storey building in Iju Ishaga, an outskirt of Lagos, killing all 153 people on board in addition to those killed on ground.
According to Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah-Ogiemoyin, the McDonell Douglas (MD-83) with registration number 5N-RAM suffered dual engine failure at 3.42 p.m. that black Sunday. The victims included 136 adults, five children, six infants and six crew members. The pilot was an American, while the co-pilot was an Indian.
There are other theories about what might have caused the accident. “It is my opinion that that accident could have been avoided and when the dust settles, you will find out that it was human error. Most likely it ran out of Jet-A,” said Ben Ndubuisi, an avid leisure pilot. Experts are not dismissing this possibility because they believe that the impact on the environs of the crash site would have been more devastating if the aircraft had enough fuel in its tank.
Reports made available to Transport & Business Express revealed that prior to the air crash, series of complaints had been made to the management of Dana airlines on the state of the aircraft but were not acted upon. One of such was from the executive governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Godswill Akpabio.
Sources revealed that the aircraft had experienced minor faults twice this year alone. On May 23, after passengers had boarded the aircraft, it was allegedly delayed from take-off at the Lagos airport as mechanics discovered some faults and changed the hydraulic fluid under the left side under carriage tyre mechanism. The Dana aircraft was said to have had a history of mechanical problems even before the original owners, US-based Alaska Airlines, sold it to Dana Airlines on February 17, 2009.
A source noted that the 22 years old aircraft had been parked for three years before being bought by Dana and should not have been engaged in the frequency of flight operations it was engaged in.
A resident who escaped unhurt with his family said the plane did not explode immediately.
“The aircraft did not go up in flames immediately it plunged into the building and it took up to 10 minutes before it exploded,” said Sam Soyemi.
A company official confirmed that the aircraft had been having engine trouble for days before the crash. The Dana Air official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Channels Television in Lagos that the Indian owners of the airline ordered the plane to fly, even after ground engineers had to make repeated repairs in Lagos, Calabar, and Abuja.
“It has been having faults over time, continuously, hydraulics or one thing or the other. That aircraft kept having problems and they were not ready to park it,” the unnamed Dana official told Channels Television.
The official said the 22-year-old plane was plagued with mechanical problems and was not supposed to have left the ground. “There was a case when it was on ground in Uyo for over six hours, it had a (faulty) bolt,” the official told Channels. “And then in Abuja it happened a few days ago. Some people went with the aircraft but they could not come back, because it had a fault there and it couldn’t leave Abuja.”
Dana Air management however dismissed the allegations, pointing out that its chief engineer was on the ill-fated flight and would not have done so if indeed it was known that the aircraft was unfit to fly.
President Goodluck Jonathan who was on the scene of the accident promised a full scale investigation so as to avoid a similar occurrence.
NIGERIAN CARGO PLANE CRASHES IN GHANA
The Dana crash came just as Nigerians were trying to come to terms with the crash, the previous day, of a Boeing 727 cargo plane belonging to Allied Air of Nigeria, which overran the runway while attempting to land at Kotoka Airport in Ghana. The aircraft had slammed into a bus loaded with passengers on a nearby street, killing all 10 people inside the vehicle.
Witnesses said the plane first smashed through the fence that runs around the airport before hitting the bus. The plane’s four crew members survived the crash and were rushed to a local hospital for treatment.
“What happened is that the Allied (Air) Cargo plane, actually I was told, was traveling from Nigeria to Ghana. At the landing it was short of the boundary, and it went off onto the roadside. It crashed into a bus,” said Billy Anaglate, spokesman for the Ghana Fire Service.
“(The plane) broke the barrier and went onto the road and hit the vehicle and unfortunately in the vehicle everyone ended up dying. The poor people were killed,” Anaglate added.
Before the June 2 incident, Ghana had not had a major airplane crash in recent years. The last air emergency the country had was in June 2006, when a TAAG Linhas Aereas De Angola flight to Sao Tome hit birds during takeoff. The plane landed safely and none of the 28 people onboard were injured.
STRESS SIGNALS AT FIRST NATION AND ARIK AIR
The scale of the bad news filtering out of the Nigerian aviation industry becomes even more disturbing following developments at First Nation, the country’s newest airlines.
Investigations by Transport & Business Express showed that First Nation, which startedoperations early last November, is already contending with serious managerial issues capable of impacting negatively on flight operations and safety. Already, the alleged mismanagement has sparked staff exodus in First Nation, which is believed to be owned by former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
“The place was a nightmare for most of us,” said a First Nation staffer who resigned his appointment with the company. The source, who would not want to be identified, disclosed that within the last week of May and the first week of June, “four key staff resigned and many more had left earlier.”
Before now, Arik Air was regarded as the sick baby of the country’s aviation industry. Things got to a head in June last year when the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had to issue an ultimatum to the management of Arik, warning it to pay its workers at least two of the three months salaries it owed them before June 25 or risk its operation being shut down with immediate effect. The non-payment of salaries had impacted negatively on the operational efficiency of Arik, thereby putting the safety of its passengers at risk.
Arik also had to contend with another ultimatum, this time from the newly appointed Minister of Aviation, Princess Oduah-Ogiemoyin, who vented her spleen on Arik, giving it 30 days to pay the over N2 billion that it owed the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) or be stopped from using the Nigerian airspace.
Arik’s problems however went far beyond Nigeria, as one of its aircraft was impounded in Senegal after the company defaulted on earlier agreements to pay landing fees that had accumulated for two years.
Transport & Business Express recalls that in 2005 alone, over 300 people died in air accidents across the country. The most devastating was the killing of all 117 people on board a Bellview Airlines Boeing 737 on October 22 that year. Less than two months after, a Sosoliso Airlines DC-9 crashed in Port Harcourt on December 10, killing all 103 on board. Most of those on board were schoolchildren going home for Christmas.
Sosoliso and Bellview have since closed shop – just like Nigeria Airways, ADC, Okada and Oriental Airlines, all of which had initially showed much promise. Dana seems to have already travelled that route. Who next? Time will tell.