Operation Safer Skies: SOSNigeria faults Senator on the way forward

Posted by Transport & Business Express | 26 June 2012 | 234,958 times

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SOSNigeria, the fast-growing NGO campaigning for safer Nigerian air space, has faulted the comments and observations of Senator Smart Adeyemi on how to make air travel in the country safer and avoid the kind of tragedy experienced on June 3 when a Dana aircraft crashed in Lagos, killing all 153 people on board.

Adeyemi, who is Chairman, Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, had in an article published June 11 in the Lagos-based “The Nation” newspaper asked for “a reactivation of the emergency landing site for Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos” as well as “to ensure that all airports have emergency landing sites.” According to him, “We also do not have the capacity to locally maintain regular checks on aircraft operating in the country. We need to look inward on this aspect.” 

Continuing, Senator Adeyemi said: “We also do not have the capacity to locally maintain regular checks on aircraft operating in the country. We need to look inward on this aspect.” He said that “The time has come for us as a nation to be proactive in the aviation sector” and called for a peg of 15 to 20 years on the age of aircraft operating in the country, and for “the use of propeller engine aircraft.”

But taking Senator Adeyemi to task, SOSNigeria said in a statement signed by Deji Dipeolu, Olumide Ayoola, Olumide Iluyomade and Nky Iweka: “In our view, the assertions by the Senator contain not only factual inaccuracies, but also, fail to appreciate how basic and deep-rooted the problems in the Nigerian Aviation Industry are. Events such as the recent DANA air crash are a ghastly reminder that it is more down to luck than by design that more disasters of this nature do not occur with more frequency in our skies.”

The group noted that “whilst it is appreciated that the Senator’s remit does not cover aviation, it would have been a positive step, in our view, if he had shown a true grasp of the issues, problems and potential solutions to the myriad of problems in the sector, as that would have given us fresh hope that at least one of our senior politicians is ready and able to drive the necessary reforms in this sector forward. His comments were not helpful in this regard, and were more likely to send less informed people scurrying in the wrong directions looking for solutions to non-existent problems.”

Replying Adeyemi point by point, SOSNigeria said:

  1. There was never an “emergency landing site” at MMIA. There is in fact, no airport in the world that has an “Emergency Landing site”.  Of what use are the two runways in MMA if there is an additional need for an emergency landing site? Commercial Transport Airplanes are designed and intended to land on runways in both normal and emergency operations. Therefore, any airport, with a suitable runway, is an “emergency landing site” for an airplane in difficulty. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, or go chasing around for something that does not exist.
  2. There are airlines that have the resource and capability to carry out low level routine maintenance of certain types of aircraft in Nigeria. However, the bigger and more modern aircraft must still be sent abroad for heavy maintenance. This is not a problem or situation unique to Nigeria. Even airlines from other more comparatively advanced aviation countries, such as Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa, send their aircraft abroad for major maintenance.
  3. There is indeed a need to look inward on this problem, but all eyes should be on the Government, who should in turn, be facilitating the availability of hanger space, modern facilities and equipment, tax breaks, etc to encourage development and stimulate growth of this sector of the aviation industry. We are blessed in this country with very well trained local maintenance personnel who are currently making the most of a bad situation, even with one hand figuratively tied behind their backs. With the required focus from the Government, we can actually increase the availability of local maintenance in the country, and reduce the cost to airlines of maintenance, and thereby reduce or eradicate the need for safety corrupting practices
  4. “In Nigeria , airlines cut corners because C-checks are not readily available. I have personally seen aircraft with worn out tires which could easily slip off while landing and I called the attention of operators to it.” 
  5. A laudable act, but somewhat misdirected! The Senator is not the safety regulator of the Airline Industry in Nigeria. That is the job of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. Aside from the fact that airplane tyres have operational limits that are unknown to non-aviation professionals, and are somewhat different to tyre limits on motor cars, for example, concerns of this nature should be referred to the NCAA, and followed up on by the senator using the benefit of his office. As it is, we have no record that any action was taken following the Senators representation to the Aircraft Operator, and suggests that if no action was taken immediately by the Operator, the Senator may have unwittingly allowed members of the public to expose themselves to danger risks that he himself had previously identified.
  6. The use of propeller engines aircraft”, presumably with the underlying insinuation that they are safer than jet aircraft, and / or easier to maintain.
  7. On flights of up to 45 minutes, propellor driven aircraft could be more economical to run. However, that is a business and economic consideration that is best left to the airlines themselves.
  8. Intrinsically, the required maintenance regime on a turbo-prop aircraft and a jet aircraft are the same. A badly maintained propeller aircraft is as dangerous as a badly maintained jet - the focus should be on maintenance and not the age / type of airplanes. If we get our maintenance capability and maintenance regulation right, then the age of the aircraft will not necessarily be a factor. The newer aircraft and their less frequent, but more advanced maintenance requirements, will bring with them another set of maintenance problems. The time has come for aviation professionals to run the aviation industry in Nigeria, we can’t afford the politicisation of the appointment of key personnel in the Ministry of Aviation and NCAA, the regulatory body. It is time to put a premium on the safety and stop playing Russian roulette with human lives.
  9. Tight regulation of maintenance by the NCAA will also result in older, maintenance intensive aircraft proving uneconomical to run by the operators, and being replaced by more modern aircraft. It is impossible to regulate by legislation. Market forces also have a part to play in the evolution of the aviation sector.

10.  If we do decide to peg the age of aircrafts being operated in the nation, let us at least be honest enough to own up to the fact that the real problem is not that of older aircrafts being unsafe, but much rather, that of our own government in the field of aviation in particular, has been too incapable, incompetent, corruption ridden, and antiquated to perform this basic duty of safety regulation and oversight, and let us start to address that issue too at the same time.

Transport & Business Express reports that SOSNigeria is a group of concerned Nigerians and non-Nigerians, residing all over the world who came together in the wake of the recent Dana Air crash to form a pressure group tasked with monitoring and pushing for reform in the aviation industry in Nigeria. The membership now stands at over 600 and continues to grow by the day.

Source: TBE

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