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SORDID STATE OF NIGERIAN AVIATION

Debris from the Associated Airline Embraer 120 Aircraft
Debris from the Associated Airline Embraer 120 Aircraft

“What we met was a very decayed sector; extremely decayed and for some reasons a locked up sector” Nigeria Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah-Ogiemwonyi on AIT.

In July this year, while in America, I wrote an article on Global Aviation Safety. The article was predicated upon the crash of Asiana Air flight on Saturday, July 5, 2013. The Boeing 777-200 took off from Seoul, South Korea and crash-landed in San Francisco, USA after a 14-hour transatlantic flight.

Of course, on Sunday, June 3, 2012, Nigerian Dana Air flight 992 from Abuja to Lagos crash in a neighborhood, killing all 153 passengers and crewmembers onboard the MD-83 jetliner. After the 2012 Dana Air farce, I stated the following on my column about Federal Character in Aviation, “we are faced with dealing with blight on our already porous Aviation Sector & Regulatory agencies. It is deja vu again to see us scrambling in reaction to two airline crash instead of being proactive. We need to tighten our regulation of the Airlines, especially domestic carriers. … we should put qualified people in the appropriate sector to overseas and inspect the airline operators. Apparently, this air plane was very old and had issues. Where is the record of inspection & so forth? “

In less than 18 months after the Dana Air crash, Associated Airline Embraer 120 Aircraft carrying the corpse of Former Ondo Governor Dr. Olusegun Agagu from Lagos to Akure, crash and killed over 15 occupants, including passengers and crew members on Thursday, October 3, 2013. Reports have now concluded that the plane took off with a faulty right engine.

The day before I was on an uneventful Overland Airways flight from Asaba to Abuja and was supposed to return on Friday on Arik Air, but the flight did not take off.

I have consistently opined that Air transportation is safer that road transportation. This has been consistently supported by researchers and industry personnel like Todd Curtis of Airsafe.com.

However, it may not be so in Nigeria based on certain “environmental” factors. Some other airplane crashes in Nigeria have included the 14 March 2012 crash of Nigerian Police helicopter, and the July 29 2011 OAS Airlines crash. Statistically, 192 people have died in Nigeria as a result of airplane crashes between 2011 and 2013, as compared to thousands that die annually from road accidents. Of course, airplane crashes make headline news as compared to mundane car accidents that we have become used to in Nigeria, especially because of the bad roads. It could also be that the rich are usually the only ones that fly in Nigeria and the media is inclined to report news of those with financial wherewithal.

I should state the positive before embarking on a constructive criticism. It is noteworthy that the arrival wing and departure concourse of the Asaba International Airport are among the best that I have seen in the world, especially for an airport that has not even commenced direct international flights. With that said, my horrible experience with Arik Air flight 0790 that was eventually cancelled left another bad taste in my mouth. I previously had a bad experience with the same airline when they could not locate records of my return flight from New York to Lagos, in their system early this year. I still remain a patriotic Nigerian and endeavor to patronize my people, much to the chagrin of my colleagues who question my unwillingness to utilize a “better” foreign carrier. On Friday, October 4, 2013 Arik delayed our flight intentionally for over 3 hours only to turn us back from the tarmac on the excuse that the weather was now bad and Asaba Airport was a visual landing airport. Of course, if they had left earlier (s scheduled), that issue will not have risen. The more amazing point was the lack of preparedness of the Arik staff and the “disappearance” of the Duty Manager, who refused to answer our calls to his cell phone. There was utter lack of regard for the rights of passengers. I called their switchboard 6:20pm (4 hours later) and spoke to a manager on duty named Emmanuel Awani that directed me to Regional Manager named Hamzar and Station Manager named Sidi Abani, all to no avail. It actually appeared that the Airline was using a divide and conquer approach with the stranded passengers and hoping we will be frustrated and leave. After six hours, some of us left, which meant that the airline succeeded in not paying for our transport, meals or accommodation when it was their fault that we were stranded at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport. Do airline passengers in Nigeria have any rights?

Besides the lack of respect for rights of passengers, there are at least three more reasons why our Aviation sector is in in dire straits.

First, Airlines must make sure their fleets are in sound conditions. Safety should never be compromised. It has been rumored that used planes are dumped in developing countries, when the planes are not air-worthy in the developed countries. This should never happen and those with oversight functions should be executed if they breach their fiduciary duties to the public. Unworthy planes consistently figure in reports of plane crashes in Nigeria. We hope no one in government is collecting bribe to certify airplanes that should be condemned. Otherwise, the blood of the innocent will be on their head.

On June 13, 2013, there was a troubling interview of the Minister of Aviation by African Independent Television (AIT) and the following is an excerpt.

“Now Madam, by your own records and record of aviation authorities, how many private aircraft operating in Nigeria today are licensed, and how many of them are legal?

We are doing full investigation now. But in our records, we have 65 registered and still within the limit of laws that allows them to stay in the country. But when the law is fully implemented, most of them would have to leave the country. For instance, they go through what they call FM and that FM is when they try to manipulate the documentation. An aircraft owner brings in an aircraft supposedly to come in for a transaction for three months. So, it comes in for three months, and when it comes in, it goes out again, supposedly for an errand, and comes back. What happens? Because it is not a Nigerian aircraft, they are not obliged to pay tax. Secondly, they are not mandated to be in compliance with the domestic policies because they are just there for one transaction and off. But they stay there for years without going anywhere. They work within the loopholes in the laws that allow them exist and return. That is extremely dangerous. But the policy is cancelling all that. If you want to do business in private jet operations, we would allow you, but you must be in compliance with our laws and policies.”

Illegal aircraft and unregulated aircrafts are clearly a menace.

Secondly, emergency rescue procedures must be available on ground. Based on the high likelihood of fatalities from air crashes, airports and government regulatory agencies must ensure that emergency medical personnel and firefighting equipment are located at airports. A split second makes the difference between life and death. For States like Delta that have opened airports (Osubi and Asaba), this point cannot be over flogged. Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) should get on board here.

Thirdly, pilots must be properly trained and alert. This should be considered of utmost importance because there are a few incompetent pilots that bring disrepute to the honorable profession. Pilot error, including landing short of the runway, has been a contributory factor in many fatal air crashes. We should not allow a washed up pilot to be “dumped” on us as an expatriate when there are better-qualified indigenous Nigerian pilots.” The investigations into the last crash revealed that the pilot should not have taken off.

The above elucidated points (passenger rights, fleet soundness, emergency procedures, pilot competence) underscore the point that we are in trouble and need to revamp our aviation sector because it is sordid and needs rescue.

For those of us who fly frequently, we decree Psalm 91:11 & Luke 4:10-11t “He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'In their hands they shall bear you up,”

Prof Alex O. Atawa Akpodiete is Chairman of Editorial Board of Urhobo Vanguard. He is also an author, Computer Scientist, Educator, Consultant, lawyer, Political Analyst, Public affair analyst & Social commentator, with a Doctorate degree in Jurisprudence from the US. He has lectured Law, Ethics and Security & Intelligence Studies at the University level here in Nigeria and US. He also writes for a state daily newspaper, online publications & national monthly magazine. He currently divides his time between Nigeria and USA where he runs a Global Consultancy and an international capacity-building firm ATAWA GROUP. Contact him on +1(917) 972-2034 or +234(0)8138391661 or [email protected] He is also on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Prof. Alex O. Atawa Akpodiete, Esq. and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Prof. Alex O. Atawa Akpodiete, Esq.