By Femi Ariwojoye
The crash of the DANA Air aircraft in Iju, a Lagos suburb, no doubt has dealt a heavy blow on the nation’s aviation industry. This is not just because of the crash itself but also because of the hasty actions so far taken by government.
The situation is also compounded by the self-acclaimed experts who have continued to make unguarded comments from the position of pure ignorance. Our television stations, willingly or unwillingly, provided the platforms for these self-styled analysts/experts to feed the public with all manners of lies to justify that the crash was premeditated.
For the past six years, the nation’s civil aviation has witnessed tremendous transformation in terms of oversight capapabilities. Before the serial crashes of 2005 involving Sosoliso, Bellview and ADC, the country did not have appropriate regulations to strengthen the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for effective oversight responsibilities. The authority also lacked adequate manpower to carry out its statutory roles of policing the aviation industry.
There was equally no proper documentation and the processes of obtaining air transport license ( ATL) and airworthiness certificate (AOC) were fraught with fraud. All these, in addition to several other unethical activities, were the problems confronting civil aviation in the country and the then regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in the wake of the devastating crashes, voted for change.
And the change indeed came. A sweeping overhaul was effected in the management of the NCAA during which Dr Harold Olusegun Demuren was brought in to head the body.
Money was also voted to enable the Authority carry out the necessary restructuring to reposition the NCAA as the watchdog of the aviation industry. Stakeholders were subsequently mobilized to the drawing table to articulate the right regulatory framework that would strengthen the body and shield it from undue political interferences which had bedeviled the industry before then and that gave birth to an autonomous NCAA.
Needless to belabour the issues but suffice it to say that we have made tremendous leap forward in the civil aviation in terms of our oversight capabilities. And that we should not allow the sentiments and emotions arising from the DANA crash to erase and cause more harm to the industry.
I detest the idea of calling for the resignation of the DG of NCAA by the National Assembly and the subsequent seting up of a nine-man committee headed by Group Captain John Obakpolo to re-evaluate the domestic airlines.
The whole idea to me is like passing a no confidence vote on our civil aviation authority ahead of the report of the accident investigation. This is an authority that has been certified by the audit team of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the world aviation governing body, the International Air Transport Association ( IAOSA) audit team, and the almighty American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) auditors which culminated to the attainment of Category One status in 2011.
The same NCAA management, now being crucified for not doing its job, had been, many times, given thumbs- up for bringing sanity into the aviation industry. Why do we choose to squander all the good will on the altar of emotions. For the first time in the industry, we have witnessed proper structures in the management of airlines put in place by the NCAA. For instance, every airline today has been made to put down articulated maintenance manuals detailing the maintenance schedule of all aircraft in their fleet in addition to ensuring that adequate and well trained engineers are in place to maintain the fleet.
And a well experienced quality assurance engineer who, though is an employee of the airline, is there to ensure strict adherence to the maintenance schedule and he is accountable to the authority and not to the airline. You also have well trained and licensed engineers and pilots in the employment of the NCAA to carry out regular survey and flight checks on the fleet of the airline assigned to them.
They are to ensure the airworthiness of the aircraft and ground them when they are presumed unserviceable. There is also the line engineer who carries out routine check on the aircraft after every landing and certifies them ready for next operations and he is also licensed to do so. All these individuals know the consequences of compromising their jobs in the event of any air disaster. Their licenses could be suspended or withdrawn for life and no licensed personnel wants to risk that for any gratification.
So when you hear all these comments about NCAA not doing its job, and that the aircraft was worked on before it took off, you can understand that those who say all these are uninformed. Once there is a crash, people come up with all manner of false claims. I remember during the crash of Sosoliso in 2005, a passenger who was interviewed by one of the television stations claimed that the aircraft was emitting smokes in the cabin when he flew with it earlier to Abuja.
Today several anonymous accounts have continued to insinuate that DANA was an accident in waiting yet nobody spoke out before the crash. I call them cowards. An engineer, Obed Ezeobi, who was manhandled by the chairman of his charter operator company for refusing to release an aircraft that was not air worthy to fly a former Enugu State Governor in 2005, was compensated with employment by NCAA for keeping to professional ethics while his employer’s license was withdrawn.
If the people who are circulating anonymous text messages are truly DANA staff, they should be bold enough to come out in the open and give evidence. I don’t see why a pilot who is handsomely paid with good accommodation would want to go on suicide flight for any reason.
At least pilots belong to the group of employees in Nigeria who are well remunerated. An average captain earns at least $10,000, about N1.6million a month plus a landing allowance of at least N10,000 per landing, so if he makes four landings in a day he has N40,000 to his credit which does not in any way affect his salary. His house is also tastefully furnished and he is picked up an hour to his flight to the airport to relax in the crew room before his flight. His airline equally keeps him in an at least three-star hotel whenever he has a night stop outside his base.
Tell me why such employee will not want to live? All these are the things we should consider before making unguarded comments any time there is an air accident. It is unfortunate that the accident occurred but it should not be the reason we should reduce the profile of the industry to zero making it even more difficult for the air transport industry to thrive.
If we ourselves have passed a judgment that portrays our NCAA as incapable of over sighting the industry, how do we expect aircraft leasing companies to release aircraft to domestic operators on lease, same also goes for international lending institutions because it is an indication that the safety of their resources will not be guaranteed.
I remember that after the ban imposed on all Nigerian registered aircraft in 1995 by the United Kingdom, there was a meeting in London to resolve the face off it created between the countries, where the UK authorities pulled out the transcript of the news aired by two government owned organs, NTA and FRCN, which quoted the then Minister of Aviation as having described the aircraft operated by our domestic airlines as “flying coffins”.
Of course that ban was precipitated by that comment from a personality considered to be the final authority in the Nigerian aviation industry at that time. And the UK officials told the Nigerian team point blank that they did not need any further investigation to know that allowing Nigerian registered aircraft access to British airspace was a great risk to their people. That is why it is important that we excise restraint when commenting on issues we lack competence to talk about especially at this time.
Similarly, the insurance premium paid on the aircraft haul and passengers will go up and all these will shoot up the already skyrocketed high operational costs and further take air travel away from the ordinary Nigerian.
My candid advice is that we should learn not to jump into hasty conclusions whenever there is an air disaster. Until the report is out then we can apportion blames or give appropriate punishment where necessary. Some people have also claimed that previous reports had not been made public but it is not true. Even though you may not find it advertised in the newspapers, it can be purchased at the Air Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) on request.
Air accidents are not something anybody can cover up because it always attracts international attention. So long as the black box (flight data recorder) has been found, the truth will surely come out and it is only after it has been analyzed and the report released that the real cause of the crash can be determined.
*Ariwojo, a pubilc affairs analyst, lives in Lagos.