Tonye Princewill

June 15, 2012

DANA – Counting the dead and conning the damned (2)

DANA – Counting the dead and conning the damned (2)

*Charred carcase of the aircraft after the crash

By Tonye Princewill
THE purchase of old, and possibly defective, Alaskan Airline stock is not the only Dana anomaly to surface in the wake of the crash. “The ownership structure of Dana Airlines Limited and its registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) are fraught with gross irregularities,” The Will reported.

Among other things, the newsletter alleges that Dana holds its own shares, acts as its own director and that its allotment of stock is larger than the one billion shares provided for under its legal structure – all in contravention of CAC rules.

But while these irregularities ought to be looked into and stern measures taken, if the Government finds them appropriate, it should also be stressed that the issue really is not Dana, as such. Dana is merely the symptom of a much deeper and more debilitating malady. Even as news of the Dana crash was breaking, for example, John Nnorom, who resigned as Deputy Director of Air Nigeria last April, was sending out a desperate political “mayday” – warning of what may well be another looming disaster.

Even these administrative issues though, represent just the tip of the iceberg. Yes. The anomalies need to be urgently addressed. But in doing so, the administration ought to be very conscious of the fact that, it is simply taking the first step in a long journey of transformation. Our universities are turning out scores of systems and production engineers annually. Why then, are aircraft still plowing into populated areas, as flight 0992 did? What are we training these young minds for, at enormous expense, if not to tackle these types of problems?

Any corrective measures should, I believe, include a serious look at aircraft routing. A working committee that would be heavily weighted with production and systems engineers – both experienced and inexperienced – should be constituted immediately to adjust our air corridors. The catastrophic conclusion of flight 0992 suggest that the shortest route from one domestic airport to another, may not be the most economical – if we place any value at all on the lives of our people.

Other questions that came to mind, as I read details of the crash, involve the fuel. According to eyewitness accounts, the plane – a McDonald-Douglass 83 – burst into flames 10, 20, maybe 30 minutes after impact. The question investigators ought to try and answer is why? Modern passenger aircraft use a type of modified kerosene that is supposed to be very stable. But maybe it’s time to think of designing a safer fuel; and maybe Nigerian chemical engineers should take the initiative. If we can’t build the plane, let us consider fueling it.

Also, neighbourhood observers reportedly saw the plane coming, knew it was in trouble and wondered where it would hit. This would seem to indicate that the American pilot had time to jettison his fuel tanks.

Assuming that the tanks on an MD-83 are detachable, why didn’t he dump the fuel? Did the mechanism fail? If the tanks are not detachable, should we allow such aircraft into Nigerian airspace? These are questions that need answers. But are they being asked by investigator?

I believe the “black box” may provide clues to at least some of the answers – and that the transcripts ought to be made public. It takes thirty minutes to read the contents of a black box and so talk about getting a report in 2013 is ridiculous. The issues I’ve raised so far are short term administrative and technological challenges.

But the lasting solutions to aviation safety are long term. Small private companies are tempted to compromise on maintenance because imported servicing materials and spare parts are costly. Let us look at if the environment for operators is condusive and if inward investment can thrive. I recall Virgin Atlantic leaving here in distress and vowing never to return.

On my recent trip to New York I saw the same Virgin Atlantic having set up a US carrier only recently. Why there and not here? Only this detailed discussion can prevent a repeat of the Dana arrangement. People are cutting corners. Besides the consequence of getting it wrong have no teeth.

We have no record of heads rolling for getting it wrong. In a civilised country people will go to jail for failed maintenance and the incidents of this litter the place.