By Jide Ajani
He is an FAA Advance Ground Instructor with experience of over 40years. That license qualifies him to instruct anybody to go to the moon. He also has 35 years flying experience. He is an authority in this business. Therefore, when Captain Tito Omaghomi spoke to Vanguard editors on Nigeria’s aviation sector, everyone listened with rapt attention.
“In the first place, our heart goes to everybody who has lost a loved one.This accident was unnecessary. I had alerted Nigerians a few weeks ago about how people have started cutting corners; how people have become complacent”. These were the most pleasant words he uttered throughout the session because he made some startling revelation. Excerpts:
Dana Air appears to be involved in the distribution of relief materials?
We should appeal to Dana Air that this is not a time to give relief materials. It is not their duty – the Federal Government and Lagos State government are capable of doing that. They say this is the beginning of the distribution but I want to say that they have no business doing that.
Dana Air has come out to say the airplane lost two engines. How could that happen?
That is what they have said in their own defence but the question to ask is who would defend the dead people? This morning, I heard a lawyer saying the plane left Abuja with one engine and that, on the way; the other engine failed. The Bible says my people perish for lack of knowledge. The plane did not leave Abuja with one engine.
Is it possible for a plane to embark on a flight with one engine?
Let me explain. Procedurally, they say when a plane loses an engine, it should turn back and land. These planes are made to fly with one engine off. That is the truth.
So, in this instance, did the plane take off with one engine?
That air plane that crashed took off with two engines. If one fails, you take maximum power on the second engine and you go to where you’re going to because, at that stage, you can not just make a 180 degrees and come and land because you are limited with your landing weight – you have maximum take off weight, after you burn off the fuel (trip fuel), you then have what is called maximum landing weight. But, without you going anywhere with your fuel full and passengers full, you have maximum take off weight which will be detrimental to the structure of the plane if it just turns back like that to come and land. It will cause structural damage to the landing gear.
So what is the standard procedure when an engine fails upon take off?
You dump fuel first and then come back and land. So the issue of saying the plane took off with one engine is not true. We know that this flight, 30miles away from Lagos, the crew contacted radar control and requested for a radar veto – that is the radar should tell them how to come in and land and requested for the longest runway – runway 18Right, which is the longest runway.
If a pilot requests for the longest runway, what does that tell an observer?
If a pilot is requesting for the longest runway, he either has an engine problem, hydraulic problem, or engine fire. We are reliably informed that radar gave him the service that he requested for until he got on the localizer – that is radial which directs him to the 18Right.
They were brought in and, at the last minute, they handed them over to the tower.
I’m happy Dana admitted that they did not contact the tower. After radar had vetoed them, they all agreed that the crew never contacted the tower and so the plane found itself on people’s houses. It was not a choice they made. But it was as a result of uncontrollable asymmetry. One engine had gone, they could not handle that one-engine situation and that was why that engine veered off and landed on people’s houses.
Now, how come when it landed on the houses, it did not explode but when the fire sparked, there was no effort at disembarking?
When the plane dropped on people’s houses, the impact was so much that there was no time to brace up for emergency and that was why they were strapped to their seats and they all burnt to death. That is the truth. We are still waiting for the transcript of the black box. These people had no time to talk to the control tower. They were busy trying to control that plane and that was how they found themselves on peoples roof..
What is the significance of the black box because accidents have happened before in this country and the findings were never made public?
The black box will tell us everything that happened on that flight before the crash.
Let’s look at the way the President responded, was he right to say people will be punished?
I can understand the president’s pain at that time – that he commiserates with families of the victims and that the government will get to the root of the matter and those found culpable would be punished. That is what people wanted to hear from the president but it was a wrong signal. Air crashes are not investigated because you want to punish somebody but they are investigated so that we can learn and avoid future occurrences. The engineer who may have done a shoddy inspection job would go and doctor the books and cover up his tracks; the dispatcher who dispatched the plane would cover his track and the same goes for the person who fueled the plane.
What is the Snr. Special Adviser to the President on Aviation doing? The man has been there since the time of Olusegun Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and now Jonathan and he has only made three pronouncements since assuming that office. What is he doing there?
If we want to be sincere to ourselves in this country, we should begin to look for quality.
The aviation sector is not the place where you give job to the boys – that is not only bad but also dangerous.
Look at the Aviation Minister, when she was appointed, some people raised hell but everybody agrees that she is doing a damn good job. Look at some of the reforms she has engendered; they are for best practices; but this crash was just unfortunate.
What Nigerians should be looking at are the people in the boards of the parastatals in the aviation sector. It is the board members who formulate policies for their MDs and DGs but when you go and give jobs to the boys, when they get to the board meeting, all they would ask for is how much contracts are worth.
That’s a weighty allegation?
Let me tell you from experience. I was a board member of FAA along with some politicians and we wanted to formulate a policy which I introduced. I wanted us to build mortuaries in Lagos and Kano airports to take a minimum of 350 people. Everybody jumped up saying ‘God forbid; it will never happen’. But it is the truth, it will happen. Look at what families are being put through now to recover the bodies of their departed ones. That is part of the problems of giving the boys job in the aviation industry.
Why do we keep having these accidents?
Accidents started happening in this country from 1969, DC 10, Nigeria Airways. From 1969 to 2003 when Nigeria Airways was liquidated, they had 20 accidents. Of these, only three were Nigeria Airways planes. After 2003, another 21 accidents, Nigeria Airways was no longer existing but the rate of accidents went up so you can safely say if Nigeria Airways was operating, 75% of passengers that have died today could have flown Nigeria Airways and the possibility of accidents on Nigeria Airways was almost zero.
But why don’t presidential aircrafts have accidents? At least they are manned by Nigerians too?
So let’s also add that why not transfer the training of those crew to general aviation so that we can be safe in this country? Let us ask that too. Have you seen how they maintain those planes in the presidential fleet? Nigerians are in charge and everybody there knows their jobs are on the line but for general aviation, people are looking for money. Most of them instruct their pilots not to write snags noticed in their planes on the log book but on ordinary pieces of paper. That is why most times the airlines fear nothing because there are no records of some things. The Dana Air staff that spoke on conditions of anonymity said the truth.
How would you describe the Senate’s order that Demuren, the DG, NCAA, should step aside?
They forget that the only body mandated by law to investigate accidents in this country is AIB. Any other investigating body would make you run foul of international law and even our own law; so we should allow AIB to do its job.
What is the significance of the black box?
It gives detailed analysis of what happens on a plane – the speed, the altitude, the bank angle of the plane, conversations in the cockpit and every other thing that transpired. We should let AIB do its job before we go into coroner’s inquest or panel of inquiry because this is mass murder. We must stop it. You ask Demuren to step aside, but the people appointed to investigate the crash, an example, Group Captain Obakpolor, was employed by Demuren and he works for NCAA and you’re making him head of the panel that would investigate the accident. He has now become the judge, the accused and the jury. The other two captains in the panel were executive directors of ADC airline; ADC that crashed under the same type of conditions; compensation has not been paid, they went underground and now you’ve gone to bring them to come and be in a panel? What type of a country are we running? I called one of them on that panel and told him that if I were him I will disqualify myself. I sent a text to them to ask if they told the minister that these people appointed into this panel are the staff of ADC and NCAA. It’s unfair. We should be straight forward. They know after a few weeks this matter will die down and when it happens again we will start shouting.
Could you please enlighten us about this issue of the age of an aircraft?
I have always told people that the age of an aircraft is not an issue. DC 3 still flies. Bring a new factory mint air plane to an incompetent pilot, he will crash the plane. Take the oldest well maintained plane and give a competent pilot, he will fly it and fly it well. The power plant, the engine, once that is well maintained, it minimizes risk of accident. A 20-year-old car with a brand new engine will serve you well. The best safety device in the aviation industry is a well maintained aircraft and a well trained crew.
Have you had any air plane incidents?
I have had three and, if they were not well handled, I wouldn’t be alive today: The Airbus A310, on the 14th of April, 1991, that crashed at MMA on a Sunday morning. That day, it was raining cats and dogs. We asked them for the condition of the runway, they said runway ‘wet’. In aviation, that means it is not up to two milimetres of water – nobody has any business with a runway that holds water anyway.
There is something called aqua-planning, which means that when there is water on that runway, you will be surprised that the whole weight of that air plane will just be suspended afloat on that water and, if the wheels are not spinning, the breaks are useless; it is only when the wheels are spinning that the breaks can hold. Therefore, you make a positive landing. If not, the speed will just be suspended there until the tyres touch ground. That was what happened to us that day, so after the wet runway, we touched the ground and that was at the end of entire length; I just turned the nose of the aircraft and we entered a ditch. We evacuated 259 people safely.
That was a flight from Abuja bringing back aviation experts who were coming from a seminar. One Mr. Anene came on board and retrieved the log book and, within 14 hours, AeroFormation, the maintenance investigators, landed in Lagos, took the black box and one month after the AIB investigation and AeroFormation sent in their report with a letter of citation for a job well done. Thank God nobody was incapacitated. The same aqua-planning in Calabar in 1986. Our runways hold water. You must be able to handle emergencies well.
I’ve heard people say Dana took off from Abuja with one engine; that is not true. If you’re flying and you lose one engine, you shut down the engine.
In a two-engine plane, on your route, when you lose engine, the nearest airport should not be more than one hour; in a three-engine plane, if you lose one, the nearest airport should not be more than two hours; in a four-engine plane, it should not be more than three hours and that is why you are not legally allowed to fly over the Atlantic with a two-engine plane so that’s why the planes fly nearer to land than directly over the Atlantic.
We know there is a difference between an incident and an accident but, in Nigeria, reports of the latter are never made public, why?
The report of my incident was made known to me – an incident does not involve fatalities, even if the plane breaks into pieces, it is not an accident but an accident, even if the crash involved just a death, is so described. I saw the transcript of my own.
To be honest, government should think well and do the right thing.
At a time when there was no presidential fleet, our leaders flew in Nigeria Airways planes. They would simply call Director of Flight Operations that the head of state would be flying out and all the Nigeria Airways was required to do was to withdraw a plane, reconfigure, remove the seats, less passengers, create an office setting and that was how they were using the Nigeria Airways planes before they had the presidential fleet in 1986/87. They just sold the place off. The greatest scam is coming very soon. They will soon say we must set up another airline.
Some people say after the Cat 1 Certification, Demuren and the NCAA went to bed?
Will you say because a policeman is caught collecting bribe, MD Abubakar, Police IG, must be sacked? He has inspectors who go to inspect the planes from time to time and some of them (airlines) prepare, clean up the house once they know the inspectors are coming and that is the situation in the aviation industry. Demuren has employed all the best hands in our aviation industry and put them in NCAA except you say he should now go and bring expatriates.
What recommendations have you made to those in authority before now?
Let me give you a true life story. During the turbanning of Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, I met Abacha at Graham Douglas’ house in Ikoyi and, two days after, we again met at the airport and he said I should join a few other senior officers in his official plane while he went with Graham Douglas in Julius Berger’s plane. We took off after they had left some 15, 20 minutes later.
When we got to Sokoto, our plane could not land after six attempts. A fellow board member in the FAA, the late Prof. Don Pedro, said I should check what the pilots were doing in the cockpit. By this time the people on ground had become so apprehensive. I went there, knocked on the door, entered and saw the young men. They were scared stiff, with goose pimples. When they saw me, one of them said, ‘Skipper, the weather is so bad, we’ve made six attempts but could not land’. I asked about visibility, they said 300metres which meant it was so bad. But that was not the problem, they had miscalculated the altimetre setting which made them add 1500 feet on top of the airport elevation of 1500 which means you are 3000 feet so you could not see the runway. I brought this to their attention. I gave them the necessary instruction and we landed safely.
The late General Abdulkareem Adisa was on that flight. By the time we landed safely, the door opened and Adisa came out, he said, “Awon AirForce, won ko mo nkan kan-o” (Air Force personnel do not know anything). But the time we finished this rigmarole, they had finished the turbanning. By the time we wanted to go back, none of the Army Generals we took to Sokoto agreed to return on that plane.
We had to return with Gidado Idris, then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, who had a plane to himself. But that was not all.
May the soul of that pilot rest in peace! The day after, it was this same crew that took Abacha’s son to Kano. The people who could not land a plane at Sokoto during the day now went to Kano at night and killed the poor man.
Abacha instructed Douglas to mandate me to prepare a memo on air accidents and that particular one, but, by the time the memo was ready, government had instituted a probe panel to investigate and from that time I washed my hands from government business. People are dishonest.
These crashes almost always happen at weekends, why is that so?
People are relaxed at weekends. My own experience on that Sunday, rather than the controller to say the runway was heavy with water, he said it was just wet.
And we should stop these criticisms of Demuren, except somebody can come out to say he has collected bribe. The man has done so much for us in this country. Category 1 places Nigeria at par with civil aviation in the US, Britain and the developed world. Some countries are still grappling with category 3 (A, B, C) but we have Category 1. Nobody has done that before.