•Plead with Aviation minister to assist local airlines
By Lawani Mikairu
Aviation experts have reacted to the recent online reports in Nigeria that Nigeria’s commercial airlines have the “oldest aircraft fleet in Africa, with the age of an aircraft in one of the airlines, Dana Air , being 28.1 years, the age many planes are either due for retirement or decommissioning. Or may have been retired at least some years earlier”.
The report further said : “ In sharp contrast, major African airlines, such as Ethiopian Airline, South African Airways, etc have fleet with average age of between 11.4 and 5.8 years”. The writers of the reports said they got data from planespotters.net. But investigations show that these data are not current and were collated and written two years ago.
According to the experts, it is not the age of an aircraft that determine its safety, but the maintenance routine and schedules. They contended that American airlines operate planes that are as old as 30-40 years , yet the country’s Civil Aviation Authority, CAA, has not raised any objections or concern to their safety status.
To buttress this standpoint, the less than Nine months old Boeing 737 MAX 8 Flight 610 operated by Lion Air, crashed shortly after taking off from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on October 29. Investigators believe the MAX 8 plane may have experienced problems with several sensors. It plunged into the Java Sea killing all 189 people aboard.
The experts are even alarmed that the Minister of State , Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who should protect domestic airlines was quoted as saying during the recent 5th Aviation Stakeholders Forum in Abuja that, “All this sudden growth to over 20 planes, we have seen it before. We have seen it in Chanchangi, We had seen it in Kano and of recent in Arik Air and yet they are inefficient. We have given them international routes but they don’t have capacity to operate them”.
There is worry that these reports and the ministers outburst may be “a calculated attempt to run Nigerian airlines down”. There is a general concern that the Minister should meet the airlines and find out the challenges that they have and help them so that they don’t go the way of the other airlines.
Reacting to the age of Nigeria airlines aircraft report, an aviation expert and a current major stakeholder, who pleaded anonymity because he does not want to “start media war”, said : “ They say Nigerian airlines are weak, that they are inefficient and now they are talking about the age of the aircraft. South West Airlines have over 150 of the type of planes we are using in Nigeria. That is the most successful airline in the world. Some of those aircraft South West Airlines is using cannot fly in Nigeria because we have age restriction in Nigeria, which is 22 years”.
“ America in their fleet have planes of 40 years old. Britain does not have age limit. What is the age of British Airways B747 that fly daily into Nigeria? For example, Dana Air’s MD83, are 28 years and very old. Most American airlines use older aircraft. Some of them use MD83 aircraft that are in their 30s”.
“It is not about the age of aircraft; it is about the maintenance. The aircraft that is 30 years has changed engine many times. Everything inside the aircraft must be airworthy but they try to deceive the flying public to create fear in them in order to ignite the clamour for national carrier”.
In his reaction, a retired aeronautic engineer, Mr James Ibitoye, who has worked with reputable airlines said : “The two aircraft involved in the last two recent crashes in the world in the past one month were not more than three months old.
The Air France Flight 447, scheduled international passenger flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris, France, which crashed on 1 June 2009 was almost brand new. The Airbus A330, operated by Air France, stalled and did not recover, eventually crashed into the Atlantic Ocean at 02:14 UTC, killing all 228 passengers and crew on board the aircraft. Please find out how old that aircraft was before it crashed”.
“This talk about the age of Nigerian aircraft is not in our collective interest. Those who don’t know that an aircraft is as good as its last maintenance would think that because the aircraft are old they are not safe to fly. So what we may have achieved is to frighten air travellers and you don’t have another option for them. The last air crash in Nigeria was in 2013.
It was five years ago that Nigeria recorded the last air accident. Instead of frightening people with age of the aircraft in the Nigerian fleet, it will be better if we x-ray the maintenance status of Nigerian aircraft and how efficiently they are regulated. These are the two factors that determine the safety of an aircraft; not the age”.
“ Do you recall the Kenya Airways flight that crashed in Cameroon on take off some years ago? That aircraft was barely one week old. Now, you are wrong to say that Nigeria parades the oldest aircraft on the African continent. If you search well enough you will find out that some airlines in Africa still operate aircraft that are 35 and above in the continent”.
He added that “those who wrote about old aircraft mentioned that Ethiopia Airline ordered for five new aircraft but they did not mention that Air Peace also ordered for 10 brand new aircraft from Boeing.
“Government said it gave Ethiopia Airlines five routes in Nigeria because it promised to employ 20 Nigerian pilots, what has government done for Air Peace that employed 3000 Nigerians, including over 140 pilots and not only that; the airline has trained over 30 pilots.”