9 September 2012

Nigeria: The Safety Failings of Nigerian Airlines

While the Nigerian aviation sector is still trying to redeem its image following the Dana plane crash, one of its worst air disasters in two decades, domestic airlines in Nigeria have already started breaching air safety guidelines. Uche Uduma reports.

The Dana plane crash in June 3, 2012, brought to the fore, the inherent danger of air travel in Nigeria. Shortly after the accident which killed 153 people on board and 16 people on ground, there was a renewed determination by the Nigerian aviation sector to get things right. The Ministry of Aviation and other regulatory agencies immediately swung into action to plug the holes in the industry, and many domestic airlines began to tighten their loose ends to ensure that they meet international standards in order to avert further accidents.

However, barely two months after the Dana crash, many domestic airlines are finding it difficult to stick to aviation safety and standards and are beginning to relapse.

It is a requirement for flight dispatchers and pilots to get weather reports from the Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) before they take off, as bad weather is known to play a significant role in aviation accidents. However, a few weeks ago, some domestic aircrafts took off to their destinations and were not able to land due to poor weather.

This recklessness on the part of the airline operators and their pilots pose a serious danger to their passengers, who are oblivious of the fact that the pilot took off without ascertaining the weather conditions.

LEADERSHIP SUNDAY discovered that some airlines receive the weather report, but when adverse weather is forecast they are too impatient to wait for the conditions to improve before they commence their flight.

The special assistant to the Minister of Aviation on media, Mr. Joe Obi, decried such actions in an interview with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY. "About two weeks ago there were about two or three air returns. Normally by just listening to the weather forecast pilots know when they are not supposed to fly. The standard is already there and they are supposed to comply with regulations. We will definitely sanction airlines if they fail to comply."

In a press statement, Mr. Obi said, "lately, it has been observed that only flight dispatchers go to the Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) to obtain metrological folders without the pilot themselves actually receiving the weather briefing. This accounts for why aircraft take off and get to their destination but are unable to land.

"There is therefore no reason or justification for an aircraft to make air returns on the basis of poor weather conditions, since the initial weather report from the AIS would have been adequate to indicate the futility of an initial take-off under such harsh weather."

In a press release, the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Dr. H.O. Demuren, warned airline operators to comply with the weather forecasts, as bad weather can be dangerous to air planes. "We are in the mid-stream of the rainy season, which is usually characterised by severe thunderstorms and line squalls and its attendant turbulence, microburst, lighting and low- level wind shear. Suffice to say that such weather conditions can be deadly to aircrafts on approach or departure from airports and has been responsible for a number of fatal accidents in the world and in Nigeria."

He urged airlines to comply with the stipulated guidelines, "it is therefore mandatory for pilots to obtain weather briefings from the Nigeria Metrological Agency (NIMET) including departure, en-route and destination weather information prior to flight operations."

So far airlines are yet to comply with this order by the NCAA and have continued to flout the stipulated guidelines for their safety operation. LEADERSHIP SUNDAY discovered that NIMET released a list of four airlines that have not been complying with AIS in the last four months to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, but no sanctions have been meted on these airlines and they have continued to default.

A source from the NCAA, who asked to remain anonymous, told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY about the need for pilots to be aware of weather conditions before taking off. "The lift of the aircraft is dependent on the direction of the wind; there is what we call headwind and tailwind.

The tailwind is going in the same direction with the plane while the headwind is going against the speed of the plane. If there is going to be headwind then there is need for the aircraft to carry less passengers and more fuel as it will take the aircraft more time to get to its destination. The pilot is supposed to know the condition of the weather on take-off and at his destination."

Apart from the issue of non compliance with the AIS, LEADERSHIP SUNDAY found that some airlines are still breaching safety standards by not adequately documenting the maintenance and repairs carried out on airplanes. A report by the Technical and Administrative review panel on domestic airlines carried out in June, revealed that the maintenance practice by some domestic airlines were not in line with international standard practice. It also revealed that surveillance by NCAA inspectors on the airlines' maintenance practices found that they were below expectations.

These failings by airline operators not only ridicule the efforts to sanitise the aviation industry but also endanger the life of passengers that board flights in bad weather.

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