20 November 2012

Nigeria: Aviation Sector Weak, Stagnant - Report

Photo: This Day
Nigeria -Aircraft landing at the airport

Nigeria's aviation industry is weak and stagnating because of regulatory negligence, cutting of corners, ageing fleets and ministerial interference in duties of agencies, a parliamentary investigative committee has said.

The draft report of the National Assembly joint committee that investigated the remote and immediate causes of the Dana plane crash painted a grim picture of an aviation sector that is tottering, bedeviled by allegations of corruption.

Daily Trust has seen a copy of the report which is yet to be submitted to the two chambers of the parliament.

In its conclusions, the committee said it found "palpable evidence" of "an industry that is, at best, stagnating and in need of new policy engines of growth."

The panel found that there is weak regulatory regime, declining and low professional competence in the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in particular, non-adherence to laid down procedures, long standing ministerial interference in functions of parastatals, sub-standard search and rescue co-ordination and approach in aviation sectors and poor funding.

It said "debt overhang" is weighing down all domestic airlines, which mostly operate "ageing aircraft".

The report suggested a need for the airlines to merge so as to be stronger, saying part of the problem in the sector is "the solo philosophy of airline operators in spite of their weakness, non-growth and non-profitability arising from their small sizes."

It said even though allegations of corruption were leveled against officials in the industry, "no concrete evidence" was presented during the committee's public hearings.

On NCAA, the committee said, "One observation that further reinforced allegations of laxity, compromises and corruption is the fact that with the public hearing announced, (an airline) that was operating immediately ceased operation and send its aircraft overseas for maintenance.

"This gives credence to the allegations that NCAA, at will, unduly extend operations life of aircraft overdue for checks. This jittery reaction (of that particular airline) can only be explained as an attempt to avoid detection of untoward and unethical practices."

The report added: "NCAA does not have any known and clear competence for regulating operations of both the Airport Authority, Airspace Management Agency, Meteorological Agency and others."

It also found out that Nigeria is not sufficiently covered by the NCAA inspectors. "Of the 56 inspectorate staff of NCAA airworthiness directorate, 51 of them are deployed in Lagos, 2 in Abuja, 1 each in Port Harcourt, Kano and Kaduna. More critical is the fact that virtually all NCAA maintenance oversight engineers are deployed in Lagos and only 2 in Abuja and 1 in Kaduna while Port Harcourt and Kano have none," the report said.

What caused Dana crash

On the ill-fated Dana airliner which crashed on June killing 153 people onboard, the committee said it was an old plane that was banned from use in the United States before it was brought into Nigeria in 2009.

The aircraft MD 83 was acquired by Dana in 2009 and registered on February 3, 2009, originally owned by Alaska Airlines, USA and was 22 years old at the time of the crash.

"MD 83 is not just only an old generation aircraft that is no longer in production, Dana is the only operator of the aircraft type in Africa," the report said.

"Between October 2009 to Mat 2012, Dana recorded 14 air returns out of which the ill-fated aircraft accounts for five," it added.

On October 20h, 2009, the aircraft recorded air return of 'cabin air temperature", on March 13, 2010 it also recorded "cabin pressurization", on April 19, 2010 it had "bird strike", and on March 18, 2011 it had "cabin pressure above schedule."

Also, the plane on January 17, 2012 recorded "smoke detected activation due to smoke in the cabin".

The report also said: "Allegations of corner-cutting flowed freely from within and outside the airline. These were hitherto unknown to the public who believe in Dana."

The committee headed by Senator Hope Uzodinma recommended that Dana "should phase out its present fleet and embark on fleet renewal to comply with the age limit requirement. This is in view of the fact that MD.83 is not just only an old generation aircraft that is no longer in production, Dana is the only operator of the aircraft type in Africa."

It also said, "All aircraft in the fleet of Nigerian airline operators should not exceed 20 years for passenger operations and 25 years for cargo operations. Aircrafts to be used for short term such as pilgrimages are not impaired by 10 years acquisition age bar but must comply with the 20 years limit for passenger airlift and 25 years for cargo. 10 years age limit to be placed for new acquisition for passenger aircraft and 15 years for cargo aircrafts."

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