Nigeria: Sustaining Air Safety in Nigeria

22 January 2021

Chinedu Eze writes about ways to sustain and improve on safety record attained in the industry.

Air crashes are tragic. Every country prays it does not happen in its airspace. It is not only that lives are consumed, which is the saddest part, but also it diminishes the goodwill of the country, the airline and the aviation industry.

It also leads to increase in aircraft insurance premium and ups the country's risk status. So there are always concerted efforts by the civil aviation authority, airlines, airspace managers and others to ensure that a country retains good safety record.

In Nigeria the last accident involving fixed wing airliner took place in October 2013, and since then besides accidents involving helicopters, Nigeria has not recorded any tragic air crash and the last one that happened on August 28, 2020 involving a chopper, recorded fatalities, as three persons died in the accident.

So on January 15, 2021, industry stakeholders met in Lagos, to deliberate on ways to sustain and improve on the good safety record in air transport in Nigeria.

The conference was organised by the Accident Investigation Bureau Nigeria (AIB-N) in partnership with League of Airport and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC) where aviation experts and top agency officials pointed out ways the industry could improve its safety status.

Sustaining Safety Record

In his keynote address, the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu urged aviation stakeholders to make concerted efforts to keep Nigeria's airspace safe to ensure that the country sustains its good record and growing reputation as one of the nations in Africa that has maintained high standard of safety in air transport.

He noted that the industry had only recorded one serious incident with fatalities in the last five years with the Quorum Helicopter crash of 2020, which killed three crewmembers on board.

According to him, maintaining that high safety standard was made possible by the synergy of all stakeholders, the commitment of airlines to operate airworthy equipment and the efficient regulatory environment by NCAA, which ensures that operators maintained high safety standard as stipulated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which has given the country good safety rating in addition to the country being certified with Category 1 safety status by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Presenting his paper at the conference, which was on prevention of human factors in air accident occurrences, the Director General said industry stakeholders must not relax in doing the right thing in order to prevent accidents and save lives.

"We do not want to get it wrong and we do not want to have blood on our hands. The primary responsibility of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority is public safety and this is what we must assure through our safety oversight and shared responsibilities with the certified entities and licensed personnel.

"We must jettison the tag of being a reactive people to that of being proactive and predictive, where we must not allow existing latent conditions including those associated with human errors to precipitate into incidents and accidents."

Nuhu, reiterated that while it is common knowledge, widely propagated within the industry that at least 70 per cent of aviation accidents are due to human factors, a review of the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST)/ICAO Common Taxonomy Team (CICTT) taxonomy for occurrence categories shows that there is no category of these occurrences ascribed to "Human Factors".

"Meanwhile, an in-depth review of the established different CICTT categories will show that humans are somehow practically involved in or interface with all the occurrence categories. This is the reason why the Safety Management Systems (SMS) classifies the above statement as a misconception as humans (especially frontline personnel) interface in almost, if not all probable causes of aviation accidents at the different stages of either design, production/manufacture, organisational, operational and maintenance processes and procedures.

"Human Factors can fundamentally and best be described as "Matching the Man (Person) to the Job and Matching the Job to the Man under the prescribed conditions". This implies compatibility of the person to the job i.e. preparing, adapting, enabling, equipping and conforming the person to perform the assigned task to achieve the design and expected objectives. Any mismatch will contribute to human error and is a precursor to an accident," Nuhu said.

Human Error Factor

In a speech, the Commissioner of AIB, Akin Olateru, stressed that aviation remains the safest means of transportation and urged that safety rating must be improved upon despite the fact that the rate of accidents is represented at one per million takeoffs.

According to him, it is of paramount importance to do everything that would contribute to substantial reduction of the human factor failure in air transportation, stating that human factor knowledge could be used to reduce the likelihood of errors and build more error tolerant and more resilient systems.

These, he noted, are important for safe and efficient aviation industry.

"Causes affecting the accident rate in air transportation can be classified from various factors and points of view. The most general and probably the most transparent way of classification is dependence on human action or failure, technical and meteorological factors.

"As far as the organisational or legislative shortcomings are concerned, they could also be instrumental in supporting the factors mentioned, mostly as a result of poor adherence to legislative procedures or mismanagement of resources associated with air operation.

There is a range of causes to air accidents. In view of the fast development taking place in almost all the aviation fields, the occurrence of air accidents caused by technological advancement is reducing. This development, however, is adding to the complexity of systems and raising the level of seriousness, all that to be managed by the humans," Olateru said.

He stated that for a substantial progress in air transportation safety to be achieved, it is necessary to focus on the most frequently occurring air accidents, such as the CFIT (Controlled Flight Inter Terrain) and runway incursions and overruns and loss of control of the aircraft.

The AIB Commissioner also noted, "It is also important to focus on the phases of flight especially at its beginning (takeoff) and end (landing). When assessing the development in accidents, it follows that despite the enormous progress made in the field of air transportation, its safety fail to develop to satisfaction, with causes identified as incomprehensive approaches to learning and appreciating the human factor."

Multimodal Investigative Bureau

Chairman of LAAC, Mr. Olusegun Koiki stressed the need for continued focus on human factors in air accident investigation since it plays a crucial role in safety in the global aviation sector, as it would reduce the rate of accidents.

"One small error caused by poor procedures or miscommunication can result in catastrophic events including loss of life," he said.

"Let me use this opportunity to reiterate that if indeed the federal government desires safer transportation for the country, it is pertinent to amend the existing Act setting up AIB to include the investigation into other modes of transport - Intermodal investigation is the way to go.

"AIB as an organisation has performed creditably well in ensuring safer skies for air transport in Nigeria. AIB's statutory duty should be extended to other modes of transport like road, rail and marine. A situation where the inspector also acts as an investigator/regulator will rub off on the credibility of an investigation report.

"The current Nigeria Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB) Bill before the National Assembly should be passed. The approval of this bill will reinforce safety in all modes of transportation in Nigeria through distinctive, efficient and effective investigations of accidents and serious incidents involving any of the modes of transportation within Nigeria or anywhere else Nigeria's interests lie," he added.

Causes of Air Accidents

Some industry stakeholders identified poor communication between cockpit and the control tower, loss of situational awareness, lack of training, poor facilities, fatigue, flight crew judgment and poor maintenance of personnel as some of the key factors that could lead to accidents.

They noted that some of the human factor instigated errors need to be addressed to improve on the accident and incident rate in air travel.

President of National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), Abayomi Agoro, decried that poor communication and training and advised that new facilities are needed to improve the situation in the airspace.

He explained that airlines are not compliant with some of the new technologies introduced and even their personnel have not gone through the necessary training that would familiarize them with the new developments.

"The issue of communication has been something we have been calling on government and NAMA as service provider to do more on. The poor communication is not only from the ground equipment at times also it is from the air stations; but most of the time these are some things that can degenerate to incidents or accidents.

"Even now that we have data exchange which has to do with the CPDLC (Controller, Pilot Data Link Communication) not all the airlines are compliant with that and not all the controllers have gone through the training, so definitely, it's one of the areas we have to look into critically in order to prevent human factor induced accidents," Agoro said.

Affirming Agoro's observation, the representative of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Captain Akin George said communication system in Nigeria could best be described as weak.

"The communication system in Nigeria is quite weak; this has been a recurring problem for the last 10-15 years. Solutions have been put in, we take one step forward and within a month or two we are back to the norm. We have been talking on human factors today and we know one of the critical elements is communication, if you cannot communicate with your controller; then who is controlling who? As of today the communication between aircraft and the services coming out of Kano to Lagos is extremely weak. If you happen to be operating from the eastern side of the country, coming out of Calabar or Uyo, Port Harcourt and you are heading towards Kano, it is extremely weak, in most cases you have to get another aircraft to rely on for information.

"Now whilst all this is going on, the aircraft does not stay in one place and so you have a dynamic situation, which for me, remains high risk and that is one of the areas we need to tackle as soon as possible in order to reduce the risk," George said.

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