There is growing concern in Nigeria about the operational safety of the Beechcraff aircraft after two of them fatally crashed in Abuja and Kaduna, killing nearly about 18 military officers within a space of three months.
The Beechcraft King Air 350i operated by the Nigeria Air Force, crashed on Friday and killed military personnel, including army chief Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru and 10 others, was bought during President Goodluck Johnathan's administration. It was one of the three Beechcraft King Air 350i that NAF took delivery of in August 2014.
NAF 201 and NAF 203 crashed within an interval of three months, with both occuring on the 21st day of the month. This means that NAF 202 and NAF 204 are left in the fleet currently.
On February 21, 2021, a NAF Beechcraft KingAir B350i aircraft crashed while returning to the Abuja Airport after reporting engine failure enroute Minna. All seven military officers on board died in the crash.
And three days ago (May 21, 2021), another NAF Beechcraft B300 King Air 350i crashed near the Kaduna International Airport. All eleven military personnel on board - including army chief Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru and 10 crew died in the crash.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Air Force acquired at least two second-hand Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet trainer and light attack aircraft in 2015.
One of the jets was seen passing through the United Kingdom on March 25, 2015, having travelled from the United States via Iceland. It then continued to Palma de Mallorca, Spain, on its way to Nigeria, as reported by Air Forces Daily.
It was flown by Air USA Inc, which specialises in military air combat readiness training and flies Hawks, Alpha Jets, MiG-29s and L-59 Super Albatrosses.
The Alpha Jet seen transiting the UK was cancelled from the United States register on March19 together with a second Alpha Jet, both originally flown by the Luftwaffe before operating in the states.
The delivery status of the second aircraft is unclear. It is also not clear if the two Alpha Jets are attrition replacements or part of a larger batch being acquired by the Nigerian Air Force.
Air USA Alpha Jets were converted for night vision goggle (NVG) operations, according to the company, and flight certified for operational use of TER, IMER and SUU-20 bomb racks.
Nigerian Alpha Jets have been used in the ground attack role to strike Boko Haram targets and a couple have been lost on operations: one crashed in Niger, killing two pilots, in May 2013, while another went down in September 2014.
In addition to refurbishing some of its existing aircraft such as the Alpha Jets, L-39s, Super Pumas and C-130s, NAF is also acquiring additional platforms.
NAF also acquired six Mi-35M attack helicopters and 12 armed Mi-171Sh helicopters, which were ordered in August 2014.
AIB-N Investigation May Take 3 Months
The report of the cause of the crash of the NAF plane, currently being investigated by the Accident Investigation Bureau, Nigeria (AIB -N), may take three months.
General manager, Public Affairs of the Accident Investigation Bureau, Tunji Oketunbi, told LEADERSHIP that investigation had just begun and there is no accurate time frame yet for if to be completed, adding that it could take three months, one year or more.
LEADERSHIP reports that the Nigerian military went out of the norm to invite the Accident Investigation Bureau to lead the investigation into the crash of the military aircraft that occurred on Friday in Kaduna.
This is unlike the February crash where the military handled the investment as it always didk.
Oketunbi said that the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) from the crashed Beechcraft 350 aircraft had been recovered and investigation had commenced.
He explained that the mandate given to AIB-N is based on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the two agencies on July 1, 2020 covering areas of mutual assistance.
According to him, "investigators will download and analyse vital information contained in the recorders at the AIB-N's world class Flight Safety Laboratory, in Abuja."
The Beechcraft King Air 350 twin turboprop 11-passenger business aircraft first flew in 1988 and has been built into civil and military versions.
Over 500 King Air 350 have been delivered. The Beech King Air product line has been in continuous production since 1964, and more than 6,000 of 17 variants have been sold for corporate, commercial and special mission operations to more than 94 countries.
The King Air fleet has posted one of the best safety records of any business airplane, even as the 350, which is the newest version, stands out as the best.
But it has equally been involved in several fatal crashes. It was also said to be the second in the fleet of Beechcraft aircraft that would crash.
There have been eight crashes involving this brand of aircraft since 2015, though the manufacturers claim safety measures are in the plane.
However, since 2015, there have been worries in the global aviation sector over multiple crashes of Beechcraft KingAir planes, especially at takeoff.
On October 30, 2014, one crashed at Wichita Kansas, US. On December 22, 2015, another crashed in New Delhi, India. On February 21, 2017, another brand of the passenger plane crashed in Melbourne, Australia. On July 30, 2019, a similar brand belonging to the Pakistan army, King Air 350i, crashed in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, killing all five aboard.
On September 1, 2019, another one crashed in Calamba, Philippines. On July 15, 2020, another brand of this aircraft crashed on Mount Artos, Turkey.
Aviation security consultant, John Ojikutu, said before he could call for the removal of the aircraft from the fleet, all other avenues must have been explored.
He said, "I'd rather we talk about the pilot, the facilities on ground for landing, before we talk about the aircraft itself. We should ask whether there is a wind shear system at the Kaduna Airport and whether they are being maintained, serviced or functional.
"We need to look at the totality of the weather condition: what of the visibility of the pilot? What are the factors in the schemes of the pilot.
"The way civil aviation is regulated is not the same way military is regulated. Also, the pilot left the military runway to land at the civilian runway, probably because the facilities at the runway cannot land the aircraft at the military runway. So, at the civil runway, is the wind shear system working? Is it serviceable?
"Also, if we want to talk about the airctsft, we should ask if it crashed mid-air; if not, then we should look at every other thing supporting aircraft equipment like the wind shear system. What is the current status?
"I heard the aircraft landed and skidded off the runway. How does the runway drain its water when it rains? Does it retain water? What about the landing equipment and facilities? So, we need to exhaust these before we talk about the aircraft itself."
Industry expert and former director of engineering, Medview Airline, Lookman Animashaun, said it would be very difficult to ask the Nigeria Air Force to remove the Beechcraft King Air planes from its fleet..
According to him, until the report of investigation into crash is available, no one can say what led to the crash of the aircraft.
He said, " t will be very difficult to ask the Nigerian Air Force to remove the type of aircraft from its fleet because the one (air crash) we had in March, no one knows whether it was weather, pilot error, fuel shortage or any other thing," he said.
Though, he could not say what led to the Friday crash, he, however, fingered bad weather as a possible cause.
"The one that crashed on Friday, the whether was very bad because some of the domestic airlines at that time were saved by act of God. In fact, one had to return to Kano to land because of the bad whether, so no one can say what the issue is until there is a fact to that. So, we need to get information that is not fake," he added.