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Restoring public confidence in air travel

The major focus of stakeholders, operators and users of the airport is zero-tolerance for accident, which professionals insist cannot totally be guaranteed, but can be…

The major focus of stakeholders, operators and users of the airport is zero-tolerance for accident, which professionals insist cannot totally be guaranteed, but can be improved upon.

However, achieving zero-accident operation is not a task that can be left in the hands of operators alone, but all encompassing. Even when all standards are met, incidents cannot be ruled out in the sub-sector. But investigations are carried out to unravel the causes and prevent future occurrence. Investigations are not punitive, but corrective.

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is the policeman of the industry and it regulates the operators and other agencies including the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) which is the landlord in the sector.

Due to the sensitivity of the sector, every incident/accident is reported to NCAA while the body documents every detail for future purposes. Such reports and documentations are called Mandatory Occurrence Report, which are not meant for public consumption.

Air incidents

Incidents are occurrences in the course of flight operations. For instance, a pilot flying from one airport to another might have discovered that there is a slide, hydraulic failure, bird strike or order for the aircraft makes air return or asks for emergency landing at the nearest airport. Air return is when a pilot returns to base of departure for safety reason. Air return is the standard practice all over the world.

Recently, an aircraft belonging to Ethiopia Airways crashed in the sea on Addis Ababa Beirut route with 90 passengers mostly Lebanese on board killed. The accident was unfortunate but that is one fact about accident based on “Mauvies Law” in aviation training, which says, “accident will happen when it will no matter what standard being kept or what anybody has done.”

Ethiopia is a country that relies solely on air travel for its Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and does not toy with the industry. Today, Ethiopian Airlines has 32 aircraft in its fleet with 45 orders. But despite the high safety standards observed by the airline and its state-of-the-art equipment maintenance hangar, the airline is still not immune from accident. 

The uniqueness of the of the industry is that whenever an accident occurs, ranging from the manufacturer, airline operator, regulatory agency, accident investigation body are interested in the immediate and remote causes of the accident and device means to prevent future occurrence.

In the local scene, the story has not been rosy. Recently, a Naval Helicopter crashed in Rivers Sates, killing all four persons onboard. The spate of air crashes in the country has however, made some air passengers to have a rethink about flying in Nigeria.

Does age matter?

Over the years, there have been argument for and against on the age of aircraft. While some argued that age is a deterrent to safe operations of aircraft, some are quick to say that age does not have any effect in the operations of aircraft. Research shows that both new and old aircraft have severally involved in air accident.

United States of America , Indonesia and Iran airspace have been the most turbulent over the years. According to the ongoing and preliminary findings, the manufacturers, regulators and operators need to reassess their responsibilities in maintaining highest standards considering all of these air misses or mishaps, which have been attributed to equipment malfunction or poor air manship or weather.

NCAA’s role

Speaking with Sunday Trust on the issue, the Media Assistance to the Director General of NCAA, Mr Sam Adurogboye overviewed the industry over the last three years and posited that safety has improved tremendously in the industry.

He compared aircraft operations to operating a car. “You will only not have a problem with the car if you don’t operate it when you park it in garage. It is still going to develop fault even there, the same thing with the aeroplane. If you are operating those aircraft, there are bound to be incidents just like when a car is having one problem or the other.”

He explained that NCAA sometimes summons the airlines to prevent accidents, adding such issues should not ordinarily be in the news so as not to over sensitize the public.

Adurogboye disclosed that the aviation industry in the country has drastically grown and can still improve in view of the various projects and measures put in place.

The NCAA DG Media Assistant said that Nigeria has embarked on aggressive infrastructure in the sector to boost safety.

He said through the help of the World Bank, Port Harcourt International airport perimeter is being built to curb cases of animal or human intrusion at the airport.

Adurogoye hinted that under the same World Bank infrastructure development project, FAAN will take delivery of 10 Fire Tenders which will be distributed to all the major airports.

“We have experienced inadequate fire cover but today through the World Bank project in Aviation infrastructure development project, FAAN is to take delivery of 10 fire tenders which are to be shared among Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt international airports. But as of today, we can tell you categorically that Lagos and Abuja are adequately covered.”

He stated, “When an airport lacks adequate fire cover, what is to be done by NCAA by way of mitigation is to down grade it.

Adurogboye said that part of the measures put in place to fill the loopholes in the sector is to fix all the runways of all the airports to ensure safe take off and landing of aircraft.

“Abuja airport is going to have its second runway, Lagos runway has been worked upon. It used to be only day light operations but now it has commenced full operations with night flights taking off and landing there. The control towers in Abuja and Lagos are perfectly working. Port Harcourt has been worked on and Kano is to completely have a new control tower, that is in terms of airspace management which is under the control of NAMA. The agency has taken deliveries of new Instrument Landing System (ILS) and Radio Frequencies Machines (RFM) to boost communication in the airspace while TRACON is on course with near completion so all of these are put in place to enhance safe operations” the DG Media Assistant disclosed.

Whether the culprit

Majority of air mishaps are attributed to weather. To fix this aspect, Adurogboye said the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) has installed wind share whether instrument in the all the major airports. It has also acquired Doppler radar which have been installed in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt. The installation is being done in phases.

He said, “Most past air accidents are whether related. The Port Harcourt Sosoliso air crash and of course the Abuja crash with Doppler radar weather will be properly monitored and the problem of windshare will be detected when it arises and we only need to advice the pilots to stay away a bad whether. From time to time we issue Weather Advisory Reports to pilots thereby advising them on what to do, educating them on what is on ground.”

He explained that Kano airport recently carried out an emergency fire drill. 

Aduroghoye stated, “They made so real that some papers almost reported it that there was an incident in Kano. But it was just a drill  and of course, you stage-managed it in such a way that you make it look real so that to see how your people will respond in case of emergency—the ambulances, military, the air force, everybody that needs to be involved even the people around the place, how will they respond in the event of  an actual scene and of course the response was fantastic.

“Nigerian safety records are climbing up. In fact, things in the country have drastically changed. We can say categorically, the World Bank is helping us.  The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) NTSB are auditing us. They have okayed us 90 percent. They have even assured us that what happened on December 25 cannot affect our Category One process. They are coming for the last assessment by the end of March/April.”

Adurogboye stated that in Nigeria now, some airlines have gone under because of some decisions taken by NCAA.

He said it is not pleasant. “No body is trying to take decision that will make somebody’s investment to go under but this is safety and if anything is going to compromise, they just have to get their investments hanged until when they can stand.”   Adurogboye so far, the industry has been sanitized and it could be better.

Need for confidence

An industry commentator, Mr Olumide Ohunayo opined that having put all those fantastic measures in place, there is need for NCAA and other relevant agencies to re-assure air travellers on safe and efficient operations.

He said the industry needs the passengers most especially their confidence and loyalty, saying that there is need for NCAA not to relent in its efforts by continuously implanting those polices already initiated to grow the industry and keep Nigeria airspace safe.

Ohunayo suggested that effort should be made to improve on the country’s emergency response beyond the airports vicinity.

He said, “Emergency procedures and principles which usually focus on airport, FAAN should look outward and take up this responsibility to all likely areas or even the eventual scene of incidents or accidents.”

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