The tragic crash of Dana Air flight 9J 992 on June 3, 2012 in Lagos, which killed 163 people was a wake-up call for aviation agencies, especially the regulatory body, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to rise up and strengthen safety in air transport in Nigeria.
After the crashes of 2005 and 2006 that killed about 300 people, the Federal Government made NCAA autonomous and the National Assembly passed the Civil Aviation Act into law. This led to six years of good safety record of no major crash until June 3, 2012 when the Dana Air accident happened.
But speaking on the Dana Air accident, aviation consultant the Chief Executive Officer of Belujane Konsult, Chris Aligbe, said regulatory authorities appeared to have slept off on its success until that crash.
Noting, however, that after the crash there had been significant improvement in air safety as the regulatory body had become stricter and more efficient in its over sight functions.
“We saw five to six years without major accident. Those are the kind of things that you have and sleep will come and you doze a little bit until you are woken up again. It is also possible that because of the no accident period the airlines were not on the top level of their maintenance but the accident jolted everybody. And there is also the issue of airlines not keeping proper records about faults in their equipment. When you go to them what they give you may not contain all the faults the aircraft have. These are part of the allegations then. But today NCAA has made another major step in terms of safety,” he said.
That major step, according to Aligbe, was the introduction of automatic flight information reporting system which NCAA directed that every airline must install in all their aircraft so that the aircraft movement would be monitored by the regulatory body, which would know at every point the condition of the aircraft.
He said it was necessary to point this out at this time considering the recent crash of the Navy helicopter crash in Bayelsa, which killed the former Governor of Kaduna state, Patrick Yakowa, and the former National Security Adviser, Andrew Azazi, because military aviation is different from civil aviation.
“Some people want to frighten the flying public by saying that Nigeria’s airspace is not safe. The truth is that the airspace is safer now and the NCAA is doing what it ought to do in terms of over sight function and regulation of the industry. There is misunderstanding about this because there is a difference between military and civil aviation. Any professional who compares the two is not worth his salt. And before they comment on the crash of the Navy helicopter in Bayelsa state they should at least wait for the preliminary report to come out,” he said.
Aligbe stressed that institutions that manage military and civil aviation are different, adding that the aviation agencies including NCAA, the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) do not have anything to do with military aircraft operations.
He said that the military had in-house institutions to manage its operations, including accident investigation department.
“The aviation agencies do not have the responsibility to oversight military aviation and NCAA do not have inventory of their aircraft. The military has total package, including accident investigation institution, oversight institution, well trained engineers and pilots and NCAA cannot even audit them because the agency’s officials are not type rated on military aircraft. The military is self-regulatory so people should not mix this up,”Aligbe said.
He said that with the automatic flight information reporting system in their aircraft to monitor activities of each aircraft, the aircraft inspectors do not need logbooks anymore and also need not consult the airlines engineers to know what is wrong with the aircraft, as the monitoring system reveals every technical issue on each aircraft.
“NCAA has already installed this equipment so when all the airlines install it the regulatory body will get records of everything happening to any aircraft and the Authority will be able to get in and check what is wrong with the aircraft. All those allegations of hiding information no longer exist,” he said.
On the airspace Aligbe said that compared to the past, Nigeria had safer airspace now, noting that with the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON), flight operation had become easier.