Dana plane crash site
By Sanusi Umar
The unfortunate crash of Dana Air flight 0992 at Iju-Ishaga on June 3, 2012 has expectedly thrown up controversies in a country where it has become a norm to leave the substance and start chasing shadows. The lives lost in that crash are precious and the best we can do to honour their souls is to get to the root cause of the tragic accident.
I have sat down over the past few days reading various articles and write ups from all sort of people proffering to be what they are not. In as much as one would not want to join the fray in condemning one party or the other, it behooves one as a Nigerian to enlighten ourselves on some of the germane issues that have cropped up over the crash.
The most contentious among the issues thrown up by the Dana crash is that of age of an aircraft vis-a-vis safety. The purpose of this piece is not to condemn old airplanes or scare Nigerians from flying same, but to put things in proper perspective so Nigerians are not misled by some elements who are serving some selfish interests.
To say the age of an aircraft is irrelevant to safety is totally incorrect and not in tune with the reality of aviation. Let’s start this argument by asking as a layman why the world is still not flying the airplanes of the 1950s if age is immaterial. There should be no reason why aircraft manufacturers are now coming up with what they call ‘New/Next Generation’ airplanes if old ones are still safe.
Today, it is a matter of fact that the aviation world is proud of the average age of an airline’s fleet. Little wonder that the world’s big carriers advertise their safety based on the average age of their fleet.
It is incontrovertible that new airplanes come with new technology that enhances safety. This explains why the world’s two biggest aircraft manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, are on the drawing board every time researching into how to improve on the technology of every successful airplane.
It follows simple logic. Let’s take for instance a vehicle; why do car manufacturers come out with ABS which was not in cars manufactured some 10-15 years ago. It’s simply to enhance safety. Same goes for the Airbag, another new technology you don’t find in old cars.
Age surely has a lot to do with safety in an airplane. As mentioned earlier, so many things have been introduced in the last 10 years or more to improve safety and performance. I recollect vividly how sometimes in 2010 at the Margaret Ekpo Airport, Calabar, a ‘mad man’ broke all security apparatus and drove his taxi right onto the tarmac straight into the underbelly of an Arik Air plane fully loaded with passengers ready to take off to Lagos.
I remember also listening to one of the experts in our civil aviation authority saying if not that the airplane is a new generation one, the lives of the passengers would have been compromised. It was said then that the airplane being a new generation one, had, many layers underneath that prevented the tanks from exploding. This is one classic case of how age of an aircraft can enhance safety.
Airworthiness of an old aircraft requires a lot of maintenance and monitoring while that of new aircraft requires less maintenance, less monitoring and more reliability. This in effect promotes safety. In a country replete with history of airlines cutting corners, especially when it comes to maintenance of airplanes, newer equipment could be an antidote to this menace. Ask any professional aviator and he will tell you that it is less expensive maintaining a new airplane as against an old one. The efficiency is also incomparable.
Can we ask ourselves as a nation why big carriers like British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates, Air France/KLM et al, are ordering newer planes. This is done to improve safety and reduce the average age of their fleet at all times. This is even in countries where there are very good maintenance facilities. What then are we to say of a country like Nigeria where we don’t have well equipped hangar that can carry out heavy checks.
My good friend and brother, Simon Kolawole, one of the most respected journalists in Nigeria, wrote in his column penultimate Sunday that it is poverty that makes a man say: “This my Tokunbo car (second hand) is very solid!”. He asked, “How can Tokunbo be more solid than a new car”?
The Nigerian media that started this age controversy have good intentions no doubt. One of the primary functions of the media is to educate and that is exactly what the media has tried to do by publishing the average age of all aircraft in the fleet of Nigerian airlines. It is left for Nigerian to draw inference from it.
The Dana crash is quite unfortunate but this is the time for all of us as Nigerians to promote the safety culture which the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is out to enforce. This may be the time when the Federal Government should revisit the policy over age of aircraft flying in the country.
Following the EAS crash of 2002 in Kano, the Nigerian government came out with a policy that put the age of airplanes flying in our airspace at 22 years. This was to promote safety and yet some are saying age has nothing to do with safety. The time is now ripe to revisit that policy. We cannot continue to toy with the lives of our people.
* Umar, an Aeronautic Engineer, wrote from Lagos