Chinedu Eze and Yemi Akinsuyi
Seven months after its fleet was grounded following the crash of its flight 992 on a scheduled flight from Abuja to Lagos, Dana Air, operator of the crashed plane, will resume domestic flights today.
Aviation authorities had temporarily grounded the airline following the crash of its plane in Iju-Ishaga, a Lagos suburb, on June 3, 2012, killing over 160 passengers and crewmembers as well as those on the ground in the neighbourhood.
THISDAY checks revealed yesterday that the airline, which had been making feverish preparations since it regained its Air Operation Certification (AOC) one month ago, has perfected all arrangements to ensure a hitch-free return to the air.
Its spokesperson, Mr. Tony Usidamen, in a telephone interview, said preparatory to full resumption of commercial flights, the airline yesterday had a pre-inaugural flight from Lagos to Abuja.
But he added that the flight had no commercial passengers on board, except some officials of the airline.
According to him, full commercial operations will begin today with the first commercial flight taking off at 9.45 am from Lagos to Abuja.
It was gathered that the inaugural flight would have on board government officials from regulatory agencies such as the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), entertainers such as Basket Mouth, Denrele, Karen Igoh of Big Brother Africa fame, Durela, Buchi and Bovi.
Usidamen explained that a flight was dispatched yesterday by 4.20 pm to Abuja, which would airlift the first passengers of the airline from Abuja to Lagos by 7.30 am.
He said: “It is true that Dana Airline will resume operations between Lagos and Abuja tomorrow (today). We did not resume today. What we did was just an inaugural flight. We did not carry any passenger.
“Tomorrow (today), by the grace of God, we will start normal flight operations with the flight positioning. We are taking off from Lagos by 9.45 in the morning, hoping to get to Abuja by 10.45 am.
“I can’t say categorically when our flight will leave Abuja back to Lagos. But the management will determine the time by tomorrow (today) morning.”
With the resumption of flights, Dana Air would become the second Nigerian airline involved in a crash in the last 10 years that was allowed to fly. The first was Bellview Airlines.
While international best practices and the regulation of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) dictate that unless investigations proved otherwise, authorities cannot stop an airline whose flight was involved in an accident from operating, usually, emotions, angst and sentiments have often informed the decision by the Federal Government to suspend the operations of airlines whose planes crashed.
On December 19, 2012, the House of Representatives made public the recommendations by its Committee on Aviation, which among others, directed that Dana Air should be stopped from operating and that the Director General of NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren, should be suspended, a recommendation that many industry experts said was against ICAO regulations.
Experts said the House, by that recommendation, was usurping the responsibilities of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), which has the responsibility of investigating air crashes, as provided under Annexe 13 of ICAO.
Dana Air officials, however, are hopeful and optimistic that over time, the airline would recover its share of the market, which before the crash, was over 30 per cent. But many Nigerians do not think so.
Those, who spoke to THISDAY, said that it would take some time before passengers could trust Dana Air again. But others also spoke in favour of the airline, saying that they would fly the airline anytime it resumed operations.
To recover its certification, Dana Air went through the rigorous process which the NCAA subjects new airlines before they obtain their AOC, including 50 hours of demonstration flights that the airline had to operate without passengers, except NCAA officials.