Seven months after the tragic crash of its flight that killed all the 153 people on board and ten on ground in Lagos, Dana Air resumed operations last week. Chinedu Eze captures the mood of the industry on the return of the airline
Against the recommendation of the House of Representatives, Dana Air, one of Nigeria’s successful airlines before its flight was involved in a tragic accident on June 3, 2012, killing all the 153 people on board and ten on ground at Iju/Ishaga, a densely populated area in Lagos, resumed operation on January 4 in a well-reported ceremony.
The resumption of flights seemed to have irked many Nigerians, especially those who had campaigned against its continued operations until after the investigation of the accident and the compensation of all the relatives of victims of the crash.
After the investigations by its Committee on Aviation, the House of Representatives recommended that the airline should be stopped from flying. The House also indicted the Director-General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, and posited that the regulatory body did not have trained personnel to effectively inspect the MD 83 aircraft, which the airline is using for its operations.
But since the airline was stopped from operating after the crash, it had not stopped from mounting ceaseless campaigns aimed at resuming flights. A few months after the accident, the Federal Government lifted the ban on Dana from operating, and the airline went through the process to obtain Air Operator Certificate (AOC), which it obtained late December, hoping to resume flights that same month but it was stopped.
It was after the Yuletide rush that the airline was allowed to resume operations culminating in its inaugural flight on January 4, 2013.
Lifting the Ban
When its ban was lifted, some industry experts had argued that the airline should not have been banned in the first place, remarking that government yielded to emotions and the shock occasioned by the accident, which killed many prominent persons.
According to the recommendation of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), when an airline is involved in an accident, the aircraft type involved in the accident would be investigated and if what caused the accident is not common in the aircraft type or on the whole fleet, the airline would be allowed to continue operation.
So it was an error to have stopped the airline from operation some contend. When the airline was asked to resume operations also, there was a caveat: that it must have to settle the compensation of the relatives of the victims of the crash.
During the inauguration of the flight, a director of the airline, Mr. Francis Ogboro, said the airline had commenced the payment of the outstanding 70 per cent of the compensation, which is $70,000 to families of victims that have completed their documentation, disclosing that at least nine persons have been paid as at last week.
“We have paid up to 90 per cent of the 30 per cent initial compensation, and we are working on the outstanding 70 per cent. The people we have not paid are the families that have not turned up.
“For the second stage of payment, we have had a few people turn up, if they satisfy the requirement for payment, they will be paid tomorrow. They will not have to wait for the two months to elapse, if they meet the requirement anyway, they will be paid.
“If after two months, the families have not been paid, it is not because Dana Air does not have the money to pay, it is not because Dana Air insurers do not have the money to pay, it is because the claimants have probably not fulfilled the requirements for the claims available,” Ogboro said.
Time to Move On
Although sad and tragic, he said the airline had to move on and continue to comply with all the requirements of the NCAA, assuring that the compensation would be completed.
However, many industry observers did not see any sincerity in the recommendation of the House of Representatives because they argued that until the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) comes out with the details of the accident, the airline cannot be indicted and therefore should not have been stopped from operation.
In fact, the Assistant Secretary General of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Mohammed Tukur, on Wednesday chided the National Assembly for politicising the Dana Air accident and alleged that ulterior motives were behind their pronunciations and orders, which were not in tune with the standard practice in the industry.
He alleged that the legislators did not recognise that aviation follows international practices but are now imposing their whims on the sector against the norms, noting that just as NCAA carries oversight function on the airline, it is the same way that ICAO oversights Nigeria so the country must abide by the regulations of the world aviation body.
Also the Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) has warned that politicians are interfering in aviation activities, which follows recommended standards and warned that such interference forebodes danger in the sector.
The president of the association, Benjamin Okewu said politicians (referring to the members of the National Assembly) should follow the standard practice in carrying out oversight function in the aviation sector.
“Politicians who have turned themselves to aviation analysts and experts should leave the aviation industry alone in Nigeria this year 2013, so as to give safety a chance. This is how it is done all over the world. In the case of the Dana Air crash you witnessed and heard politicians who don’t know anything in the industry saying words that were derogatory to the aviation industry in Nigeria”
If the country should follow the standard recommendations of the world body, ICAO, Dana Air should not be stopped from operation, but considering the tragic death of so many people in that accident, the pain and the emotions galvanised by the tragedy frown at the sight of Dana Air flight in the airspace.
Before Dana got back its license, AON had called on the Federal Government to reissue the airline its Air Operators Certificate after its recertification exercise with NCAA.
AON’s secretary general Mohammed Joji described the allegation leveled against the airline by the Senate Committee on Aviation as “distortion fed to the general public by the Senate Committee on Aviation by its Chairman Senator Hope Uzodimma that it was negligence on the part of the airline that caused the Dana crash of June 3rd at Iju-Shaga area of Lagos State.”
Reacting to the reaction of the legislators after the accident, the Director General and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Tony Tyler had reasoned that “Safety is a constant challenge everywhere in the world,” adding that “In Nigeria, as elsewhere, this important work must continue without political interference.”
On the allegation that MD 83 aircraft have inherent problem that make them gullible to accidents, the ill-fated aircraft was traced to its original owner, Alaska Airlines.
THISDAY learnt then from Bloomberg that the MD 83 aircraft was originally owned by Seattle based Alaska Airlines, which acquired the aircraft from McDonnell Douglas in October 1990 and later sold it in May 2007 to North Shore Aircraft LLC that operated it under lease until the aircraft was retired in August 2008.
The then spokesman of Alaska Air, Paul McElroy was reported to have said that the aircraft was maintained according to the stipulation of the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States (FAA) regulations and had a valid certificate of airworthiness even after the two incidents of smoke in the plane in November 2002 and August 2006, so it was still cleared to fly.
CEO of Dana Air, Jacky Hathiramani, had defended the aircraft type in an interview with THISDAY few days after the crash and said, “Half of the MD80 aircraft in the world are operated by American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. They may still have about 400 between the two of them. In fact, America Airlines are still buying MD aircraft for their fleet. And even in America there is no age limit for an aircraft to operate.”
But the pain and the emotions ignited by the crash cannot be said to be out of place and the reactions it aroused cannot also be said to be out of place.
Over the years avoidable air crashes have taken place in the country and largely this have been attributed to pilot error and sometimes aged aircraft, which had lost its sharpness and dexterity in emergency.
This explains why a Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) indicted the airline and all the protagonists in the management of air transport in the country.
Falana recently called on the Federal Government to implement the report of the House of Representatives on Dana Air.
In a letter titled, “Implement Report of House of Representatives on Dana Plane Crash Now!” Falana alleged that there was official fraud to cover the cause of the accident, saying that a panel set up by government to investigate the cause of the accident did a shoddy job.