For Safer Air Travels

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The federal government must go beyond probing just Dana Airline to ensure safer air travels, writes Olawale Olaleye

It is important to establish from the word go that Nigeria had savoured a relatively safer air travels in the last couple of years, albeit not without flashes of incidences that tend to expose a sector in dire straits.

For instance in August last year, an unidentified Nigerian Air Force (NAF) pilot died in an air crash during a mission in Kaduna State. NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Olatokunbo Adesanya, explained that the cause of the crash was unknown and still is.

Two months after, the presiding Bishop of the Living Faith Church Worldwide (LFCWW), David Oyedepo, almost died in a plane crash in October. The plane he boarded was said to have developed fault mid-air and it was reportedly the third time Oyedepo would be involved in near air mishap.

What could have been yet a major tragedy in the nation’s aviation industry was averted on February 7, 2018, as the door of a Dana aircraft fell off while taxing to the apron side of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja to disembark passengers. The aircraft, an MD 83 had departed Lagos for Abuja with about 120 passengers on board.

Thirteen days after, another Dana aircraft with registration number 5N-SRI, operating a flight from Lagos to Port Harcourt overshot the runway and ended up in the bush. Passengers on board the aircraft were immediately evacuated from the bush in Omagwa neighbourhood, where the Port Harcourt International Airport is located in Rivers State. Although no one was injured from the experience, it is important to note that Dana had experienced a crash in 2012, killing 153 passengers in Toyin, Iju-Ishaga, a Lagos suburb.

The good news, however, is that against the latest development, the federal government has ordered a full audit of Dana’s operations at its recent Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting.

Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, Garba Shehu, said the audit would cover the personnel and assets of the airline, adding that the government was very much concerned about safety and the life of Nigerians, hence its decision to probe the operators.

The Senate had also summoned the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, to appear before it and explain the reason for the recent air incidences in the country.

Senator Gbenga Ashafa, APC, Lagos East, in a motion observed that there were two air mishaps in February 2018 alone, expressing concerns that the recent occurrences might be a sign of a sequence of human errors caused by the failure of officials and staff of agencies, to carry out due diligence before issuing clearance for aircraft to operate in the Nigerian airspace.

In the same spirit, the House of Representatives had also mandated the Committees on Aviation and Commerce to investigate as well as carry out critical audit of all registered aircraft with a view to ascertaining their airworthiness, compliance with applicable operational methods, set safety standards and procedures.

The House probe, according to report, seeks to evaluate the operational environment of the aviation sub-sector with a view to enhancing improved operational standards as well as convenience of users.

The resolution followed a motion sponsored by Hon. Abubakar Amuda-Kannike, APC, Kwara, on the need to establish the technical and operational status of Nigerian registered commercial/private aircraft to boost the safety, protection and confidence of passengers flying the Nigerian airspace. The motion was unanimously supported by members.

But General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Henrietta Yakubu, explained: “The incident was suspected to have been caused by a heavy rain, which was accompanied by strong wind and storm in Port Harcourt,” reiterating: “No casualty was recorded, as all passengers on board were safely evacuated.”

Much as the move by the federal government is commendable, it is too limited in scope to address the core of the challenges in that industry. The truth is that the whole of that sector is seeking attention, from the airliners to the facilities at the various airports and the functionaries in that sector, there is a need for serious overhauling such that would be geared towards repositioning the sector and ensuring safer air travels.

That there have not been major crashes in the last few years is not entirely indicative of a sector free from certain inadequacies. This is why the federal government must give deserving attention to the sector and also make sure that the findings are followed through to its very end. Suffice it to say that air mishaps are not peculiar to any one country, the capacity to respond to challenges, however, differs. This is why Nigeria must stand up to be counted.