Last week an aircraft owned by Overland Airways caught fire and burnt beyond redemption at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos. The aircraft was undergoing maintenance at the airline’s hangar when the incident occurred.
Eye witness account indicated that the Overland Airways ATR aircraft burnt down because fire service did not come in time to put off the fire.
Various accounts said the aircraft was on fire for about 10 minutes before the arrival of fire service personnel. Insiders also argued that considering the short distance from the fire station at the domestic runway of the airport to where the hanger is located, which should be about half a kilometre, the fire service personnel could have noticed the billowing smoke that spiralled into the air.
Overland Airways attributed the cause of the fire to possible foreign object.
“In a lone incident this morning our aircraft asset undergoing routine maintenance inspection was impacted by a foreign object, which led to a fire that damaged the aircraft parked at our hangar facility at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos,” the airline had said.
Eye witness account confirmed that it was after about 10 minutes the fire started that the fire service came to put it out.
“Fire service did not come until after about 10 minutes the fire started burning. When they came they did not have the right product to put off the fire but later they brought foam. This successfully put it off. So the response was below standard bearing in mind that where the fire station is located is less than half a mile to where the hangar is located,” the eyewitness who is also industry expert said.
He also noted that the hangar ought to have a switch that could have alerted the fire station as THISDAY also learnt that the staff of Overland Airways working on the aircraft did not have the number to call the fire service immediately the fire started and that it was the control tower that alerted the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) about the fire.
Insiders also said that the hangar ought to have its own fire equipment, which the maintenance team could have used first before alerting the fire station, which is under the management of FAAN.
However, some industry stakeholders had frowned at the way the matter was handled; how the aircraft was burnt beyond repair and questioned the recent certification of the airport by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
According to them, the way the aircraft incident was handled calls for re-examination of the safety status of the airport by international agencies like the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
But reacting to such comments, the President of Air Transport Service Senior Staff Association (ATSSSAN), Illitrus Ahmadu said before conclusions could be drawn from the incident people should wait for a report after its investigation.
“We all know the seat of the fire service at the airport and the incident occurred inside Overland hangar. When was FAAN fire and rescue service notified? What was the response time after the notification? Did Overland management blame FAAN for not coming to the rescue?
“Are you part of the NCAA to conclude that surveillance is not being conducted on AMOs (Aircraft Management Organisation)? These and many more will assist us in making informed criticism of the handling of the incident,” Ahmadu said.
The Director-General of the NCAA, Captain Muhtar Usman told THISDAY that whatever was being said about the incident was mere speculation because the report of the investigation of the fire was yet to be published.
“Investigation is still going on. We told the airline to do its own investigation while we do ours. We will look at the reaction time; whether the personnel were trained for such emergency because it is one thing to have safety procedures and another to apply them in reality. So whatever statement made at this time before the report of the investigation is out is mere speculation,” Captain Usman said.
Head of Corporate Affairs, FAAN, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, told THISDAY that FAAN would not want to speak on the incident until Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) makes public its investigation because such report would expose what really happened, whether the airline contacted the fire service immediately the incident happened or not and other critical facts, “so there is no need indicting anybody yet.”
Many industry stakeholders insisted that investigation must be carried out to know the cause of the fire, insisting that the incident should “not be swept under the carpet.”