By Chinedu Eze
An incident, involving the British Airways Flight BA75 flight to Lagos, which was grounded due to bird strikes, has exposed the poor emergency response at the at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), THISDAY investigation has revealed.
It was learnt yesterday that during the incident, which occurred on December 30, 2020, the delayed response by the Fire Department of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) at the airport could have worsened the incident as smoke engulfed the plane due to hydraulic leakage after the bird strikes.
The BA flight operated by Boeing B777-300 aircraft, which left London to Lagos on December 30, 2022, suffered multiple bird strikes on its final approach to land at the international runway, 18R but it managed to land successfully.
Reports indicated that the bird strike caused hydraulic leakage, but the aircraft touched down safely and taxied out of the runway but it could not reach the apron because it lost its nose wheel steering, as the hydraulic system in the aircraft indicated zero quantity and smoke was seen from the main landing gear, forcing the aircraft to stop on the taxiway.
The pilot of the flight, THISDAY gathered, called for emergency but there was no response until after 11 minutes when two firemen came to the aircraft with handheld portable fire extinguisher instead of a fire fighting truck, which arrived 16 minutes later.
But on careful examination by the BA engineer that accompanied the flight, it was established that hydraulic fluid was dripping onto the hot brakes of the main landing gear of the aircraft, causing the smoke, which could have snowballed into a fire outbreak.
THISDAY investigation revealed that the fire department officials did not prepare for the emergency because the department is on the listening line between the Air Traffic Control and the pilot, so the officials in charge during that time ought to know the situation on ground, as they have direct information about the development.
A former senior official of the Fire Department who has retired, made enquiries about the incident and told THISDAY that the firemen were not ready because those on duty when the incident happened were supposed to be kitted in their boots and other insignia but they were not dressed for the emergency.
“If they had kept to the standard of operation, they would have been ready before the final stop of the aircraft because they are abreast of the interaction between the flight crew and the Air Traffic Control. They also have binoculars, which they ought to use to sight the aircraft from a distance and prepare for its landing.
“The officials in the watch/listening room have binoculars and should have watched the aircraft approach and should have known that there was a problem and were supposed to have alerted the ground staff. I don’t know why they did not go with the vehicle because hydraulic leakage can cause fire when it gives out fumes, which are ignitable. When hydraulic falls on hot metal it ignites fire,” he said.
The Regional Terminal Manager of the Lagos airport, Mrs. Victoria Shin-Aba, who confirmed the incident, confirmed that the Fire Department is on the listening line with ATC and pilots.
She said FAAN has its processes in responses to different kinds of emergencies, adding that bird strike is a natural phenomenon associated with flights, which is not exclusive to Nigeria.
Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, told THISDAY that the airline’s aircraft has suffered bird strike many times but noted that the rate has reduced in recent times.
He said that to reduce the incident, FAAN’s Wildlife and Bird’s Department should ensure that the grasses at the airport, especially the runway area, are cut regularly, adding that the catering companies at the airport dump waste on the premises to attract birds.
“We have had a couple of bird strikes but usually our take offs and landing don’t happen at the times birds come around at the Lagos airport. We agreed during a recent meeting that the catering companies should stop dumping rubbish at a place near the runway, which attracts the birds. I think they have agreed and moved their dumping ground but the birds are still coming,” he said.
Air Peace Director of Flight Operations, Captain Victor Egonu, however, told THISDAY that the airline has a record of bird strikes but noted that bird strike is a well-known situation in aviation and there is nothing that could be done to stop it from happening but its occurrence could be reduced, just like the airport management in Singapore did.
He added that Singaporean airport authorities created a place for birds, which are attracted to the place, thereby staying away from the runway.
“It is difficult to manage birds because they could be migrating for warmer climate from Europe. They could converge during the cutting of grasses because that happens during the day time,” he said.
THISDAY gathered that the British Airways flight remained on the ground for about 10 hours until temporary repairs were completed, then it departed for the return flight BA-74 and reached London with a delay of six hours.
THISDAY contacted the Corporate Manager, Public Affairs, FAAN, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu who promised to get back with a response but had not done so as at press time.