•Keyamo summons all pilots, crews operating wet leases in Nigeria
•Gives NSIB 10 days to submit investigative reports on incidents
Chinedu Eze in Lagos and Kasim Sumaina in Abuja
The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has suspended the wet-leased aircraft operated by United Nigeria Airlines pending the conclusion of investigation into the diversion of a flight meant for Abuja, to Asaba, on Sunday.
Also yesterday, the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr. Festus Keyamo, directed the NCAA to summon all pilots and crew operating wet leases in Nigeria within the next 72 hours for further briefing.
The regulatory authority in a statement signed by its Director General, Captain Musa Nuhu, said it has commenced investigation into the circumstances surrounding United Nigeria flight NUA 0506 to Asaba and the confusion it has created in the public domain.
“However, preliminary steps have been taken pending conclusions of ongoing investigation. The Authority wishes to reassure the traveling public that it will leave no stone unturned as it has always done in the past to ensure continued safety of the aviation industry,” it stated.
The NCAA had earlier directed United Nigeria Airlines to suspend the use of the aircraft, an Airbus leased from Europe-based Fly2Sky, until after the investigation.
When the incident happened on Sunday, the airline issued a statement and explained that it temporarily diverted its flight NUA 0504 to Asaba due to poor destination weather.
The Head, Corporate Communications for the airline, Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu, had said in a statement that the pilot of the aircraft was aware of the temporary diversion and was properly briefed, but a wrong announcement was made by cabin crew upon landing safely in Asaba, creating confusion among the passengers.
However, following this incident, there were discrepancies in the cause of the diversion when Air Traffic Controllers countered this claim, insisting that there were favorable weather conditions in Abuja at the time of the diversion.
After a post-incident meeting, the NCAA said the airline’s explanation was unacceptable, prompting the suspension of its wet lease aircraft pending further investigation.
The airline’s spokesperson confirmed the suspension pending the outcome of NCAA’s investigation, disclosing that the airline has only one wet-leased aircraft in its fleet, but was expecting another soon.
The airline has its own aircraft, registered in Nigeria, four ERJ 145, but one had been grounded, while three are operating.
Feelers from the airline indicated that the suspension of the aircraft would hurt the operations of the new carrier, especially as it was happening in the season close to the Christmas holiday.
“It will affect our operation. It came at the wrong time. Today we had passenger crisis, flights from Abuja to Asaba cancelled and from Lagos to other destinations. The minister was angry with the incident. Issue sanctions after investigation and this might have prompted NCAA to take punitive measures,” the source said.
THISDAY’s investigations revealed that the pilot in command was given a wrong flight plan, which had ABB (Asaba) instead of ABV (Abuja) and accounts from the passengers that travelled with the flight did not indicate that the crew made any announcement about the destination of the flight until it landed in Asaba.
A top official of a major airline observed that two factors enabled this to happen: poor coordination between the cabin and cockpit crew and language barrier with indications that the pilot in command and flight officer, who are foreigners, may not be fluent in English and chose not to speak with the passengers.
Wet-leased aircraft in Nigeria usually come with the condition that the aircraft’s maintenance, insurance and crew would be provided by the lessor and out of the five cabin crew, only two were Nigerians, while three and the Captain and Flight Officer were foreigners, as Airbus A320 aircraft has seven crew.
Meanwhile, Keyamo has directed the NCAA to summon all pilots and crew operating wet leases in Nigeria within the next 72 hours for further briefing.
Keyamo, while briefing the press shortly after meeting heads of various agencies in the sector, said: “To assure and reassure Nigerians that we are taking every step to ensure safety of lives of Nigerians who decide to travel by air and on the recent incidents some minor, and others classified as serious incidents although there were no fatalities, the NSIB is investigating these incidents and I have directed them that within 10 days from today, they must submit their report of the incidents.
“However some preliminary and precautionary steps are being taken by the ministry and the regulator.”
According to him, “As government we are sensitive to public opinion, we will not close our eyes and ears to certain concern raised by people.
“My view has always been that if an incidents happen anywhere in our airports that is not an act of God, then there is a failure of regulation somewhere. “If the tyre of an aircraft burst, you can’t give excuses, there is someone given the responsibility to check the tyres before the plane takes off. So it is not an act of God.
“It is act of man that did not do his job. If the runway is not fit to land and the aircraft skids off the runway, it is the failure of regulatory that cleared that aircraft to land.
“If a plane takes off from Lagos and ends up in Asaba it the failure of the regulator who dispatched that plane. So if these things happen and we don’t see sanctions and I don’t call out people that are involved then I have failed as a Minister and that is why the heads of the agencies are here today we need to review these incidences.”
Speaking further, Keyamo said: “I understand that NCAA issued a notice suspending the wet leases of United Nigeria over the incidence. We are going to take concrete measures going forward to ensure that the incidence does not repeat themselves.
“The incident that happened yesterday where a plane bound for Abuja ended up in Asaba, we listened to the transcript produced by NAMA from the tower to the pilot and it was clear that when the flight was taking off from Lagos, he was headed to Asaba instead of Abuja.
“There was no weather problem in Abuja yesterday it was a problem of a wet lease plane where the pilot and crew were all foreigners not Nigerians so they were not familiar with the Nigeria terrain.”
Keyamo further maintained: “from the transcript we heard the tower kept asking the pilot, confirm again that you are going to Abuja not Asaba, the pilot replied no, Asaba before they took off the tower asked again and it was the same response
“It was purely an issue of in-house administrative issue. We have asked them to interview the dispatcher who dispatched that plane and where sanctions should apply we should apply sanctions. “We have agreed that henceforth all wet leases coming into Nigeria must have a Nigeria pilot seated on the jump seat with the foreign pilot
“I also directed NCAA to within the next 72 hours sanction the airline regulators who are negligent and made error of judgement withdrawing their licences and blacklisting them.
“We have also decided that cabin crew of the wet leases must be Nigerians to ease interaction between the passengers and cabin crews. We are concerned about the passenger satisfaction and the safety of the air travelers.”