Nigerian Planes Flying Coffins —Ex-Pilot

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In brawny language, a veteran Nigerian ex-pilot, Captain Hosa Okunbor, has branded some planes operated by Nigerian airlines as flying coffins that could drop from the skies anytime and anywhere.

Okunbor was a guest yesterday at Africa Independent Television, AIT, and was commenting on the Nigerian aviation industry following the crash on Sunday of a Dana Air plane that claimed more than 150 lives.

Speaking on Matters Arising programme, the veteran pilot said the industry is in tatters and has been neglected by the Federal Government for years.

The proof of the neglect, he argued, is the setting up of a controversial committee to audit airlines and the industry in general, after a plane had crashed and many lives lost.

He said the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, whose Managing Director, Mr. George Uriesi, has been embroiled in many controversies in recent times, is only interested in making money through imposition of arbitrary taxes.

He called on the Federal Government to support airlines by bringing down the exorbitant price of jetA1 as aviation fuel is known.

On the Obakpolor committee set up by the government, Okunbor said, experienced people, including ex-pilots and veteran aviators should have been called upon to help.

He argued that because of all the taxes, airlines cut corners and put the safety of their passengers and crew at risk.

Okunbor was not specifically talking about Dana Airline, but  at press conference in Lagos yesterday, the management of the airline dismissed allegations that it cut corners and endangered the lives of those who perished in the ill-fated flight 992 that crashed in Lagos State, southwest Nigeria.

Mr. Oscar Wason, Dana Air’s director of operations, dismissed reports that the airline that crashed was the same one that had developed technical fault earlier.

He said: “This aircraft was neither the one that had any technical malfunction in Uyo nor was it grounded. Two days prior, the aircraft was on a scheduled maintenance for one of its A check and thereafter the aircraft was released for flight.

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“The aircraft that crashed was 5N RAM. The previous aircraft that everybody is referring to that had declared an emergency is a different aircraft which is 5N SRI and that aircraft is momentarily in Istanbul for its heavy annual compulsory C check.”

Dana Managing Director, Mr. Jacky Hathiramani, broke down in tears and explained that its airline abides by all the safety requirements in the country.

He said: “NCAA do perform audit on the airlines unannounced. They can do an audit every week, every month, it all depends. It’s independently done and we are not advised when they are coming. Also they perform round checks and they have been doing this very often. So as far as the authorities are concerned, they are doing their job and we are on the scrutiny always of the NCAA, only here in Lagos but across the network that we fly, in Kano, Abuja, anywhere we fly.

“This aircraft came out of an A-check two days before and on Saturday, it flew its normal scheduled flights. On Sunday morning it flew two normal flights, 999 and 998 and it went back to Abuja on a 993 and it was returning to Lagos on a 992 which was involved in a crash.

“On the question of delay prior to landing, it is known here in Nigeria that they do close the airport for VIP movements and this could be for high officials, government officials, but anytime an aircraft declares an emergency, they have priority for landing and on that particular day there was no VIP movement, the airport was open. I must say that after the crash, the Airforce closed down the airport which is normal.

“The day before, Saturday,  they did have VIP movement and the airspace was closed for close to 30 or 40 minutes.

“On the manifest mix up, anybody that is on the manifest or has been identified would be compensated by our insurance.

“So if the name on board is not according to the actual person on board, once you’ve been identified as a body or a victim of the aircraft, there would be compensation by our insurance. The manifest mix up might just be names but we are focused on the actual victims that died on this particular crash.”

On the report that the airline operated a ferry plane and should never have carried passengers, Dana boss said: “It’s against the law to carry anything passenger on a ferry flight. You cannot even carry a cabin crew on that ferry flight. This flight was not on a ferry flight and before we could have a ferry flight we have to have the approval of the NCAA allowing us to ferry the aircraft back to Lagos and the name of the pilot has to be given to the NCAA. This is absolutely incorrect. The aircraft was not on a ferry flight.”

He added that their major checks are conducted in My-Technic in Istanbul, Turkey.

—Simon Ateba