7th October, 2013
With 177 lives lost in 16 months and near-death experiences in our airspace now as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, the Nigerian aviation industry under Princess Stella Oduah’s watch seems to be tumbling again.
On 3 October, an Associated Airline plane loaded with 20 people and the remains of the former governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, crashed in Lagos and killed 14 people.
The 23-year old Brazilian made plane had just taken off from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos and flew for less than three minutes when it came down at 9.32 a.m. and burst into flames not far from fuel depots. The next day, on 4 October, a jumbo aircraft belonging to Kabo Airline and loaded with 512 pilgrims and crew members crash-landed in Sokoto at 9 p.m.
The plane damaged some landing equipment at the airport, triggered panic and came to a stop with burst tyres.
Three days after that near death experience, on 6 October, an old plane belonging to Dana Air was involved in a serious air incident in Port Harcourt.
The incident was so serious that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, immediately suspended the airline’s operations nationwide and said the carrier was now under investigation.
An Arik air plane was also said to have hovered in the air for more than 30 minutes in an attempt to land. The airline later said it was due to bad weather and poor visibility.
These incidents and accidents are taking place only 16 months after a Dana Air plane crashed in Lagos on 3 June, 2012 and killed 163 people. The industry seems to be on the brink again and Nigerians are losing trust in our aviation sector by the day.
We believe that with the removal of the former Director General, who was proactive and independent, Dr. Harold Demuren, attention has shifted away from safety to award of contracts for the building of infrastructure. Of what use is it to focus only on contracts and buildings when our airspace is a death trap and our planes are seen as flying coffins?
With so many old planes in our airspace, airlines need more money for their unscheduled maintenance. Nigerian airlines are struggling to survive and virtually all of them are heavily indebted. They may try to cut corners to save cash and by so doing endanger the lives of air travellers.
We believe that attention must shift back to safety and this can only be done by a minister who is a professional or listens to professionals in the sector, a quality that has been missing since Oduah was rewarded with the appointment on 2 July 2011. She was a leading campaigner for President Goodluck Jonathan’s election in 2011.
Since our aviation industry is rocked by a myriad of gargantuan problems, safety rather than contracts, should be a priority.It is only when our skies are safe that the buildings and other things will be relevant. Too much bloodshed in just 16 months. Enough is enough.