The past two weeks have been most tragic for Nigerians due to these tragic events; crash of a Nigerian owned Cargo Aircraft in Ghana that killed 10 people, incident of the burnt petrol tanker along Lagos-Ibadan express way that burnt not less than 11 cars with their occupants and suicide church bombing in Bauchi that killed 10 people. The nation has again been plunged into further sorrow by the crash of Dana Air’s MD-83 Aircraft a 22 year old aircraft, with shocking poor maintenance record that killed not less than 157 people in Iju, Lagos, Nigeria.
Many families lost irreplaceable loved ones, an entire family, the “Anyene family” in one sweep lost all its members on their way back from a wedding in Abuja, parents lost sons and daughters, siblings lost their father or mother, the Akubueze’s lost their beloved son and brother “Obinna Akubeze”, the Mojekwu’s lost their loveable, bright, industrious sister “Adaobi” and many more such grieving stories all over the place; it was a dark day for all Nigerians as we all (resident and abroad) felt the pain of a nation and the reckless, avoidable death of its citizenry.
While we waited to hear from the country’s aviation ministry on the possible cause of the crash and any on-going efforts to save crash victims or at least manage the inferno that ensued from the crash, we got stone silence from custodians of our airspace and instead the communiqué came from the presidency declaring a three-day mourning for the victims of the crash.
The presidency also declared a “Fullest Possible Investigation” to the cause of the crash which clearly does not soothe anyone’s wound or help the country’s psyche in recovering from such a humongous loss and our loss of faith in the countries sky ways.
The term “Fullest Possible Investigation” is a term typically used in countries where nothing works. The Presidency knew that if they used the term “Investigation” let alone “Full Investigation” the non-questioning minds of its citizens clobbered and scarred time and time again from Government’s brazen inaction and thoughtlessness will not be swayed. So this time, to get some attention from a demoralized citizenry and to put a conspiracy spin to such a sad event, the Presidency announced that it has mandated a “Fullest Possible Investigation” to the cause of a crash that any reasoning adult has a good idea of its possible causes.
When I heard of this ghastly air accident, over twitter, Facebook, blogs, various Foreign Media mediums and lastly from a few Nigeria Media online websites, a few clues came to mind on what could have caused this ghastly incident; (1) Could the accident have been caused by lack of government regulatory oversight, (2) Could it have been caused by the age of the aircraft, (3) Could it have been caused by a naked absence of corporate social responsibly by Dana Air, (4) Could it be an unquestioned lack of continuous pilot training? (5) or was the number of death from the accident influenced by an unplanned population growth in the country ? (6) or was the accident caused by our careless regard of the intervening power of God?
Sadly but true, all these perceived assumptions cumulatively have influenced the air crash. Looking at the assumptions identified we can each see reason why they influenced the cause to this sad event.
(1) Government Regulatory Oversight;
The crashed aircraft had shocking poor maintenance record as reported by numerous online sources. How do the managers of our air space explain the recurring non-sanctioned near miss accidents by same aircraft? We hear that sometime this week, same aircraft or a similar one with same vintage operated by Dana Air enroute from Uyo to Abuja was diverted to Lagos due to a landing gear problem or a hydraulic loss concern.
It seems conclusive that the men and women in charge of the safety of our sky ways have abdicated their core responsibility of inspecting arriving and departing aircraft to confirm their maintenance record and airworthiness status. . Do our regulatory authorities ever sanction erring aircraft operators whose aircraft does not meet airworthiness threshold? What sort of sanction or penalty is applied to these operators when their aircraft does not meet airworthiness requirement? Are such safety deficient aircraft grounded until their airworthiness discrepancy is corrected?
It seems that what matter most to these regulatory officers is the collection of airport dues and airline operating fees and consequently they have turned a blind eye to obvious airworthiness concerns, thereby allowing these unsafe airplanes to lift into our skies, chancing the safety and lives of people.
In modern economies, information on any aircraft grounded due to safety concerns is freely obtainable from the website of these regulatory authorities. However, in Nigeria, people board airplanes by faith and pray themselves to safe landing.
(2) Age of the Aircraft
The age of the crashed aircraft has no direct influence on the accident. However, for an aircraft of that vintage, much more is required for its maintenance especially when Boeing Inc. the manufacturer of the Aircraft has ceased its production and has also stopped directly supporting the maintenance of same model aircraft.
If an aircraft’s airworthiness certificate is current and audited one should not have concerns on its safety. However an aircraft of this age, should be closely regulated to ensure that it does all its maintenance and safety checks; whether an “A Check” or a “C-Check”.
This begs the same question on how Airworthiness Certificates are issued to operators in Nigeria.
(3) Lack of Continuous Pilot Training
Continuous Professional Development (“CPD”) is necessary in every profession. I am of the opinion that this is not a requirement with regards to pilot certification in Nigeria.
In the exposure I have had in my career field, we are told that an aircraft has its take-off weight and its landing weight. If any of these is not achieved there will be dire consequences. When the Dana pilot saw that it was struggling to reach the airport and there was strong possibility of it crashing, with a proper training, the pilot should have dumped its aviation fuel before landing. However, with the inferno that ensued after the crash, it will be conclusive that the aircraft did not dump its fuel. The pilot was chancing to land the aircraft safely with its aviation fuel.
How would one explain how this crashed aircraft was carrying an MTOW weight in excess of its manufacturers approved weight? Is this not a failure by our regulatory authorities’ to have allowed this aircraft to fly? What about the pilot, what did his training tell him or her about the excess weight the aircraft had to lift to the sky?
Again, our regulatory authorities have once more abdicated their regulatory role, of ensuring that these pilots that fly airplanes in our airspace have up to date, continuous verifiable training.
(4) Absence of Corporate Social Responsibility
If what we hear is true that the maintenance manager of Dana Air had concerns that the crashed aircraft should not fly due to its poor maintenance record and this concern was over ruled by Dana Air’s management and the aircraft was allowed fly. This is an erosion of the trust customers have on Dana Air’s management that at all times their decision will be for the safety of their customers. Dana Air, by conduct has abdicated the corporate social responsibility they owe their customers and the community at large.
Again, if our aviation regulatory system was functioning as it should be, the maintenance manager should be concerned that our regulatory officers will not allow the aircraft to fly instead, what we see is that this regulatory oversight “whether or not an aircraft should be allowed to fly” has been ceded to airline operators, who being focused on return on their investment cannot be trusted with making such a life or death decision.
(5) Unplanned Population Growth
It was widely reported in BBC, CNN and other news media sources that it was impossible to get to the crash site as it is in a densely populated part of Lagos. If this area of Lagos was easily accessible with good roads and infrastructure, this would have enabled the fire trucks, paramedics, ambulances and emergency services to quickly deplore themselves and equipment to save possible survivors from the crash.
There are similar densely populated settlements all across Nigeria that in any emergency situation, no fire truck or emergency aid can be successfully deployed to these areas. These settlements have no access roads, no piped water to houses, no electricity pools to connect to national grind, no security, no bus routes to take them home and lastly no planned water drainage system.
This takes us to the issue of unplanned population growth across Nigeria. People are erecting buildings on any available land or green space across the country and government is mindlessly issuing Certificates of Occupancy without putting adequate infrastructure and planning in place in such areas.
Our urban and regional planning authorities have looked the other way and have abdicated their responsibilities in helping government plan for a rapidly growing society.
(6) Careless Regard of the Intervening Power of God
It is only in Nigeria, that a taxi driver, bus driver or private driver will set out on a journey without adequate fuelling and would pray to God to lengthen the life of the fuel to enable them reach their destination.
It is only in Nigeria, that our aviation regulatory authorities will issue an airworthiness certificate to a faulty aircraft and then pray the pilot will get to its destination to fix any identified problem.
It is only in Nigeria that airplanes land and take-off in numerous airports across the country without land lighting guidance and pilots do depend on the praying feistiness of their passengers to get them to land in safety.
These above scenarios are pitiable. God would only answer prayers when we have done the right thing. We have to do the right thing first before our God will divinely intervene.
In my Root-Cause-Analysis on the cause of this air crash, it is all about Regulation, Regulation Regulation!! The country needs properly thought through enforced regulations to have safe skies for all citizens.
We do not need to spend billions to ensure safe skies all we need is for government to ensure that current and future aviation regulations are properly enforced.
Every aircraft manufacturer has a maintenance manual for each model of aircraft it manufactured and once these maintenance requirements are enforced and complied with our sky-ways will be safe again.
From; Okide Ezigbo
Okide Ezigbo is a commercial lawyer and works in the aerospace industry in Canada