Tuesday, 21 May 2013
Flying Coffin: How Air Nigeria Was Grounded
The recent suspension of air flight operations of Air Nigeria might not have happened but for the crash of Dana flight 992 in Lagos, according to documents obtained by SaharaReporters.
A letter written by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) dated June 22nd 2012 appeared to be a hasty attempt by the agency to prevent what could have been another air tragedy. The letter detailed what the agency had already been aware of regarding the sharp and unethical practices by the airline owned by Jimoh Ibrahim, a lawyer-turned shady businessman.
On June 4th 2012, SaharaReporters had published an expose arising from a petition written by Air Nigeria’s former Chief Financial Director, John Nnorom. In the petition, Mr. Nnorom asserted that the airliner was cutting corners on safety, maintenance and other issues. Our expose was followed by similar reports in the New York Times and Al Jazeera Television network.
However, these reports as well as strikes by the airline’s engineers did not stop the NCAA from certifying Air Nigeria, making it possible for the airline to resume operations until last week.
“The NCAA’s decision to allow Air Nigeria to resume operations amounted to toying with innocent passengers’ lives,” an insider within the airline told us. He added that the NCAA “knew all along about the corrupt practices of the airline operators.”
An NCAA letter with reference number NCAA/DAWS/AD.1065/Vol. II/046 shows that the NCAA had written two earlier letters to Air Nigeria on June 19th and 21st.
It also shows that the NCAA was aware of Air Nigeria’s financial troubles as of May 2012, several days before the Dana airliner crashed 7 nautical miles from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
The letter also shows that some of Air Nigeria’s planes had been grounded during maintenance due to the inability of the airline to pay its maintenance and lessor fees.
In fact, the NCAA letter shows that two principal lessors to Air Nigeria, GECAS and SHANNON Engine SUPPORT, were pushing to repossess their aircraft and engines from Air Nigeria.
Despite the NCAA’s extensive knowledge of the technical lapses and financial woes at Air Nigeria, the agency claimed that it was a text message from an insider at Air Nigeria that forced it hands on June 19th 2012 to take action against the airline. The text message, quoted verbatim in the NCAA’s letter, “We owe virtually all our outstation hotel bills, fuel money, handling charges, facility bill etc. We did not pay smoothly for fuel even at the hub here in LOS (Lagos). We never depart on time again due to finance of diff sort. They find it hard to pay night stop allowances. All our service providers are withdrawing their services bcos we are not paying. No tools to work with like ordinary printer/photocopier. No enuf papers to work with, systems are breaking down. We sent aircraft for checks, they can’t come back due (to lack of) fund. Others cannot go due (to lack of) fund. FIRS was said to pick our MD/CEO due (to) tax unremitted. No salary of last month even on 19th of another month. Pls help if you can.”
The NCAA letter claimed it discovered that out of Air Nigeria’s 11 aircraft only two were functional. The airline’s fleet includes two Boeing 737s with registration number 5N-VNF and 5N-VNM. While 5N-VNF was inherited by Air Nigeria from Virgin Nigeria, 5N-VNM was leased by Air Nigeria from International Lease Finance Corp., a US aircraft leasing company.
Air Nigeria’s air-fleet also includes four B737-300 with registration number 5N-VNC, 5N-VND, 5N-VNE, 5N-VNJ – manufactured between 1997 and 1999 and leased from Dubai-based GE Capital Aviation Services. Two Boeing 737-300 models with registration number 5N-VNK and 5N-VNL were manufactured in 1997 and are leased from US-based AerSale Corporation.
Air Nigeria wholly owns two Embraer E-190s jets as well as two Boeing 737s.
The NCAA’s letter reveals that seven out of the airline’s 11 jets had been grounded for various reasons.
1. Boeing 737 with registration number 5N-VND- AOG Los due for C-check and the Nigerian Airforce hanger for engines swap with 5N-VNJ.
2. Boeing 737 with registration number 5N-VND- AOG Los due to 5N-coded ELT, and in NAF hanger for engines swap with 5N-VND
3. Boeing 737 with registration number 5N-VNL-AOG Los since April 19 2012 for C-check, but cannot go for the check as a result of non-availability of a replacement engine for #2 engine that failed boroscope inspection. Also, required 5N-coded ELT
4. Boeing 737-VNE – In Romania since September 19 2011 for C-check, but engine cannot be provided since the completion of check last year.
5. 5N-VNC – In France for C-check. The MRO is understood to be waiting for 5N-VND which will serve as collateral for the release of 5N-VNC, due to nonpayment by Air Nigeria.
6. 5N-VNG-AOG for C-check since January 8 2012 but only got to Egypt Air in April 2012 and is still in Egypt.
7. 5N-VNK-AOG Los due to the absence of 5N-coded ELT: Nig. 126.96.36.199 (4) refers.
8. Embraer E-190 5N-VNI – In Portugal for Basic 21 check and being delayed due to lack of payments.
9. Embraer E-190 5N-VNH – AOG Los due to failed #2 engine bearing seal, and damaged forward cargo compartment lining.
In its letter, the NCAA reveals that the agency was aware of Air Nigeria’s indebtedness to different service providers during its May 2012 financial analysis of the airline. The indebtedness is to the tune of N2 billion ($13 million). In addition, the airline owes debts separate debts of $266,116.49 to undisclosed creditors. The NCAA concluded that the debt-profile meant that Air Nigeria was in no position to meet its financial obligations.
However, several aviation sources confirmed to SaharaReporters that the NCAA had known for a long time about Air Nigeria’s unethical and criminal behavior. Those claims are backed up by the agency’s admission about its officials’ terrible experiences during a June 10th 2012 trip to Egypt for the delivery and demonstration flight of a second Airbus 330 long haul aircraft. The NCAA inspectors’ trip came to naught as Egypt Air authorities practically chased them out of Cairo because Air Nigeria had failed to honor its obligations in the lease agreement.
Curiously, NCAA officials continue to allow Air Nigeria to operate international flights between Lagos and London on an airplane Airbus 330 wet leased from the same Egypt Air authorities that chased NCAA inspectors out of Cairo, Egypt on June 10.
The NCAA’s letter, signed by an engineer, O.E. Tasiebi, who apparently supervises Air Nigeria at the NCAA, opened the door for Air Nigeria to resume operations. This despite the fact that the agency noted in its last paragraph that GE Capital Aviation Services and SHANNON Engine Support were working to repossess four jets from Air Nigeria.
The Nigerian Senate last week discovered that Air Nigeria’s owner, Mr. Ibrahim, diverted N35.5 of the aviation intervention fund allocated to Air Nigeria.
Wire instructions obtained by SaharaReporters reveal that on September 20 2010, Air Nigeria transferred a total amount of $26,969, 505million from a UBA account 00930131003376 into a United Bank of Africa US dollar domiciliary account number 00111-534-803213 in Accra, Ghana. The account belonged to Energy Bank of Ghana.
The wire transfer claimed that the transfer was for “investment”. Energy Bank of Ghana was founded in 2011; a former finance director of the airline alleges that the aviation intervention fund granted Air Nigeria by the federal government of Nigeria was fraudulent diverted by Mr. Ibrahim to set up Energy bank in Ghana