Airline operators experienced series of challenging incidents across the country in the past few weeks. ANTHONY AWUNOR, in this piece looks at the harrowing experiences the operators passed through and the efforts of the regulatory agencies to address the situations.
The continuous clamour by airlines in the country that the operating environment is harsh to smooth operations came to its fore recently following series of challenges most airlines faced in the last few weeks.
On April 20, after less than two months of experiencing burst tyre at the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, the management of Air Peace, grounded two of its aircraft that were involved in ground incident at the same airport in Lagos.
Briefing journalists, the Chairman of Air Peace airlines, Barrister Allen Onyema appealed to the general public especially air passengers to understand the predicament the airline is presently passing through as a result of the incidents recorded penultimate week, resulting to a loss of over N3 billion so far.
At the media briefing held at the airlines headquarters in Ikeja, Onyema said the airline lost three aircraft within 24 hours as a result of the ground incident involving two of its aircraft at the tarmac of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja and another incident involving the Skyway Aviation Handling Company vehicle at the Benin airport.
According to him, one of the winglets of the aircraft involved in the collision cost about N300 million to to fix, adding that the airline was making a loss of 24 flights daily.
Onyema explained that the incidents have led to cancellations and adjustment of flight scheduled which affected almost 27 flight daily operations. Promising that the aircraft will be back in the air as soon as possible, the airline operator, apart from flight delays, attributed the unruly behavior of some passengers to alcohol intakes which is sold around the airport’s departure terminal.
He further urged government to allow individual airlines to provide their own ground services in order to minimize unnecessary delays and prevent damages to their aircraft. “That monopoly should be broken, let all airlines provide their ground handling services”
He however, warned that more airlines will crumble as a result of multiple taxation at the airport adding that while Air Peace was in support of taxes, the issue of multiple taxation must be properly looked into to ensure the survival of the domestic airlines.
Few days to the Air Peace incident, Aero Contractors, Nigeria’s oldest airline with flight NG316, which departed Port Harcourt airport on April 18, 2017 at 1608GMT, en-route Lagos, with 52 adults +1 infant on board was reported to have had a smoky cabin which put the passenger in a state of confusion.
As usual, the management of Aero denied the reports, commending the Pilot and the entire crew for the professionalism they displayed in handling the situation, Aero management pointed out that, there have been different accounts of the incidents with some claiming that the smoke came from the baggage compartment while other allude to all manner of unverified claims.
In an official statement issued after the reports which was made available to LEADERSHIP Sunday, the airline management led by Capt. Ado Sanusi, Chief Executive Officer stated that it has ordered for full scale investigation into the incident, adding that “preliminary reports has it that at 1645 GMT about 75NM to Lagos at 24,00ft, the cabin crew observed that the cabin was misty. This was reported to the Captain, who briefed the passengers accordingly assuring them of a safe landing in Lagos in a couple of minutes”.
As if that was not enough and at the same period, Dana Airline was also hit by a dangerous bird strike, forcing the plane flying from Lagos to Port Harcourt to make an air return.
Although, the incident occurred during take-off from Lagos but the passengers who are always at the receiving end when such incidents occur, suffered yet another stress throughout the journey.
The aircraft is currently being evaluated Dana Air engineers to determine the effect of the bird strike on the affected engine.
While the air passengers have lost precious man hour periods and serious personal and official engagements to these incidents due to flight delays and cancellations, airlines involved in these incidents have also lost so much money because of the flights cancellations and the grounding of their fleet.
LEADERSHIP gathered that Dana Air would pay hugely to buy another engine to replace the one damaged by bird strike except they have a good insurance cover for such circumstances. Also the damage of two Air Peace aircraft at the GAT ramp which was alleged to have happened because of the small size of the space clustered with many aircraft on AOG is an additional cost to the airline. Already the Air Peace management had put their losses at over N3 billion Naira as at last week. The loss, if not checked quickly is expected to soar on daily bases.
Recall that on the 28 February, 2017, Medview aircraft cooling system developed fault when it was about to take off with over 100 passengers at the same airport, but the pilot taxied back to base in order not to compromise safety rules. The cooling system malfunction of the airline occurred, less than 24 hours that Air Peace with 105 passengers on board aborted its take-off due to burst tyre.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority NCAA is the apex regulatory body, overseeing the activities of all airlines and their pilots, engineers and cabin staff, airports, airstrips and heliports, navigation aids, all service providers including the airport authority and the air traffic service provider, aviation training institutions amongst others.
With their strategic position, airlines’ performances are used to measure any country’s civil aviation standard in relation to world best practices. As at the time NCAA started in January year 2000, Nigeria had about 150 airlines in their register. In 2006, they came down to as low as 28 and today the country is left with less than 8 viable airlines.
Despite the staggering depreciation of domestic airlines in the country, The General Manager of NCAA, Sam Adurugboye had informed that the regulatory agency is doing its job as it ought to be.
According to Adurugboye in a recent chat with aviation journalists, he maintained that NCAA is not supposed to regulate people out of existence, adding that the agency offer assistance to the airlines to stay afloat.
“Sometimes waivers are given to assist. When it comes to enforcement and compliance, we are very diligent on that. As we speak, I have letters of sanctions with me. Airlines will go under if they don’t operate within the law”, Adurugboye said.
On the reduction of airline from 150 to about 8, the public affairs manager said “We use to have 150 airlines, but today we have what we have because someone is doing the job. We are not supposed to run airlines for the owners and there is nothing like multiple charges. There is nowhere in the world that there are no charges. People are in the business and they are doing well. This is because they use the right equipment for the right destination and there is corporate governance. People should allow the NCAA do their job”.
As part of its efforts to enforce strict compliance, NCAA had continued to play its part to ensure that the airspace remain safe. For instance, the agency last week handed over an Advisory Circular (AC) based on the year 2017 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) to all stakeholders.
The circular indicated that rainy season is predicted to commence in March/April and May/June 2017 in the Southern and Northern parts of Nigeria respectively.
In the circular, NCAA equally issued a weather alert cautioning pilots, airline operators and Air Traffic Controllers on the inherent danger associated with severe thunderstorms.
The agency enumerated series of responsibilities for Pilot, Operators and Air Traffic Controllers which include that “Air Traffic Controllers may temporarily close airspace when hazardous weather conditions such as severe thunderstorms, squall lines microburst or low level wind-shear are observed or forecast; and that Flight Crews/Operators and Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) shall ensure adherence to aerodrome weather minima”.
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