It is remarkable that Nigeria’s aviation sector has enjoyed a relative accident-free period for some time now. However, recent incidents involving local airlines have revealed that the nation’s aviation authorities need to buckle up to avoid a situation where the nation could be thrown into mourning as a result of serious accident. In the last few weeks, incidents involving Nigerian airlines did not only put fear in the minds of the public, but also compelled the people to query the safety of the country’s airspace.
Tragedy was averted on June 22, 2019 when an Air Peace aircraft overshot its runway in the Port Harcourt International Airport. Also, on July 19, a strange man was caught on video climbing the wing of an Azman flight waiting in the holding bay for a directive to take-off to Port Harcourt. Barely four days later, another Air Peace flight crash-landed in Lagos in bad weather, losing its nose tyres. No loss of lives or serious injuries to passengers and crew was recorded in the incidents.
Even with these near misses, Nigerians will never forget the last air accident experienced in the sector on October 3, 2013, when an Associated Airline Flight 361 crashed on take-off from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), killing 15 of the 20 persons on board. The aircraft, a twin turboprop Embraer 120, was conveying the remains of a former governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Agagu, to Akure when the incident happened. This was after the sector was riddled with intermittent air crashes which questioned the safety measures of the regulatory authority. Five years down the line, the industry has maintained an accident-free record.
Though the aviation authorities carried out its investigations thereafter and gave a clean bill of health for all the airlines and agencies across board, we believe there is need for deeper audit of our aviation sector.
The Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, has said that despite the “isolated” incidents, it is on top of the situation”. It has continued to reassure air travellers that “there is no cause for worry”, as all aircrafts on the fleet of NCAA authorised Air Operators Certificate (AOC) holders operating in Nigeria are air-worthy.” In spite of these assurances by the aviation authorities, analysts are of the opinion that the accident-free feat recorded in the last five years must be sustained and improved upon to get more people flying and then improve the stand of the country’s aviation sector.
Aviation is a highly volatile industry. Little human error, negligence or official gaffe can precipitate loss of lives beyond imagination. This is why the sector is highly regulated for the good of millions of people who travel by air. The recent reported incidents calls for a system overhaul. We submit that, as a matter of urgency, the authorities should address security lapses at the nation’s airports.
Some of the incidents were sad reminders of a failed security system. The stow away on an aircraft constitutes the highest degree of security lapse. If someone can make his way to the airside without being seen, it means all the checks at the airport are not effective.
That scary incident, in our view, is a wake-up call to the government. There should be enough security apparatus for operatives to work with. Experts described the stowaway incident as a threat to national security and should be handled beyond the level of FAAN. It should be made a matter for Department of State Services.
Airport security is a function of national security. The problem of access to the airport had been lingering for close to two decades. The International Civil Aviation Organisation had recommended that a secondary perimeter fence should be built to support the existing one. But nothing has been done since the recommendation was made in 2004.
There is need for a total overhaul of aviation security across airports in the country. The industry regulators should also sit up. Nigeria cannot allow lethargy and carelessness to waste the lives of its citizens. Already, we have the scourge of terrorism and others to grapple with. There has to be concerted efforts to check the operators so as to ensure that they less no stone unturned in the process of maintaining an accident-free sector. We must redouble our efforts to ensure the safety and comfort of air travellers.
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