Nigeria’s aviation sector witnessed more than six incidents in the last one month, causing panic among operators and passengers, OKECHUKWU NNODIM writes
Operators in the country’s aviation sector and air travellers are frightened by the recent spate of incidents in the sector, with one of them described as a “very serious incident” by experts and operators.
Air travellers are also worried by the reported cases of unhealthy incursions into the tarmac of some airports by unauthorised persons and animals, as these may lead to a dire situation if not addressed in earnest.
They urged the government to intensify safety oversight on airlines and airports across the country.
Industry operators and travellers told our correspondent that it was frightening to count over six air incidents within a space of one month.
“Of course, the situation will trigger fear in the minds of travellers. I am a regular traveller and that recent incident where an aircraft overshot the runway in Port Harcourt, which, of course, is a very serious incident, will frighten even the most frequent air traveller,” a former Secretary of the Airline Operators of Nigeria, Mohammed Tukur, said.
On January 26, The PUNCH exclusively reported that an air incident was averted after an aircraft operated by Nestoil lost its landing gear and two tyres, while landing at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
The aircraft, which had nine persons on board at the time of the incident, skidded off the runway as two of its back tyres pulled off when it touched down at the NAIA, a development that led to the closure of the runway for over an hour.
On January 27, less than 24 hours after the chartered aircraft lost its tyres and landing gear at the NAIA, another plane, a commercial aircraft belonging to Dana Air, hit a fence at the airport with its left wing.
It was gathered that the Dana flight, with registration number 5N-DEV from Port Harcourt, brushed the fence while trying to park after it landed at the NAIA.
Sources at the airport and passengers on board the flight told our correspondent that no injury was recorded, but blamed the aircraft’s pilot for the incident.
On February 8, it was reported that there was panic at the NAIA the preceding day after the emergency door of an aircraft operated by Dana Air fell off on landing at the Abuja airport.
Dana Air, however, argued that the door could not have fallen off without a conscious effort by a passenger to open it and stated that the airline was investigating the incident.
Media reports on February 9 had it that a security scare occurred at the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos as burglars attacked an Air Peace aircraft while it was taxiing to take off to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
It was reported that the Boeing 737 aircraft was attacked at 7:35pm by unknown bandits on the domestic runway of the airport.
On February 16, an Air Peace plane from Lagos was prevented from landing at the Akure airport, as cows took over the runway.
Eyewitnesses said it took the efforts of airport security and other aviation staff to clear the runway, while the pilot was said to have contemplated returning to Lagos before he was eventually cleared to land.
As if the incidents were not enough, a dangerous one, although without casualties, happened on the night of February 20, as an aircraft belonging to Dana Air overshot the runway of the Port Harcourt airport in Rivers State, after it touched down.
The aircraft, with number 9J0363, flew into Port Harcourt after taking passengers from Abuja.
An aircraft is said to have overshot the runway when it moves past a specified point unintentionally, and this can be as a result of too much speed or the inability of the plane to stop.
The General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Henrietta Yakubu, confirmed most of the incidents and made it clear that although FAAN was not culpable in most of them, the agency was doing all it could to make Nigerian airports safe.
But operators, passengers and experts believe that a lot more work should be done, as the recent incidents in the aviation sector were causing fear among air travellers.
Tukur said, “It is not only the government that needs to address this matter. Operators need to sit up and avert such situations from reoccurring. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority needs to increase its oversight function at the airports and on airlines. Before the recent incident where an aircraft overshot the runway, I’ve had many other experiences.
“I said it repeatedly but nothing happened. I know they (NCAA) are trying their best, but operators, particularly those with these young pilots that we see in the cockpits, have to train and retrain their pilots. I fly more than twice every week and I know what I’m saying.”
The former AON scribe added, “Old pilots should teach young ones, instead of allowing them to put passengers in fear. Some of them are not good at landing an aircraft without the full aid of an automated Instrument Landing System, which is why you hear of an aircraft overshooting the runway.
“Therefore, pilots need to be trained and retrained so that in cases of limited functionality of the ILS or when the runway is soaked or wet, the pilots will safely drop the planes without frightening their passengers.”
On the part of the government and its agencies, Tukur urged the regulator to take the monitoring of airlines seriously, even if it means observing pilots in the cockpits of their respective aircraft.
A former President of the Aviation Round Table, a body of industry experts, Capt. Dele Ore, also called for improved safety oversight of airlines and the industry by the government and its agencies.
“However, this should not put airlines under undue pressure and passengers should please not be scared of flying, because the industry is doing all it can to be safe,” he said.
A passenger, Adah, tweeted recently that he would reconsider flying some airlines in Nigeria, going by the incidents recorded in the sector in the past one month.
Another air traveller, Chibuike Daniel, told our correspondent at the Abuja airport that he was in the flight that overshot the runway in Port Harcourt.
“The good news is that we made it out alive, but the truth is that it was a horrible experience that evening in Port Harcourt. That incident and many others that we hear about in our airports and the sector in the past few days put fear in my mind whenever I think of flying,” he stated.
On what the Federal Government was doing to tackle the problem, the Deputy Director, Press and Public Affairs, Federal Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu reiterated the position of the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, that safety oversight had been heightened on airlines operating in Nigeria, with emphasis on Dana Air.
Also, FAAN, in one of its recent statements, stated that it would include the construction of perimeter fence in all airports across the country in its 2019 budget.
According to Yakubu, the spate of runway incursions and security breaches across the airports in the country remains a great concern to the agency.
She said the agency had stopped the renewal of On-Duty Cards for former workers of airlines and FAAN to ensure strict personnel monitoring.
Yakubu said the card renewal would be thoroughly monitored by the agency, adding that all security measures had been reviewed, while 10 vehicles had been added to the agency’s fleet to enhance runway patrol and minimise aircraft runway attacks.
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