Airlines must be closely regulated
It is almost five years since Dana Air Flight 992 crashed, less than five minutes before landing at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. It was one of the most tragic air mishaps in the country as 163 lives were lost, including 147 passengers, six crew and 10 people on the ground. With the release last week of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) report, the crash has been attributed to double engine failure, human error and laxity of the regulator, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). We hope the authorities will work to correct these lapses.
According to the AIB accident investigation report, the first engine of the aircraft failed 17 minutes into the flight and the second engine failed moments before it eventually crashed. The human error pointed out by the bureau was the failure of the pilot in command to return to the airport of departure when the first engine failed. He reportedly took a fatal risk in the bid to get to Lagos because he had a flight to make to the United States that night. Meanwhile, according to aviation experts, it would have taken the aircraft about 20 minutes to make a U-turn, fly back and land at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
The AIB report also indicted NCAA and accused it of laxity because there was indication that shortly before the accident, an official in the regulatory authority had grounded the Dana Air fleet for lack of airworthiness but that decision was upturned. Although some of the relatives of the deceased in the Dana Air Flight 992 crash took legal action over the compensation of the victims of the crash, the airline was able to compensate those who chose to abide by aviation regulation in such circumstances.
Perhaps the mitigating factor is that Dana Air remains perhaps the only airline involved in such accident that has so far substantially compensated the families of the victims. Such efforts in the past were mired in controversy because the aircraft involved in previous accidents were allegedly not fully insured. Nevertheless, many Nigerians are miffed that the accident investigation report was released almost five years after the crash, thus indicating a sluggish investigation. This much was confirmed by the AIB Commissioner, Akinola Olateru who said that he met 37 uncompleted reports when he took over at the bureau in January this year. Against the background that when the cause of an air accident is known, it helps to avert a similar one in future, we hope the authorities will move quickly on the outstanding reports.
After the Dana accident, some technical and safety issues were raised by industry stakeholders. One of such issues was having expatriates as both the pilot in command and the flight officer. It was for instance indicated that if the pilot, who was a US citizen, was familiar with Nigeria’s airspace, he would have chosen Runway 18R, known as the international runway instead of the Runway 18L, the domestic runway on which he demanded to land. This is because Runway 18R would have taken him a shorter time to navigate to and he might have been inside the airport by the time the aircraft crashed.
The lessons from the Dana Air Flight 992 may be many but to ensure the safety of Nigeria airspace, the NCAA must have close monitoring of the airlines and strictly regulate their activities. Airlines should also stop assigning flights to pilots who are due for vacation. Much more important, the NCAA must ensure that any expatriate pilot who is to fly in Nigeria must be familiar with all the airports, especially the alternative airports to the airport of departure and destination.