Me and my team are still in shock – DANA GMD

In an exclusive interview with reporters, the first to any Nigerian Newspaper after last Sunday’s crash, the Managing Director, Dana Group, Mr. Jacky Hathiramani spoke on the cause of the crash, the age of Dana aircraft, their maintenance record and compensation for the bereaved families.

He said that the airline would do whatever it would take to determine what led to the crash, describing as mere speculations all the allegations on the cause of the mishap. Dana Air, the Group Managing Director explained, has strict policy on the maintenance of the five 22-year-old Boeing MD83 aircraft, which have been in use since it commenced operations in Nigeria, on November 10, 2008. Excerpts:
How did the news of the crash get to you? It was Sunday afternoon. I had several phone calls that were made to my phone from our Director, Flight Operations, from our maintenance people and other commercial members of the team. They all put phone calls to me on that day.

What was Dana management’s immediate response to the news of the crash in terms of mobilizing rescue/recovery operations?  The first body to learn about accidents of this nature is the Air Traffic Control which then informs the relevant agencies including NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency), Fire Service, The Police, NCAA (Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority), FAAN (Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria) and AIB (Accident Investigation Bureau).

We also have an Emergency Response System in place and, on getting the report of the disappearance of the aircraft from the radar of the ATC, we also alerted these agencies on our own, and we mobilized a team to the site to assist in any way possible. While the results of investigations and analysis of the black box are awaited, what went wrong?
From your interaction with your people and information from the Air Traffic Control, what happened? Let me say that there are no words to describe what had happened. We are still all in shock. It was a major tragedy for all of us. Families lost their loved ones, we lost our colleagues, and friends, and since the beginning and up till now, our hearts are still out to the families of these loved ones.

This past week had been for us a very, very difficult time. You should know that there are investigations underway by the AIB (Accident Investigation Bureau) as well as the NSTB (a US agency). They are the ones to tell us what had happened. Anything else is speculation and we cannot say anything now. We have to wait for the outcome of the investigation.

But, did you get any briefing from your own workers and the people at the Air Traffic Control tower? Again, this is all under AIB. They are interacting with our relevant department, the maintenance and quality department. They have not revealed anything yet, and I don’t think they will reveal anything till the investigation is completed. All I can tell you is that the black boxes were recovered and are being analyzed in America as we speak.

So, one can simply describe as mere speculations all the talk about the pilot reporting the loss of two engines as the plane approached Lagos and even the other issue about hydraulic problem? What is true is that there seemed to have been an engine failure, the sequence of which is not known, but I am sure, will be known very soon. The engine failure had nothing to do with hydraulic issues. So, I think what we are looking at are basically engine issues.

The public is mindful of the fact that the reports of investigations of previous crashes like the ones involving Bellview and Sosoliso, were never made public.
This time, will you urge the government or the NCAA to make the report public? I cannot comment on investigations of past accidents and what information was revealed, but what I do know is that I am sure many people will like to know what happened, and we, on our part, definitely want to get down to the bottom of the crash.

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And we know that the families will be very interested to know, and definitely, we will be co-operating with the authorities fully in the investigations that we can find out what really was the cause of the crash. So, we will definitely wish to ensure that the outcome of the investigations are made public. We, ourselves, will like to make the reports of the investigations known to the bereaved families.

The past eight days must have been traumatic for you and everybody around you. How have you been coping with attending to so many issues, like dealing with the bereaved, listening to inquiries, and so on?

No one ever expected to face something like this. However, one tries to prepare for this kind of thing, what we all went through last week… of course, it was a tragedy, and the number of lives lost has made it even more difficult for everyone. Since last week Sunday, we have been here prioritizing on the families. Initially, we were pursuing the recovery of the bodies from the site, and a few days later we were pursuing the identification of the bodies.

Currently, we are pursuing the DNA profiling, and we focused on this throughout last week. I think there must have been very few hours of last week that there was no one in these offices. So, we have been working throughout and we are determined to ensure that the families do not suffer any prolonged delays. And we have been busy with investigations, trying to respond to the media and ensuring that relevant teams have come on ground to begin their work.

Talking about DNA profiling, one of the most sensitive issues had been the release of bodies to families for burial. Why can’t the remains of victims clearly identified so far be released to the families while the profiling of the rest continues? And, how long more will the families wait?  As per the laws governing the state, accidents like this are treated as a coroner issue, and an autopsy has to be carried out on each of the bodies.

DNA tests also have to be done to ensure that the right body is given to the families of the deceased. As at last update, seven of the identifiable bodies were released on June 10 after all tests and documentation were completed. The Lagos State Government and the management of LASUTH (Lagos State University Teaching Hospital) are doing all they could, to expedite the process, and we are working closely with them to ensure that the families can lay their loved ones to rest.

Another subject of speculations is the age of the aircraft. It had been reported that Dana Air acquired its Boeing MD83 aircraft at the time the former user in the US was phasing them out. Secondly, are you aware of the age limit for planes operating in Nigerian? The one that crashed was 22 years.

Let me start with the second point. There is age limit of 22 years for the registration of aircraft in Nigeria. That means you can still operate them even up to 30 or 35 years. Other airlines in the country also operate aircraft that are even above 30 years. Age has nothing to do with this kind of incident (crash). If you look at America, there is no age limit at all.

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To answer your first question, there are over 800 MD 80s in the world, of which maybe half are in America. You will also note that American Airlines predominantly and exclusively use the MD 80 in its fleet for their domestic sector, and it is also proven. If you even check on the net, you will confirm this; that in terms of number of incidents, MD 80s are probably some of the safest aircraft in the world.

What is the maintenance policy at Dana Air? And specifically, were your aircraft, including the one that crashed, regularly maintained? First of all, the aviation industry is highly regulated anywhere in the world, and in Nigeria, the NCAA is very particular about, maintenance of aircraft, especially because of previous incidents.

All maintenance that we do is prescribed and approved and as per the policy of the NCAA. We even go to the extent of doing our A-checks (done after every 450 hours) before they are due. Specifically, the aircraft involved in the accident had its A-check done at 400 hours. The A-check was in fact, done a few days before the accident, on May 30, 2012. The C-check is supposed to be done every 15 months or 3,600 hours.

And in fact, NCAA is very particular about this also, because not many authorities have a calendar restriction. Over here, we either do the C-check at 3,600 hours or 15 months, whichever comes first. So, the maintenance standards are very high over here. Maintenance standards for our airline in particular are extremely high, because safety is of paramount concern. All our line maintenance is done at regulation.

We even have agreement with MyTechnic, which is our maintenance partner abroad in Turkey, who has oversight over our maintenance activity. They in fact conduct on C-checks. Safety is paramount always at Dana Air.

A Lagos TV station interviewed a female Dana Air staff (on phone) and she claimed that the crashed plane was not air-worthy.
What is your reaction to the allegation?  The allegations are totally false and baseless. At Dana Air, the safety of our passengers and crew is of paramount importance and we adhere strictly to the maintenance schedule of all our aircraft as prescribed by the manufacturers, and the NCAA.

How true is it that the crashed aircraft had many air returns before the incident? It is not true that the aircraft had any such air returns. It is possible, and quite normal for aircraft to have air returns. It could be for various reasons, maybe the runway had any issue or there is no light on the runway, which even happened the other day I think in Abuja. So, there could be a lot of reasons for air returns. But, this particular aircraft did not have air returns.

What actually did the NCAA do regarding the stoppage of your operations: Did they withdraw your licence or did they just suspend your operations for now? The NCAA has suspended our operations. That is correct.
Not that your licence had been withdrawn. Our licence has not been withdrawn. So, it is very likely that at the end of the day, you could continue with your operations? Yes, it is.
I saw a front-page story in a newspaper last week Friday which alleged that Dana Air was planning to doctor the manifest in order to pay less compensation.
Did you see the report and how true was the story? I have not seen that paper and there is no truth in the matter. Our manifest is 146 plus seven crew. The allegation is totally false and frivolous.

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But, what kind of compensation are the bereaved families of the plane crash entitled to?

First of all, there is no amount one can put on the loss of lives. Secondly, we have been trying to… one question you have not asked is what happens to the residents that were displaced at the scene of the crash. We have been trying to reach out to them. About 41 residents were displaced. Three children were taken in by the Lagos State Government. We have been reaching out to them and providing materials to assist them. We have even tried to find some temporary accommodation for them.

We have been visiting them daily. There are even some that were hospitalized. We have been paying visits to them also to check on their status, and hoping for their quick recovery. Although they were not seriously injured, there were nevertheless some of them in the hospital, and we have been visiting them.

We have been visiting the community leaders to offer our condolences to sympathize with them and offer our condolences.We have been visiting the hospitals where the families have been waiting to take the delivery of the bodies of their loved ones. We have been condoling with them as well. In terms of legal obligation, our insurance team was here last week and they have already started the procedure for insurance (payment).

We hear that each victim is entitled to about $100,000 dollars.
How did they arrive at that? The amount is stipulated by the NCAA, and whatever is our obligation is what exactly what we are going to do.

The Dana Group is a huge family of companies with investments in many areas. Aviation is an area you ventured into recently.
What did you envision when you established Dana Air and in view of what has happened, do you have regrets going into the area? We got interested in the sector, after witnessing incidents that had taken place in the past, and we wanted to make a difference. In fact, that was the main reason. We care very much about protecting lives because as you mentioned, we also have other businesses. For example, we have a pharmaceutical company that makes intravenous infusion to give life to people. Truly, that is what we are all about – protecting lives. So, something as tragic as this, is so unfortunate. This is a very trying time.

We offer our deepest commiserations and we are also mourning with these families that lost their loved ones. And please, let us focus on that while in due course, the outcome of the investigations will be known, and as I mentioned earlier, we will make them known also.

We are equally determined to get to the bottom of it. I would also like to thank President Goodluck Jonathan; Gov Fashola of Lagos State; and  the Aviation Minister, Mrs Stella Oduah; for their exemplary leadership in the handling of the situation. It wouldn’t have been possible to organize the recovery and delivery and all the hospitalization that took place without them.

And we also thank all the media for understanding our situation and the sensitivity of those involved.

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