Past air crashes’ reports raise fresh dust

Accident team begins probe

NCAA grounds Air Nigeria

AGAINST the backdrop of the recent crash of DANA AIR aircraft in Iju-Ishaga, Lagos, the issue of non-release of past air crashes’ reports by the Federal Government may have raised fresh concern.

Meanwhile, a team of Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) investigators and their American counterparts are now studying the flight log of the crashed DANA AIR aircraft. Apparently, the investigators will beam their searchlight on the engineering capability of the airline.

And less than one week after DANA airline was suspended over the June 3, 2012 crash, Air Nigeria yesterday got the same bitter pill as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has suspended its operations pending the conclusion of checks on its fleet.

The AIB is an arm of the Ministry of Aviation, which takes directives from the minister, a situation that had eroded its autonomy.

An AIB top official told The Guardian under anonymity that the agency had long submitted the reports of previous crashes to the Ministry of Aviation.

The source said the job of the AIB was to write reports after investigations and submit same to government.

On why the AIB does not release its reports to the public, the source said that was the practice when the agency had not got its autonomy, but added that with AIB’s recent independence, the DANA AIR crash report may be made public.

The source listed the EAS, ADC, Bellview and Sosoliso air crashes as part of the reports it had concluded work on and submitted to the Ministry of Aviation.

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While none of the airlines involved in the previous crashes still flies, the safety concerns came after the country gained a coveted United States (U.S.) safety status last year that allows its domestic carriers to fly directly to America.

The Associated Press (AP) had requested accident report documents about the crashes through a Freedom of Information (FOI) law.

It was gathered that the U.S. became involved in those inquiries because the planes were manufactured by U.S. companies and because Nigeria requested the assistance of American investigators.

According to AP, though officials now say air travel is much safer, the documents add to worries about flights in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people where graft and incompetence often dominate government and where the demand for air travel has spiked over the last five years.

It added that a report on the October 22, 2005 crash of a Bellview Airlines aircraft that killed 177 people, including a U.S. citizen, showed that the plane nose-dived into the ground at high speed. Investigators reportedly found only human remains that were “nothing bigger than toes and fingers”.

The report added that Nigerian officials have offered conflicting reasons for the three major crashes in 2005-2006, never releasing full reports on what happened.

The United States (U.S.) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Boeing Company, manufacturers of the aircraft, Pratt and Whitney, accompanied by the AIB, yesterday inspected the engines of the aircraft, which are stored in a room in the flight calibration unit of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).

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The inspection of the engines, a source in AIB said, was occasioned by disclosure that the aircraft lost two engines, which might have led to the accident.

The source said that if need be, some of the parts might be taken to the U.S. for forensic analysis.

The loss of two engines by the Captain explains why the aircraft was said to have descended very fast shortly after the pilot declared emergency, saying, “May Day, May Day”

The source added that the investigators would be interested in knowing if there were persistent loggings relating to the functionality of the engines.

For instance, faults like incessant fuel cut off or engine seizure could be responsible for the failure of aircraft engines at the same time.

He said: “If there is fuel seizure, it could arise as a result of fuel contamination or failure of the avionics.

“Whatever they get from the log book, it will help to complement the result from decoding of the black boxes that had been taken to the U.S. last week and expected to detail the technical performance of the aircraft before the crash.”

Spokesman for NCAA, Sam Adurogboye, said there was nothing unusual about the suspension of Air Nigeria, adding that it was a routine action to enable “us look at them before allowing them to go back to operation. Again, having been on strike for more than four days, it was mandatory they are certified before allowing them to come back to operation. This is normal”.

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The airlines has been out of operation for more than a week after labour-related issues prevented it from doing so.

The union of aircraft engineers held down the carrier for huge debts owed the workers and for alleged lack of welfare programmes.

However, the airline’s management reiterated that its daily scheduled flight operations to London still remains as it was not affected by the strike.

In the same vein, the immediate past Rector of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Captain Adebayo Araba, has said that the age of an aircraft goes a long way in determining its safety level, especially in the country where operators toy with regular maintenance of their aircraft.

Speaking in Lagos yesterday, Araba noted that an operator who could not afford to buy a brand new aircraft would not be able to maintain a used aircraft, saying that it is more expensive to maintain an old aircraft than new ones.

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