The recurring aircraft incidents is beginning to erode confidence in air travel, signalling a red flag about the nation’s air safety, writes WOLE SHADARE.
These days, passengers call, send emails to know what airline tickets they should buy for their trips within the country.
Assurances that Nigerian airlines are very safe despite the many incidents/accidents recorded in recent times did not assuage their fears.
But nothing has so unsettled the traveling public recently as the string of incidents involving Nigerian airlines.
The assurances stem from statistics from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the clearing house for over 290 global airlines.
Last year was the safest year ever for air travel, with zero passenger airline fatal accidents on jets world-wide. Nigeria has equally enjoyed a long run of aviation safety. There hasn’t been a major accident since Dana crash of June 3, 2012.
Some people said they would rather take to road transportation than embark on what they termed, “risky air transport” venture.
They failed to realise that road transportation is not as safe as it used to be because of unpleasant stories of high level banditry.
A growing number of experts have been warning of an “erosion” of safety in air travel. Although the low number of accidents/incidents that have occurred during the last few months would normally be reassuring, critics see several disturbing trends.
The number of crash landing, depressurisation and many disturbing trend have sharply risen, while stiff airline competition has resulted in alleged cutbacks in safety and engineering staffs and the hiring of less-experienced or inadequate pilots.
An anonymous respondent to an inquiry on safety said: “I don’t even know which one is the safest anymore, whether air, land or sea; they are all dangerous in Nigeria.”
His fear could be as a result of his phobia for heights (Acrophobia) just as some people have phobia for water.
While some people believe that air is the safest is due to the fact that fewer accidents and fewer dangers in the air have been recorded than on land.
Besides road accidents that are caused by bad roads, the menace of Boko Haram, armed robbers, kidnappers stopping vehicles on the roads, robbing, kidnapping or killing them are also rampart.
He, however, agreed with the pain to convince him that air crashes rarely happens.
He said: “Yes, but air accident when it occurs, is always fatal … almost always, there are no survivors unlike road accidents. If a driver is over-speeding, you can tell him to stop and you get down but can you try that in the air?” he stated with an air of triumph.”
Never has there been a situation where intending travellers call to ask which airlines are safe for them to travel with than this period when four serious incidents occurred in a space of six month; three of which involved Nigeria’s biggest airline by fleet size, Air Peace and one involving Medview Airlines.
Last week Tuesday, some of the 133 passengers and six crew members were left injured when Air Peace’s B737-500 aircraft with registration number 5N-BQO crash landed on the runway of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.
Tuesday’s incident was one out of the many incidents involving the airline in the last six months raising concern about air safety in the country’s aviation industry.
The aircraft on landing on 18R veered off the runway and lost its nose wheel.
The following Medview Airline’s B737-500 aircraft with registration 5N-BQM was involved in a serious incident en-route Lagos from Abuja leading to depressurisation while descending from 32000ft altitude.
Medview Airlines Chief Operating Officer (COO), Michael Ajigbotosho said the aircraft Flight VL2105 was on its way to Lagos about 15.10 pm on Wednesday when the captain noticed a warning sign of cabin depressurisation while descending from 32, 000 feet altitude.
He explained that the captain called for priority landing because he had been on number seven on queue for landing in sequence.
AIB, Air Peace spat
Just recently, the Air Peace was embroiled in a spat with AIB over allegations that the carrier refused to notify the accident investigative body of the previous incidents.
Olateru explained that on June 5, 2019, the Bureau received notification about a serious incident involving a Boeing 737-300 aircraft with Registration Marks 5N-BUK, belonging to Air Peace Limited from a passenger-on-board.
He stated that the said incident occurred on May 15, 2019, while the aircraft was on approach to Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos from Port Harcourt. The aircraft was said to have experienced a hard landing as it touched down on the runway (18R).
Upon receipt of the notification, he noted that the Bureau visited Air Peace Limited office and confirmed the said occurrence, adding that the agency further conducted a damage assessment on the aircraft, which revealed that the air-craft made contact on the runway with the starboard engine cowling as obvious from various scrapes, scratches and dents, an evidence of tyre scouring on the sidewalls of the No. 4 tyre.
There was also visible damage to the right-hand engine compressor blades. The aircraft had since been on ground, awaiting implementation of the hard landing inspections recommended by the aircraft manufacturer, the Boeing company.
This, according to him, includes an inspection of the right-hand engine pylons and the wing root, due to the heavy impact concerns.
Aviation safety consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (Rtd), was worried that within a week, three unrelated incidents from three different airlines occurred; an act of unlawful interference on Azman Airline, a ‘crash landing’ by Air Peace aircraft and the latest emergency deployment of oxygen masks for passengers on a flight on Medview’s aircraft.
“In other climes, with over a hundred airlines flights per day, these are nothing. But in our environment where we are not only suspicious of our neighbours, but ourselves too, anything and everything are real not perception.”
Ojikutu stated that the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) reports on them would be sufficient to point fingers in the direction we should be looking at.
He said: “Meanwhile, on the particular recurring incidents of bad landings, I have my reservations. Three bad landings by the crew of an airline within a month needs some form of auditing of the crew management or operational programmes.”
But Air Peace has stoutly defended its operations and assured of their commitment to the safety of their passengers at all time.
According to the airline, “we will continue to operate in line with international practices and in accordance with regulatory guidelines.
“We are being assisted by the various authorities to determine to cause of the incident”.
The development has called to question the quality of civil aviation regulations in the country as experts believe some operators may not be doing enough to make the airspace free for air travelers