By Chinelo Obogo
The face off between the Federal Government and Azman Air over the suspension of the airline’s operations has worsened following the insistence of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) that it won’t bow to blackmail from any domestic operator.
Earlier in the week, the regulatory agency suspended Azman Air’s operations citing safety issues. But the airline protested the suspension, saying the NCAA’s decision was unwarranted.
Responding to the protest letter written by the airline during the week accusing the regulatory agency of being too hasty in suspending its operations, the NCAA said in a statement on Friday, March 19, that the airline has had three serious incidents in six weeks, hence the need for the agency to take urgent action.
The agency’s spokesman,Sam Adurogboye, said that during a routine ramp inspection on February 10, 2021, at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, NCAA inspectors found an Azman Air maintenance engineer carrying out replacement of the right-hand main landing gear wheel assembly of their Boeing 737-500 aircraft with registration 5N-SYS, without referring to the manufacturer’s maintenance manual in violation of the Civil Aviation Regulations, for which both Azman Air and the engineer have been sanctioned but are yet to pay the fine.
Cataloguing the offences of the carrier as it affects safety, Adurogboye further stated that on February 11, 2021, Azman Air flight AZM 2318 operated with the same Boeing 737-500 aircraft with registration 5N-SYS, departed Kaduna for Lagos.
He further stated that on March 15, 2021, Azman Air flight AZM 2318, operated with a Boeing 737-500 aircraft with registration 5N-YMS, departed Kaduna for Lagos.
The Captain, he said, reported a loud bang after retracting the landing gear during take-off but decided to proceed to Lagos as all parameters were normal.
The aviation regulatory body disclosed that the alarming trend of tyre failures, in combination with improper tyre maintenance procedures, were a clear and strong indication of an accident chain formation in its final stages.
It noted that that there was an urgent need to break the accident chain before a completely avoidable national tragedy occurs, stressing that no responsible Civil Aviation Authority will fold its arms and wait for the next incident to occur, perhaps a fatal accident, before taking action.
Worried by the situation, Adurogboye said the Director General called for an emergency meeting of the Flight Standards Group of the NCAA, to discuss and decide on the next line of action on the worrisome developments at Azman Air.
After deliberations, which lasted for several hours, and comprehensive evaluations of these incidents, he said the Director General decided to suspend Parts A3 (Aircraft Authorization) and D43 (Aircraft Listing) of the Operations Specifications (OPS SPECS) issued to Azman Air, thus suspending the operation of the entire Boeing 737 aircraft on its fleet.
“ A comprehensive audit of Azman Air will be conducted in the areas of operations, airworthiness, training, licensing, financial health and any other area determined to be necessary during the exercise. An Audit Team of inspectors has been constituted to determine the root causes of these incidents, and recommend action plans to forestall re-occurrence,”Adurogboye said.
Also debunking allegations made against the Director General by Azman, claiming that he demanded the sum of N15 million for a publication which carried an Azman advert, he explained that between November 20-22, 2017, Nigeria hosted the ICAO World Aviation Forum (IWAF/3)in Abuja.
The sponsorship of this event, he said, was sought from aviation organizations, including Azman Air, through a letter from the then Federal Ministry of Transportation (Aviation).
“The Director General, who at that time was the Representative of Nigeria on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and a key member of the organizing committee of IWAF/3, delivered the letter of sponsorship to the management of Azman Air while he was on a family visit to Kano. The Chairman and the CEO of Azman Air both promised to revert but never did. The request for sponsorship of IWAF/3 can be independently verified with other Nigerian airlines.
“In addition, a publication, ICAO STATES TODAY, carried an Azman Air advert. The Airline subscribed to the advert in 2016, in preparation for the 39th General Assembly of ICAO but till date, Azman Air has refused to pay the advert cost of US$3,701, despite several reminders. The invoice from the publisher of the magazine, FCM Communications based in Montreal, Canada, can be independently confirmed with the publisher,” Adurogboye said.
He said that the official request for sponsorship of IWAF/3 and reminder of payment for the long overdue invoice of $3,701 to FCM Communications, are the basis for the false claims against the Director General of allegedly demanding the sum of 15 million naira.
He described the allegation of “sitting” on the request of Azman Air to hire expatriate pilots as outright falsehood.
“The Director General assumed office on 24th February 2020 and shortly afterwards, in late March 2020, the Nigerian airspace was closed to all flights. Azman Air applied for expatriate quota by a letter signed by the Managing Director on 8th December 2020. That is just over five months ago, and it was promptly turned down,” the agency’s spokesman said.