Frightened by the a spate of safety and security breaches in Nigeria’s aviation industry, some air passengers are now considering travelling by road forcing concerned stakeholders to conclude the development could have dire consequences for the airline industry.
Stakeholders who spoke to Daily Sun in the wake of recent new crash of Dana Airline at the Port Harcourt Airport, expressed fears over the near-air crash incidences recorded between December 2017 and February 2018, blaming it all on the poor regulations by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for the lapses.
They noted that an imminent air crash looms in the country if urgent steps are not taken to improve safety regulations in the industry.
Too many safety breaches
The safety breaches in Nigerian airports started in December 2017 when a specialised set of burglars who successfully broke into the baggage compartment of a moving aircraft from outside undetected by the various security establishments at the MMIA fueled fears of a possible terrorist attack or hijack of aircraft in the country.
The burglars had attacked two chartered aircraft (a Visat Jet 584 arriving from Turkey and a Bombardier Challenger 605 Jet from Uyo) at MMIA while they were slowly taxiing to their arrival hangar with valuable items belonging to passengers stolen. They could have been terrorists, some observes have said.
Another security scare was to occur at the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA) in Lagos when burglars attacked an Air Peace Boeing 737 aircraft at the airport while it was taxiing to take off to Abuja. The cargo compartment of the aircraft was successfully opened by the burglars. The burglars could also have been terrorists.
This was followed by the yet-to-be explained falling off of the door of a Dana Air flight at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja. And thereafter it was the story of straying cattle preventing Air Peace flight 5NBQQ, which left Lagos from landing on the runway of Akure Airport in Ondo State minutes after the pilot of the aircraft had initiated landing procedures. It took the combined efforts of various security establishments attached to the airport to clear the animals off the runway for the plane to land having hovered for more than 20 minutes in the air. Again, what if the herders accompanying the cows were the heavily armed Fulani’s responsible for the spate of murders in some states of the country. Having gained access into the airport, nothing could have stopped the armed herders from shooting down the aircraft.
And last week, Tuesday, tragedy was averted when a Dana aircraft numbered 9J0363, flying from Abuja to Port Harcourt crash-landed at the Port Harcourt International Airport. Experts believe the water logged runway had created a slippery surface that led to the aircraft skidding off of the plane once the tyres had touched down. The aircraft had 44 passengers and all of them were evacuated safely.
In a chat with Daily Sun at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Casmir Ikem, Itoro Gabriel and George Eto, three Nigerians who arrived the country from Europe said the fear of being victims of an air crash had informed their decision to head to their country home in the Eastern part of the country by road.
“I came from Spain and ordinarily I should be flying to Uyo, but I am a bit scared with the stories that I am hearing about how unsafe Nigerian airlines are and I don’t want to take any risk with my life,” said George. “I am going by road. It is a long journey, but I feel safer,” he added.
Eto, in his response depicted the bad perception which the incidences have created in the minds of the travelling public about the safety of the airline industry.
“Even if I were to fly to Uyo, I won’t take Dana Air because of what happened in Port Harcourt and I won’t take Air Peace because I learnt thieves now break into their aircraft to steal peoples luggage,” said Eto. Those who spoke to Daily Sun represent a number of frequent flyers who are developing apathy due to the uncertainties bothering on aircraft safety.
Aviation analyst and top executive of the Aviation Round Table (ART), Mr. John Ojikutu, said the rise in incidences of burglary in Nigeria “was a rehearsal for copycat-terrorists.” Nigeria could simply be days away from recording a case of an aircraft hijack or blow up by terrorists.
“The airport operator, which is FAAN, and the aircraft owners are not ready to expose their security lapses and negligence and are rather living in denials,” said Ojikutu.,
Apart from this, experts have also expressed fears that the security lapses could mar efforts to attract investments into the aviation sector. It could also stall ongoing efforts to de-list Nigeria from a high risk aviation country which will reduce the cost of insurance premium paid by airlines. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) regulates the industry and analysts are of the view that the security and safety lapses could only occur due to the inefficiency of the agency to carry out its statutory function properly.
“f the NCAA is doing its job as it should do, there is no way an airport company like FAAN would not have perimeter fences and CCTV cameras all over to improve on its security. It is also the job of the NCAA to licence airport runways for FAAN as such, if the Port Harcourt airport faciltii4es like the runway is not up to international standard as has been alleged to permit a flight landing under the rain, it is the duty of the NCAA to have shut down the airport.
Poorly motivates workers
Indeed, analysts have pointed it out that at the root of all the safety and security lapses in the country aviation industry is the failure to have the requisite and well remunerated manpower as obtainable in other climes.
It is not really about the presence or absence of the machines, but the men and women to man the machines.
In this regard, Managing Director/CEO of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema last year had specifically cautioned airline operators against owing working noting that any airline worker who is owed by his employer is most vulnerable to making compromises. A poorly paid or not paid worker can take a peanut from just anybody to smuggle anything that can be of harm into the aircraft, Onyema said.
“The safety of any aircraft starts with the workers,” he said. “And it is very important that they are always better motivated at all times,” he added. Most airlines and aviation sector parastatals in Nigeria are indebted in one way or the other to staff. And that in fact, appears to explain the several breaches of safety at the airports.