Who is watching the aviation storefront?
Much as Nigeria has passed the ICAO audit and attained FAA category-one status, the recent developments in the aviation sector have been quite alarming.
A Boeing 747 aircraft belonging to MAX Air on September 15th, 2015 developed technical problems after three aborted takeoff attempts. It was conveying 545 Kebbi State pilgrims from the Sir. Ahmadu Bello Sardauna International Airport in Birni Kebbi to Jedda, Saudi Arabia. An eyewitness said that the pilot informed them that one of the engines developed a mechanical problem.
This is coming on the heels of the Nigerian Air Force aircraft crash, which occurred shortly after takeoff en route to Abuja from the Air Force Base in Kaduna killing all the passengers, including the flight crew.
Recently, four passengers died when a Bristow Helicopter chopper crashed into the Lagos lagoon, several others received varying degrees of injury. Reports say the chopper was returning from a routine flight from an oilrig.
Tragedy was averted in a ground collision of two aircraft at the Murtala Mohammed Airport (MMA 2) in Lagos. The aircraft belong to First Nation Airlines. This had been preceded by a similar incident at the same airport with the collision of an Emirates aircraft and a HAK airplane conveying no fewer than 250 passengers on board.
The two airplanes had their bodies partially damaged from the collision. The suspicion was that one of the pilots might have been misdirected by the air marshals to a wrong section of the apron.
There have been reports for a while of adulteration or substitution of aviation fuel with kerosene. Although both fuels are closely related, Aviation experts have cautioned against the adverse effect of kerosene on aircraft engines. They contend that it causes the engines to malfunction, and in consequence endangering the lives of passengers.
The regulatory bodies in the aviation sector, especially the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) whose primary role is to ensure continuous improvement and regulation of the country’s aviation sector needs to be alive to its responsibilities. It is not enough to be issuing official statements to allay the fears of passengers and the public in general.
The Accident Investigation Bureau should not only investigate these air crashes, but also open up its processes to public scrutiny. This will ensure that all interested parties are availed of the opportunity to express their viewpoints. This will make for immediate rectification in order of safety deficiencies that may have been identified.
There is a need for the AIB to make annual presentation of its activities to the National Assembly, so that adequate enabling laws can be put in place to strengthen its regulatory functions.
There is also a need for the government to provide adequate funding for the AIB for capacity development and training for skilled manpower, technological enhancement, and provision of all required infrastructure, for it to ensure safety recommendations are implemented after its investigations.
At the end of its investigations, the AIB should present its findings and safety recommendations to the appropriate regulatory bodies for implementation.
Another area of concern is the operation of ageing aircraft in the Nigerian airspace and their safety. The often-repeated opinion that the life span of an aircraft is not too important as long as it is properly maintained is not convincing, especially in the light of experiences in our land and when the proverbial “Nigerian Factor” in regards to our maintenance culture and absence of facilities is put into account. Around the world, there have been a number of aircraft accidents blamed on the age of the aircraft and associated fatigue and failing parts.
In 2014, the Central Bank disbursed N233.1bn out of the N300bn power and aviation intervention fund to 34 power and airline companies. According to a report by its Development Finance Department, a total of N177.4 bn has been released to 15 airline projects. The impact of this intervention by the government is yet to produce appreciable results in the sector.
The country is littered with uncompleted and in some cases abandoned airport remodeling projects, which were originally designed to upgrade and reconfigure the airport facilities. There is need for the present government to re-engage the contractors to quickly remobilise to sites and deliver the projects in record time.
At Port Harcourt International Airport passengers have to go through the harrowing process of arrivals in temporary canopies, several years after the remodeling of the airport commenced. This is quite tragic and unacceptable.
As the call for diversification of the economy rings through the country and agriculture is been touted as the next big thing, there is a need to provide state of the art storage facilities at designated airports for perishable agricultural products intended for export.
Air travel cannot remain out of the reach of the working class. Dubai in 2001, ranked 99th in international air travel; today it ranks as the first hub.
There is a pressing need for the government to convene a round table of all aviation stakeholders to fashion out policies and modalities to fast-track the sector to first world status.
Furthermore, it should also appoint a thoroughbred professional, either locally or from the Diaspora, with the requisite technical competence to steer the aviation sector.
My Emirates experience
I travelled aboard an Emirates flight to Dubai late last year for an official function. My experience with the ground staff at the Dubai Airport manning the customer service desk was not a very pleasant one. Emirates Airline prides itself on commitment to the highest standards of quality in every aspect of its business. From my experience, however, not all its staff have imbibed its message.
I finished my business earlier than scheduled which naturally necessitated a change in my departure date. I called the airline to effect the change, but was told I had to go to the airport to do so.
I got to the airport and made my way to the customer help desk. There, I picked the tag number and sat down, waiting for my turn. When my number flashed on the LED display screen. I approached the man and told him I needed to change my date of travel. He asked for my ticket and my passport, which I handed over to him.
After carrying out his checks on his system, he informed me that I had to pay some dhs for the rescheduling of my flight. I informed him that I had spoken to the travel agent who booked my ticket and I wasn’t expected to make any extra payments.
He insisted that I had to make the payment, if I wanted to travel the next day. He placed my documents on the counter and proceeded to chat with his colleague, ignoring me.
His attitude was utterly condescending and inappropriate. I asked to speak to his supervisor who walked up to me and after explaining my problem, proceeded to attend to me but still insisted I had to make the payments. I complained about the poor customer service skills of the man and he asked another official to assist me.
I watched this same guy treat the next customer who also wanted to reschedule her flight to the USA, in the same shabby manner.
After I had made the payment, I went back to him and asked for his details as I intended to make a complaint. He proceeded to write down for me what was purported to be his name adding to it firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharing my experience with some of my other colleagues on our flight back to Abuja, I heard similar stories of shabby treatment by a number of Emirates staff.
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