The story behind Nigeria’s improving air safety record

by | September 18, 2017 3:31 pm

Many adult Nigerians still fly with some fear in their hearts. This is because they have fresh memories when planes were falling from the Nigerian skies. But that has not been the case in the last three years as the country seem to have managed to attain accident free commercial aviation.  The last time a plane dropped from the sky with fatal consequences was in 2013.
Reports from the Nigerian Accident Investigation Bureau, (AIB), show that pilot error accounts for 80 percent of the over 31 fatal plane crashes that occurred from the year 1969 to 2013.
Gabriel Olowo, President – Sabre Network WA & Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative Nigeria also confirmed this development. Olowo noted that 1,312 lives were lost in 10 accidents over 48 years and pilot error accounted for 80 percent while maintenance and weather accounted for the remaining 20 percent.
For instance, AIB report revealed that the 2012 Dana crash that took the lives of 153 passengers was as a result of both engines of the plane failing mid-air before the it crashed on approach to Lagos airport, which could have been avoided if proper measures were taken by the pilots.
According to the report, “Engine number one lost power 17 minutes into the flight, and thereafter on final approach, engine number two lost power and failed to respond to throttle movement on demand for increased power to sustain the aircraft in its flight configuration.
“The inappropriate omission of the use of the checklist, the crew’s inability to appreciate the severity of the power-related problem and their subsequent failure to land at the nearest suitable airfield, contributed to the crash.
“Lack of situation awareness, inappropriate decision-making and poor airmanship was also to blame for the crash on June 3, 2012.”
AIB’s recommendations were that airlines intensify pilot trainings and create more educative programmes for crew members to keep them abreast with developments in the industry, to avoid a repeat of incidents that led to the past accidents.
However, things seem to have improved from year 2014 to 2017. During these periods, Nigeria has not recorded a major plane accident. In year 2016, Nigeria attained accident free commercial aviation because Nigeria did not have any major accident or incident.
It is therefore clear that either the domestic airlines are now more careful to repeat former mistakes and consequently have stepped up with regards to keeping to safety requirements and standards, while those that have not had such incidents may have sustained the safety records by implementing AIB and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) recommendations.
Experts in the aviation sector have disclosed that the reason why Nigeria had accident free commercial aviation in 2016 is basically because airlines were principally responsible for safety and intensified its human capital development.
Olowo hints that that in the past five years, the International Air Transport Association, (IATA) through IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) have made its members to be principally responsible for safety and not necessarily the regulator.
 “Airline members in the strive for Safety also do go extra mile to subject itself to audit by other jurisdiction outside its own registration, for example, The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification in addition to that of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA),” Olowo added.
He explained that airlines have also intensified human capital development through routine and schedule training for all pilots in particular since pilot error account for about 80 percent of all aviation accidents.
He revealed that there has also been implementation of safety management system (SMS) and more budgets have been set aside for maintenance and dedicated account for maintenance reserve as accident is planned through neglect and poor maintenance.
Speaking further on reasons behind Nigeria’s accident free year, Olowo also observed that operators are successfully moving to newer and younger fleets with lower operational and maintenance cost and making available funds at low costs through financial institutions.
He said there have been more economic lease and lesser purchase considerations from aircraft suppliers, as well as continuous advocacy for improved Aviation infrastructure, acceleration of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety related standard and recommended practices.
Tunji Oketunbi, Head, Public Relations, AIB said that NCAA drives the industry and if NCAA is not effective, it will affect the industry.
“Airlines have a tendency to cut corners but it is the responsibility of NCAA to ensure proper checks are carried out on the airline, especially on the aircraft maintenance and pilot certifications. During accident investigations, AIB is able to reveal a lot of things either on the side of the regulators, the airlines or the service providers.”
“Reports from accident investigations in Nigeria have also reduced accidents occurrence in Nigeria and influenced safety decision implementation on the part of airlines, regulators and other service providers,” Oketunbi said.
He noted that ICAO has worked very hard to ensure no country is left behind on the implementation of international safety standards.
BusinessDay’s checks show that Over 2,000 lives have been lost in air crashes in 40 years. These events occurred from year 1969 to 2013 involving 31 fatal plane crashes.  The first plane crash in the country occurred on November 20, 1969 in which a total of 87 passengers on board Nigeria Airways BAC VC10 perished.
In January 22, 1973: Royal Jordanian Airlines flight 707 carrying 171 Nigerian Muslims returning from Mecca and five crewmen crashed in Kano, killing all passengers. Five years later, precisely on March 1, 1978, Nigerian Airways F28-1000 crashed in Kano killing 16 passengers on board followed by another Nigeria Airways F28-1000 which crashed on November 28, 1983, in Enugu killing 53 on board.
February 24, 1991: British Helicopter crashed in Eket, Akwa Ibom State, killing all nine people on board. In June 26,1991: An Okada Air Bac-11 crashed in Sokoto, three people died. July 11, 1991: Nigeria Airways DC-8-61 crashes in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from system failure killing 261 on board. On 26 June 1991; Okada Air BAC-111 crashed in Sokoto, Nigeria due to fuel starvation during holding pattern over Sokoto during heavy rain.
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