Allegation making the round is that there was an argument between a station manager of Dana Air and the Indian owners of the airline over the airworthiness of the Boeing McDonnell Douglas MD-83 with registration number 5N-RAM on the day of the fatal flight from Abuja to Lagos.
The Indians allegedly overruled the station manager. The defective aircraft lumbered into the air. The Indians have vehemently denied the allegation. However, few Nigerians believe them given their penchant for fraud and circumvention of due process.
Indians are one of the high risks any insurer could underwrite. Late Peter O’Rourke, a former managing director of AIICO Insurance, once told me so in an interview.
The National Association of Airlines Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) lent credence to the raging controversy over Flight 0922 when it argued that DANA pilots and engineers couldn’t report their management to NCAA when they were compelled to fly a defective aircraft, because the airline did not allow membership of trade unions.
In an industry where just about everyone cuts corners to make ends meet, flying of defective aircraft are recurring decimals. They are however muffled by a layer of insulators mounted against whistle blowers. We only get the snippets when disaster emanates from the expensive gamble like it did on June 3.
Perhaps the industry regulator, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) might have calmed frayed nerves if it had promptly investigated the allegation and published its findings. But the NCAA, like the Indians who run Dana Airlines, cannot be trusted by many.
Peter Waxtan, the captain of the calamitous flight, is the only man who would have set the records straight. He is resting in pieces in a Lagos hospital morgue. So the truth about whether aircraft number 5N-RAM was fit to operate flight 0922 is now left for the men in Boeing, Seattle, USA, to tell.
The tragedy of Flight 0922 is the ambivalence of a country with enormous economic muscle squandered by corrupt rulers and compromised technocrats. Nigeria’s aviation safety record is abysmal because just about everyone from the regulator of the industry to the policy makers have price tags.
That probably explains the tragic failures of June 3. The two engines of the MD-83 failed. The rescue operation failed. Crowd control measures failed too. Eye-witness accounts suggest that the aircraft exploded in a fire ball some 20 minutes after the crash, and that the passengers screamed endlessly for help.
Help came rather too late and when it came it was grossly inadequate.
The arrival of the rescuers was also hindered by the footpaths that serve as roads in the community.
Television cameras showed firemen battling the fire with leaking hose. The aircraft came down in a built up area. In civilized climes, Iju, the home of the country’s oldest water plant, would have been equipped with fire hydrants where the fire men would have plugged their hoses to douse the burning aircraft. There was none. We fought the fire with sachet water.
Like in all the cases of collapsed buildings and other emergencies, it was Julius Berger Construction Company, not the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) that finally cleared the rubble. NEMA is not worth more than the vests that its men wore at the crash site.
Stella Odua, Minister of Aviation, responded promptly to the disaster. Five hours after the crash, she addressed a press conference in Lagos. But she ultimately was overbearing, perhaps because the NCAA dithered for too long.
The Ministry of Aviation, not the NCAA, ended up suspending Dana flights to allow for extensive investigation of the airworthiness of the airliners in the airline’s fleet. That boils down to meddlesomeness. The Ministry of Finance does not suspend the operating licence of a bank. It’s always the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that does it.
But event of the turbulent week suggests that NCAA might have cowered under pressure from the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) and opted not to suspend Dana’s operations.
AON believes that the economic cost of suspending an airline’s operations when one of its airliners crashes is too enormous to consider.
A source in AON said that United Airlines (U.S.) has 700 aircraft in its fleet. He argued that if one of the 700 crashed, it would be a monumental economic loss to ground the airline’s entire fleet for investigation.
The AON’s argument stands logic on its head. Dana has just about five aircraft and they are all MD-83. Besides, the owners of Dana cannot be trusted like that of United Airlines.
When a crack was discovered on the body of a Boeing 737 in the U.S. last year, Boeing ordered compulsory checks on that particular series of 737s around the globe. Scores of aircraft were grounded.
If an MD-83 with turbulent history came down under controversial circumstances, simple logic dictates that similar aircraft in the airline’s fleet are checked to avoid the expensive gamble that resulted in the tragedy of Flight 0992.This one crash and the loss of lives just could have been avoided if those saddled with some responsibilities acted responsibly.