As investigations into the cause of the air crash at Iju-Ishaga begin, analysts are saying that neglect and flouting of regulations while regulators look the other way is the major cause of Nigeria's long history of catastrophic crashes.
The commercial airliner that crashed at Iju-Ishaga, a crowded area of the Lagos metropolis, plowed into business premises and private residential buildings before exploding in a ball of flames, killing all 153 people on board and an undetermined number of people on the ground.
The Christian Science Monitor reports this is the worst plane crash incident in the country since September 1992, when a military transport plane crashed and killed about 163 Army personnel and the crew, soon after it took off from Lagos .
While the cause of the crash of the Dana Air flight carrying passengers from Abuja, federal capital of the Nigeria, to Lagos, is still being investigated, questions have arisen about the age of the planes in the DANA Airline fleet. According to The Tribune, in 2010, the Nigerian government banned all use of aircraft over 20 years of age, but The Christian Science Monitor reports that the average age of planes in DANA's fleet of five planes is 21.4 years. The youngest plane in the fleet is 20.9 years old.
Allegations have been made for years that after the ban on use of aircraft older than 20 years, many of the private airlines persist in purchasing second-hand aircraft that are considered unserviceable in the countries from which they were sourced. The airline operators continue using airliners beyond the stipulated maximum age of 20 years in the effort to recoup their investment in the aircraft before disposal. But maintenance of old aircraft involve more intensive maintenance and highly skilled personnel, which imply significantly higher costs which place management under pressure to cut corners, especially in the absence of close regulation.
These facts, according to analysts, explain why Nigeria has a long history of catastrophic air crashes. According to The Christian Science Monitor, the plane involved in the fatal Bellview Airlines Flight 210, in October 22, 2005 was 24 years old. The Sosoliso DC-9 that crashed in December 10, 2005 in the same year near Port-Harcourt was 32 years old. The plane was sold to Sosoliso because it no longer met European noise standards,The Christian Science Monitor reports.
In 2010, following the much vaunted improvements in air-safety measures, the United States Federal Aviation Administration gave Nigeria its highest rating, Category 1. The rating allows Nigeria's commercial carriers to land at U.S. airports. While industry operators claim that the Nigerian government has made significant improvements in air-safety standards with the installation of new radar systems and introduction of new passenger-scanning equipment, The Christian Science Monitor reports that the equipment upgrades are not matched by a thorough implementation policy.
Regular air travelers in Nigeria report that frequent power outages and failure of airport backup power plants lead sometimes to shutdown of air-traffic systems for hours at end, delaying takeoff and arrival of flights, a scandalous situation in a country that is Africa's largest oil producer.
To forestall accusations that DANA Airline is using old unserviceable planes, the company's director of Flight Operations, Captain Oscar Wilson, said that the McDonnell Douglas(MD-83) aircraft that crashed on Sunday was still "“serviceable and operational.”
According to TheTribune, he was speaking at a news conference at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, on Monday. He acknowledged that the plane was 22 years old, but insisted that the aircraft was still functional. He said that the aircraft was in good condition before leaving Abuja for Lagos. According to TheTribune, he said: “The aircraft had flown to Ibadan on Saturday without hitches, contrary to rumors that it was undergoing repairs. On Sunday, it was a different story entirely, as the aircraft had started operations as early as 7.47 a.m. On Sunday, 5N-RAM flew at 7.47 a.m, left Lagos to Abuja on flight 999 and Abuja back to Lagos on Flight 998. The aircraft went back to Abuja flight 993 and was coming back before the fatal flight 992. We don’t allow our aircraft to fly if not in perfect condition. We don’t take risks with people’s lives. I did the test flight of the questioned aircraft myself, there was nothing wrong with the aircraft, it was okay."
Business Day reports that DANA air suspended all operations on Monday in "honor" of victims of the air crash. Wilson denied reports that the airline had been sanctioned by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the body the regulates airline operations in the country. According to Tony Usidamen, Communications Manager of the company, “we are hearing rumors of a sanction because our aircraft are faulty but that is not true, we did this (stopped flights) to honor the victims of the flight.”
In spite of denials by airline's officials, Business Day reports allegations that the operators of DANA Air had been warned about the condition of the aircraft that crashed. Reports allege that the plane had technical problems in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state. According to Business Day, a technical fault caused the airline to hover in the air "for hours" before finally landing in Lagos. Business Day reports that the Uyo State governor, Godswill Akpabio, reportedly drew attention of the managing director of the airline to the incident.
As investigations into the cause of the crash begin, skeptical industry analysts recall that "investigations" into previous crashes "never saw the light of the day" because of the "caliber of people involved." Analysts also accuse the NCAA of compromising itself by looking the other way when regulations, such as ban on aircraft older than 20 years, are flouted. According to Business Day, “Part of the safety regulations stipulate the age of aircraft permitted to fly in Nigeria’s airspace, but it seems that the NCAA... does not enforce that regulation, because many of the domestic airlines still fly aircraft that are above the stipulated age."
Only few of Nigeria's airlines follow the regulation, with Arik Air's fleet of Boeing 737 being the youngest at an average age of five years, followed by Air Nigeria at 14 years and First National with an average fleet age of 18 years, Business Day reports. Aero contractor manages a fleet with an average age of 20 years, while the Chanchangi fleet is even older at an average age of 23 years.
Analysts conclude that neglect and flouting of regulations while regulators look the other way is the major cause of catastrophic air crashes in Nigeria