At least three aircraft totally in precarious conditions are still being operated by one of the existing airlines in the country, Saturday Tribune can authoritatively reveal.
It was exclusively learnt that the airline had flagrantly defied several orders by the aviation authorities and has been logged on a number of occasions by air traffic control officers.
A senior air traffic control officer in one of the nation’s airports, in an exclusive chat with Saturday Tribune on the critical issues in the aviation sector, said one of the aircraft was indeed a bomb waiting to explode with the airline not caring a hoot.
He spoke against the backdrop of the ill-fated Dana Airline that crashed at Iju-Ishaga, Lagos, on Sunday, claiming 163 lives.
The source, who pleaded anonymity, while assessing the conditions of some aircraft operating in the country, specifically identified an airliner that prides itself as top flight, noting that ironically, it had several technically deficient aircraft in its fleet.
He described the condition of that particular aircraft as worse than the crashed Dana plane.
“One of their aircraft also had two incidents with me about three months ago; it is in the log book. It was so terrible to the extent that I wrote two serious reports about it. On one occasion, it was staggering, it could not take off. On another occasion, it took off and lost radio contact.
“The other time, they said it requested priority landing. In fact, the last time they released that aircraft, I was angry with my boss- ‘didn’t you check the log book that this aircraft should be grounded totally?’ the source recalled.
On the crashed Dana aircraft, he said it was initially intended to fly directly from Uyo, the Akwa-Ibom State capital, to Lagos before being routed via Abuja, allegedly for financial considerations.
The source also narrated how the aircraft had undergone a test flight to Ibadan, Oyo State, the previous day.
He alleged, “The pilot of the Dana plane observed that it had a technical challenge and suggested that it be flown directly to Lagos, but the airline authority insisted that he fly it to Abuja to pick more passengers en route Lagos.”
“The Dana aircraft had a technical problem and was grounded. Maybe, they did an engine overhaul or they did some technical repair and they now said ‘ok, you cannot go until you have a test flight. They came to Ibadan for a test flight on Saturday.
The following day, the same aircraft was flown to Akwa-Ibom.”
According to the source, “Before an aircraft can be allowed to fly, having done technical repair or engine overhaul, it must be certified by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and cleared for any technical fault. With regard to the NCAA Act, they are the main body authorised to certify aircraft. They have their own challenges also.”
It could not also be ascertained if the plane was certified fit to fly after the test flight.
When Saturday Tribune sought clarification on this, the source simply replied, “My brother, it is one of the things that the panel of inquiry set up to investigate the crash must ascertain.”
He placed the problem in the aviation sector at the doorstep of NCAA, saying that it comprised ‘old retirees’, who were in contract employment and allegedly incapable of coping with fresh challenges in the sector.
“Fine, their wealth of experience may be needed, but you cannot allow people who are not in tune with contemporary challenges and new trends in the industry to totally take charge of affairs; most of them are outdated.
“Honestly, the adventurous spirit and ambitiousness will not be there. We can afford to say it is manageable (to have them in charge) believing that what used to be in those days is still applicable; it is not like that. Though they claim they go for training, which training? The majority are retirees, even for them to allow young people to come in is a problem. You see, they need to inject new blood, regardless of the experience those people have. That’s the major problem they have.” the source stressed.
Speaking further, he stated “Another thing is that, talking about aircraft operation, an International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)-licensed person must certify an aircraft fit to fly before it can be flown. At the same time, even in ICAO document, when an aircraft has series of incidents/reports, the morality behind it is that this aircraft should not be flown. Within a year, if there are six to seven reports/incidents with an aircraft, then it is supposed to be grounded.