Sunday, 13 October 2013

Nigeria: Acts of God in our Aviation Industry or Rank Incompetence?

The power ignorant
I started this blog over five days ago and abandoned it after about 300 words because it seemed too difficult to write, but in another sense, it was not ripe for writing, it needed the incubation of time in passing and event to be ready – Now, I complete it with quite a number of links for reference.
Sometimes you wonder why Nigeria is plagued with a pestilence of elite in power that find ways to do the unfortunate, revel in the unmentionable and speak without consideration, emotion or feeling on matters that demand empathy, compassion and a sense of participation in our humanity.
An air of chaos
The last weekend greeted an air crash with the loss of lives on an Embraer 120RT Brasilia aircraft with registration 5N-BJY [Picture taken in August] operated by Associated Aviation in Lagos and a precarious event where landing gear tyres exploded on landing at Sokoto Airport (SKO/DNSO) of a Boeing 747-521B with registration 5N-JRM operated by Kabo Air. [BBC News] [Fox News] [Aviation Safety Network]
A former Aviation minister recently listed a series of air disasters over the last few decades that indicated issues with the aviation industry, its infrastructure, its management and its regulation, but I am not here to cover that. [Nigerian Eye] [Timeline - ChannelsTV] [Nigerian Air Accidents – Aviation Safety Network]
A siege mentality
My concern is with the inability of the current regime to recognise a serious and possible crisis with the aviation sector, assume responsibility that suggests an understanding of all the elements whilst implementing ideas, strategy, and plans to ensure that air disasters do not become the norm in Nigeria.
The government needs to emerge from its siege bunker and take a whiff of the air everyday Nigerians breathe whilst taking a sure grip of reality, coming out on the defensive to excoriate those asking difficult and uncomfortable questions of the Minister, the Ministry and other regulatory bodies is hardly the solution we need at this pressing time.
Safe to avoid?
In a news story yesterday, the Federal Government Insists Nigeria’s Airspace is Safe, I suppose if we ignore everything that has happened recently in terms of air crashes, one might be tempted to agree, but this is far from the truth. [Daily Times]
In aftermath of the crashes, we read of the immediate suspension of Dana Air’s operating licence; why they ever had the suspension in the aftermath of the June 3rd 2013 crash promptly lifted remains a mystery. [The Nation]
By Monday, the Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, flailing and swinging with vehemence and fury, first dismissed her predecessor with the words to the effect that he was “a drunk and a drug addict”, and accentuated that with the view that his comments “had little bearing with reality”.
Then she proceeded to give us her version of the bearings with reality of the Aviation Industry. Starting with a lamentation about security, safety and funding; implying the inadequacy of the former; then cosmetics of airport architecture before brandishing an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) assessment that gave Nigeria a 65% rating [61%] and position of the 12th safest aviation space in the world. [Daily Times] [The ICAO 2013 Safety Report - PDF] [Leadership Nigeria]
Act of God unproven
On the accident itself, she said and these words below:
We do not pray for accidents but it is inevitable. But all we do is to do everything to ensure that we do not have accidents. But is an act of God! Again, we do not speculate on the cause of accidents until that happens you can say this is the cause or that is not the cause.
But what is obvious and is the truth is that, in aviation there are shared responsibilities, starting from the man that carries your luggage to the man that make sure that your boarding pass is issued to you. And so the regulatory agency, the operators, the management, everybody has their responsibility and all must work in tandem for there to be an optimal, secured and safe aviation sector. And that is what we have been working.” [Daily Times]
The Aviation suggests accidents are inevitable [(Adjective) - certain to happen; unavoidable; (Noun) - a situation that is unavoidable.], then in the morass of the inevitability of accidents in Nigeria’s safe airspace, these accidents are apparently Acts of God [Forces of nature completely outside the realm of control of man, inexplicable and left in the helpless hands of fate.]
We must clearly understand what is an Act of God – “An event that directly and exclusively results from the occurrence of natural causes that could not have been prevented by the exercise of foresight or caution; an inevitable accident.” [The Free Dictionary]
For an air crash to be remotely termed an “Act of God”, there has to have been nothing humanly possible to avoid the accident by reason of foresight or caution, to which I would add warning or instruction.
Acts of pilots - I
The first indication of human error with respect to Sokoto Airport incident, suggest the pilot ignored instructions from Air Traffic Control to land on runway 08, the plane landed on runway 26 damaging Instrument Landing System aerials and thereby sustaining deflated tyres. [Leadership Nigeria] [Aviation Safety Network]
We can safety say that the Kabo Air incident that led to the suspension of the said pilot was no ‘Act of God’.
Acts of pilots - II
In addition, on the release of a preliminary report with respect to 5N-BJY, the Embraer 120RT Brasilia Associated Aviation operated aircraft crash in Lagos, the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) warned the pilots of instrument conditions essential to safe take-off, which they ignored. [The Scoop] [AIB Preliminary Report - PDF]
These warnings included, three audible chimes then “Take-off Flaps…Take-off Flaps”. The report suggests, “This is a configuration warning that suggests that the flaps were not in the correct position for take-off and there is some evidence that the crew may have chosen not to use flaps for the take-off.
As the crew, assimilated, understood, reacted and ignored these warnings, the report documents the following, from the aircraft automated voice “’Take off Flaps, Auto Feather’. Auto feather refers to the pitch of the propeller blades.  In the feather position, the propeller does not produce any thrust.” [Basics on Flap Aircraft - Wikipedia] [Autofeather - Wikipedia]
This report indicates that the pilots were aware of a whole range of circumstances that informed the need to abort take-off but proceeded to ignore the basic science of essential power for airlift and consequently crashed the airplane – this again was no ‘Act of God’.
We have problems
The week presented a catalogue of problems with our aviation industry in Nigeria which the Aviation Minister succinctly put forward as – “What is key is that we must realise that there is a shared responsibility, there is a collective responsibility, pilots are responsible, operators are responsible, regulators are responsible, government is responsible and all these must work together otherwise there will be a gap in the system.” [This Day Live]
There are gaps in the system, in fact, too many gaps that indicate poor regulatory oversight leading to knee-jerk responses after disasters. Then possible pilot training deficiencies exhibited in their ignoring air traffic control or aircraft instrument instructions; airworthiness and safety issues and a minister whose penchant for verbosity appears to demonstrate activity and performance but the evidence must always be in how safe it is to fly in Nigeria.
Honestly!
More pertinently, we cannot have a minister quick to suggest the inevitability of air disasters to ‘Acts of God’ when the reports suggest without equivocation that the most recent disasters are clearly pilot errors, which could have led to the loss of almost 600 lives in one weekend.
However, where we celebrate mediocrity, exertion without effect and incompetence as great achievement, we cannot expect the change we need in our aviation industry for the better and that is very sad, indeed.
May the souls of those dearly departed because of this rotten and atrocious dereliction of responsibility of all involved rest in peace.

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