Without attempting to sound hyperactive, three aircraft incidents in one week are enough to raise concern on air travel safety and attendant danger in Nigeria.
On April 18, smoke reportedly engulfed Aero Contractors’ flight NG316 from Port Harcourt airport to Lagos, expectedly, causing panic among the passengers.
The smoke engulfed the cabin some 20 minutes after take-off and continued until it touched down in Lagos.
The Bombardier Q300 Dash 8 had departed Port Harcourt airport at 1608GMT with 52 adults and one infant on board. Just a few days after that, on April 20, two aircraft belonging to Air Peace hit each other on the tarmac causing damage to the airplanes.
The two aircraft were thereafter grounded. The loss of three airplanes by Air Peace led to disruption of flights. Passengers were tensed occasioned by withdrawal of three aircraft from services.
One of the airline workers was beaten to a pulp, further accentuating the near collapse of law and order at most of the country’s aerodromes.
Aggrieved passengers are known to be violent towards airline workers any time there is a slight disruption in their travel plans.
The winglet of the B737 aircraft with registration mark 5N-BQR, which was being towed within the very limited space at the ramp of the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos to position for departure, had a partial contact with the stabiliser of another of their B737 aircraft with registration mark 5N-BQP.
As if that was not enough, on April 21, a Dana Air flight from Lagos to Port Harcourt made an air return after it collided with a bird mid-air.
The aircraft had to return to Lagos while the passengers were transferred into another aircraft.
The incidents and the public reactions sent important message to companies: Mistreatment and low-quality customer service can no longer be hidden, and public anger can cause huge harm to the company and its value in stock.
The Air Peace incident is one of many that are daily recorded on the ramps of airports.
The airport ramp is the area where aircraft are parked, unloaded or loaded, refuelled, or boarded.
Although the use of the apron is covered by regulations, such as lighting on vehicles, it is typically more accessible to users than the runway or taxiway.
The ramp area (sometimes called apron) is under the responsibility of both the airports and the airlines.
While the airport enables passengers and cargo access to air transportation such as gates, cargo hard stands, passenger loading bridges, and fuelling systems to support aircraft servicing at the terminal, airlines lent gates and obtain rights to use the facilities from the airports. Ground operations occur in the ramp areas and include a variety of services.
Those operations are either managed directly by the airlines or outsourced.
While that of Air Peace could be understood as it happened on ground, one involving Dana Air (bird strike) and Aero Contractors (smoke in the cabin) calls for serious investigation, which the aviation regulatory body has rightly constituted in order to get to the root of the matter and ensure passengers’ lives are safe.
Nigerian cannot afford to have very damaging plane crash because of the erosion of confidence it would do to a sector that is in dire straits.
During the civilian administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, many plane mishaps occurred, which almost plunged the country into pandemonium.
The aviation industry has witnessed losses of lives with property worth billions destroyed. Air transportation is one of the risky challenges that has directly affected the Nigerian economy over the years. Nigeria cannot afford to tow that path again because of the huge implication for the country.
The dozens of people dying through plane crashes can be controlled if all airlines are prepared to employ capable hands and purchase modern and air worthy aircraft.
Although there has been no fatal accident caused by Nigerian carriers since the crash of Dana Air in 2012, there have been notable safety problems caused by human errors and mechanical problems.
While air traffic volume is expected to increase in future, it is urgent to establish a safer and more efficient air traffic system in the air as well as increase the capacity of airports including the project of further expanding apron of the domestic airport in Lagos and other airports across the country to avoid what people have tagged disaster waiting to happen.
We believe government needs to improve safety measures in various fields, by improving air transport environment, ensuring safety of aviation systems, ensuring the safety of aircraft, and improving rescue and emergency service systems, among others. It is also our belief that government should comprehensively and systematically promote other measures desirable to ensure safer skies in the country.