Friday, November 03, 2006

Air safety

There was a well-informed comment on aviation in Nigeria on Chippla's blog by someone called Hani. I'm pasting it below just to spread the word. Meanwhile, Arik Air has launched a new airline in Nigeria, plying the Lagos-Abuja route. Their publicity has made a big deal about the planes being 'brand new' - but there was some controversy about this as one of the oyinbo managers left before launch with a suspicion that it was connected to the brand new claims. Chippla and other aviation eager-beavers: do your work. Let's find out if these planes really are brand new.

Meanwhile, there seems to be a ferocious lack of imagination at work in route planning. All the local operators want to do Lagos - Abuja - which already has planes leaving at least every hour during the daytime now. Why does no one start opening up Abuja as an international hub? Abuja is a far better (cleaner, stress-free, better organised) airport than MMA. As a capital city, there are people (donor expats, Ecowas officials, business people etc) who need to get from Abuja to other Ecowas capital cities daily. How odd that there is not, for example, an Abuja-Accra connection...

Anyway, here are Hani's thoughts - the two key suggestions being empowering the pilot training school in Zaria and autonomising key aviation parastatals:

1- The ADC crash occured in "gusty winds" conditions. In a nutshell, gusty winds (which change suddenly in direction and speed) can be dangerous during takeoff if the pilot is unaware of them or if these winds are extreme (30-40 knots sudden fluctuation) and accompanied by turbulence.

NB. According to ATC transcripts already posted on the Net, the pilot was indeed warned by the Tower re weather conditions, not only once but 3 times! The pilot of the Virgin Nigeria 737-300 came on the COM briefly and also warned the ADC crew, who just said "Roger" every time.

2- According to survivors' account, there was violent vibration prior to impact with ground (this is a sign of "stall" - when an aircraft loses thrust and power. This confirms point#1 that sudden gusty winds BLOWING AGAINST flight direction occured, perhaps causing the crash.

3- An aircraft's age has nothing to do with its safety. While I am no fan of the 737-200, that aircraft is still being used in Canada, Europe, North America, South America and Asia. If properly maintained, it is as efficient as new.

4- ADC Airlines was involved in 5 crashes since 1993 (3 fatal). Just check this record:
and it will be evident that one thing links all these accidents: poor airmanship and piloting skills.

It seems that several factors contributed to the crash. In any case, the root of the problem is a rotten aviation regime in Nigeria, and this includes but is not limited to the pilots. Training and realization that you do not take risk with people's lives is in very short supply. Just because the Sultan of Sokoto is on board does not give ADC crew to toy with people's lives to take off/arrive on time.

As for the way forward, here is what I proposed on another forum. I would truly appreciate some feedback regarding these strategies to ameliorate the Nigerian aviation industry:

1- Granting the NCAA complete autonomy to regulate safety oversight (free from the dictate of the likes of Borishade, etc.). This is now proposed as a bill to be passed into law, but the issue is dragging feet at the senate.

2- Ensuring that all airlines and pilots which do not meet safety requirements are stripped of their license.

3- Empowering the NCAT in Zaria with a REAL budget and facilities to produce well-trained pilots for tomorrow. Nigeria is currently bragging about $40bn in foreign reserves while people are dying in hundreds due to inadequate aviation/airport facilities.

4- Allocate enough budget to upgrade all airports and runways throughout the country.

5- Remove all incompetent people from aviation parastatals.

6- Privatize FAAN, NCAA, NMET, and all other agencies to grant those additional autonomy.

7- Perform all the above through consultation with a recognized international aviation agency, and granting such agency REAL powers to instil change, away from petty politics.

If the above is not implemented speedily, I fear that additional fatal crashes in Nigeria WILL occur very soon.


Anonymous,  2:55 pm  

It's a very simple thing to find out the age of any aircraft. Boeing and others have serial number databases freely available. The question is, will Arik give you those serial numbers. Or, even better, the tail/reg numbers of the previous owners. Anyone have photos of these planes?

Gusts in and of themselves are not dangerous. I landed in gusty conditions in a Cessna 172 all the time. What's dangerous is wind shear, which I think Hani mentioned as sudden fluctuations, but even then, those have to be of a certain strength.

Gusty winds blowing against flight direction is nonsensical. Planes take off IN the direction from which the wind blows, that's why runways are changed when wind direction changes: so that you can take off AGAINST the wind. As a pilot, you don't want to take off with a tailwind.

The violent vibrations he refers to is certainly characteristic of a stall and stalls also happen very frequently in wind shear conditions as pilots who don't know how to handle it over-react and stall the aircraft.

Stalling an aircraft simply means raising the angle of incidence so high that flight is impossible. A much simpler (and simplified) way to say it is the nose was raised way too high in reaction to the high sink-rate caused by wind shear. Because the nose of the aircraft is already high on takeoff and wind shear occurs more often near ground level, it's particularly dangerous.

I really wonder about Nigerian air regulations: tower controllers can withold departure clearance and all pilots have to obey it. Commands from the tower are not advisory, or should not be anyway.

Good suggestions all, but these things have always been known. Why are they not implemented is beyond me.

Anonymous,  3:47 pm  

Sango has thrown his veil open eventually, but not until Jeremy exposed him.

Nkem 3:56 pm  

I have it on good authority (not sure about the exact figures), that Arik has about three new planes, and four refurbished ones. I doubt if calling them "new" is the reason he left.

Abuja as hub is at first glance a no-brainer, but Lagos will be the commercial capital of West Africa for the forseeable future. It's similar to the New York/DC dichotomy

Anonymous,  3:58 pm  

@anonymous: huh?

By the way, I've just searched and I can't find the transcripts hani alluded to, where may I find them? Anyone have a URL?

Anonymous,  4:00 pm  

(Yet) another comment: I should have followed the Arik Air link and now I see they're not Boeings but Bombardier CRJ900s which are indeed very new. Way to go, Arik.

Chxta 4:01 pm  

Why is Hani's profile hidden?

Anonymous,  12:06 am  


Arik Air's CRJ-900s appear to be new as in brand new. I have only been able to find the photograph of one of the three CRJ-900s. Arik's 737 is however not new. The Arik Air website makes no mention of the 737(s). Arik Air appears to be concealing the fact that not all their airplanes are brand new. Could you help in confirming if Arik Air has 737s in operation?

Anonymous,  6:36 pm  

The link is not to a pilot's discussion forum - it's a "wannabe" forum

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