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Thursday, June 7, 2012

I WILL STILL FLY DANA AIR



I have not fully recovered from the shock many experienced when they first heard about the crash of Boeing McDonnell Douglas (MD) – 83 of Dana Air, and the death of 153 passengers, six members of the crew and more than 30 residents of Iju-Ishaga, Lagos. The shock is persisting in my mind; on the point of abating the distress you will be roused by a phone call updating you on the list of people who lost their lives, their closeness to the caller, how they spent their farewell encounter during this last visit to Abuja, or by the publication of increase in death toll as more bodies are recovered from the rubble – now well over 200.


I empathise with all that lost loved ones in this national tragedy, and may Allah grant us all, as we pass through this painful experience, the ability to endure the bitterness that this great loss occasioned.


As I was about to write this piece, my newspaper, LEADERSHIP, on the Front Page comment (Our Stand) of its Tuesday June 5th edition, called for the grounding of ‘all Dana Air’s Planes Today’. (And as if in compliance with this editorial directive the Senate ordered the Federal Government (FG) to ground Dana Airline…; the FG grounded the fleet, and even withdrew Dana Air’s operating license). The reason for LEADERSHIP’s position…and that of the government’s swift reaction…? Dana Air, in clear violation of Nigeria’s air safety regulations that banned all aircrafts aged over 20 years, the Indian-owned company operated aged aircraft that were manufactured over 22 years ago. The aircraft maintenance engineer’s advice against flying the ill-fated plane was ignored by ‘the Indians’. The editorial ended by saying: ‘Human life has been so cheapened in Nigeria that even foreigners are not afraid to waste it. Now, the time has come for the federal government to prove them wrong. It should deal decisively with the Indian-owned Dana this time round. It will serve as deterrence for other operators.’


I’m not holding brief for any lapses on the part of Dana Air, but I reject the insinuation in the above comment of ‘foreigners not afraid to waste’ the cheapened lives of Nigerians. The crash did not occur because Dana Air is Indian-owned. As a matter of fact, Dana Air, though owned by Indians, is after all a Nigerian company. Dana Air would not try any act of operational negligence it is being accused of if it was operating in India; if it was operating in any serious country where laws are made to be obeyed and not to be flouted. Certain things, therefore, could only happen in Nigeria. It may be that Dana was able to learn quickly how to do business in Nigeria, and to evade Nigerian air safety rules with the right inducement to the aviation authorities! So, NCAA, NAMA, FAAN should be questioned on how Dana Air was allowed to fly an aircraft overdue for maintenance, and in ‘bad shape’, nay, overdue for the aeroplanes’ graveyard. Why it is only after precious lives have been lost that NCAA is launching ‘a comprehensive safety and financial audit of all local airlines operating in Nigeria, so as to determine whether they ought to be in business or not’? That is precisely how not to be a regulator! We have become, as a nation, a bunch of knee-jerk alarmists.


On the ban of aircrafts beyond 20 years of age from operating in the Nigerian airspace it will be interesting to know how many of the companies in this industry will pass the litmus test. We are in for unpleasant surprises as the nation awaits the outcome of ‘a holistic investigation’ of the entire feet of airline companies operating in Nigeria, as ordered by the National Assembly. Of course like the fate suffered by its predecessors the report of the Dana Air disaster will not be implemented; nobody will be sanctioned; it will soon be business as usual. This is Nigeria where everything goes! I don’t know what happened to the Bellview and Sosoliso crash reports despite the fact that they claimed more lives. We gathered then, as now, that the aircrafts were overage too. The same DG was in charge of the NCAA then as now. Again this in no way exonerates Dana; it is only to show that the malpractice cannot be confined to one airline; especially Dana, lest we be seen as closet xenophobes or even racists.


I concede there is need for investigation that may lead to how future mishaps could be averted, but have we ever learnt any lesson from past reports and recommendations? Have you heard anything about the report of the Royal Jordanian Airlines flight 707 that crashed in Kano and killed 171 Nigerian Muslims returning from Mecca and 5 crewmen in January 22, 1973? And if you think that the Royal Jordanian is another foreign-owned company, then, pray, tell me what happened to the report of the Nigeria Airways DC-8-61 plane that crashed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from system failure and killed 261 pilgrims on board, in July 11, 1991? Where is the report of the Nigerian Air Force A C-130 plane that fell minutes after take-off from Lagos killing all 200 passengers on board, in September 26, 1992? I am sure we can easily remember what occurred in December 10, 2005 with a Nigerian (not foreign) ADC (Aviation Development Corporation) Airline Boeing 727-231 flying from Port Harcourt to Lagos with 142 passengers and 9 crew members that crashed on landing, plunging into a lagoon; there were no survivors. And the report…? No action was taken on the report, the airline was not grounded ‘today’; its license was not withdrawn 'for safety operational reason’ as we saw in the case of Dana Air, and which gave ADC Airline, in just a year, the chance to kill more people in yet another crash in October 29, 2006 with another of its flight a Boeing 737 with 104 passengers on board. The plane crashed minutes after take-off from Abuja airport during a rain storm. All but 6 perished in the disaster including the then Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido. And last but not least, the Nigerian Sosoliso Airlines DC-9 crashed in Port Harcourt, killing all 103 passengers on board most of whom were schoolchildren going home for Christmas, in December 10, 2005.


So, air mishaps occur not due to foreign-ownership of aircraft companies, but because the agencies saddled with ensuring our safety on sky decided to look the other way when our lives were at risk. Dana Air, though a new entrant into the market, has been able to raise standards of operation in the business of local air travel in this country. As a frequent traveller to Lagos and then out of Lagos, I have not had cause to regret flying Dana Air once. This is due to the efficient services I get from Dana Air from Abuja to Lagos and back. Dana Air was always right on schedule!


The only thing I personally find objectionable in Dana Air in the subtle presence Buddhist emblems and symbols in its aircraft. As a Muslim, of course, I will take exception to that; and I think even my Christian friends will not like that. We are a largely Christian-Muslim nation. Buddhists are free to practise their faith but I would rather they didn’t shove it in our faces. Other than this Dana Air is my choice any day, for at least I’m certain to some extent when I will depart from destination A and my expected time of arrival at destination B. Dana Air is not one of the Nigerian airlines that will make you stay at the departure lounge for hours on end without adequate information on why your flight is delayed. Dana Air does not lie about flight delays with the euphemism of operational reasons: you depart on schedule bearing normal unavoidable deferment during boarding or take off. While on board, the snacks served are fresh, the drinks, the bottled water chilled and almost everything is branded in Dana Air colours and logo, even the sweets offered after meals are manufactured by a subsidiary of the Dana Group. This is how corporate businesses should be run; set the standard of effective service delivery entity; become the envy of competitors! Once I and my family missed our Dana Air flight to Lagos and had to travel by a Nigerian-owned aircraft. When it was time for what they call light refreshment a member of the crew came and asked us what we would have. After serving us she brought a mini calculator and proudly announced: ‘Sir your bill is three thousand five hundred naira.’


‘Bill… for what my sister?’ I enquired


‘Our snacks and drinks are chargeable sir’; was the response.


That was not Dana Air; we regretted missing it even more. And we had to pay for the light refreshment. How can children understand that they cannot have the drink on board because it is chargeable?


The rickety aircraft wobbled and shook like a man just out of a river in winter until we reached Lagos. My heart nearly jumped out of my mouth with fear. I want to know the age of that plane. I have been in another which had seats so tattered I could see the foam and other items ordinarily not intended for the passengers’ view. As if that was not enough, a European passenger tapped my shoulder after a while to warn me of my new guest; a grown cockroach had just emerged from inside the seat!


According to newspapers on Wednesday 6th June 2012, it turned out that Dana’s ‘400-hourly check (A-Check) was on May 30th, while the statutory annual maintenance (C-Check) was not due till this September. The certificate of Airworthiness issued by the NCAA after the last C-Check was still very valid as at the time of the incident…’


Asking Demuren to step aside until investigations are over is a right decision; after all you shouldn’t be a judge in your own case. Investigating all airlines is a good decision; even it is so overdue I am seething with rage at the thought that it was not routine and rigorous but cursory and almost none existent. Seizing the operating license of Dana before concluding investigations looks to me like a pronouncement of guilt before the investigation has started.


Some would argue that if one of their planes crashed due to negligence, there is no assurance that another would not crash the same way. That is valid but there is another side to that valid argument; if NCAA was complicit in giving a certificate of airworthiness to an obviously dying plane in the Dana fleet, there is no assurance that it hasS not done so with other airlines. Therefore, our conclusion should be that ALL airlines in operation on Nigeria’s domestic routes should be grounded now! If we make exception for others, then we should make exception for all. What is more practical is to ground all planes that are over 20 years old and above and investigate the airworthiness of the remaining - across board. Singling Dana out will smell of something more sinister than mere regulatory activity and sanction.


By the way, Mr Sam Nda- Isaiah whom I respect a lot should beware lest he be seen to be advocating the demise of a rival airline to one in which he has substantial interest. That will come off as a clash of interest and misuse of journalism to achieve personal ends.


3 comments :

  1. Great! That is exactly my thought. In fact I am tempted to ask, what happened to the Farouk Lawan's report on the fuel subsidy? When are we reverting to the correct prize of petroleum, who is fulling who? This people are either crooks or grossly incompetent. But in Nigeria today when you comment on issues, you are for, or against the person in power or against his government or his against his party.
    Mallam, I can't wait to join you on Dana Air. I will also fly Dana with you. I will always follow my Mallam.

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  2. In deed, the responsibility is squarely on the regulatory authorities. They should be suspended and a public hearing instituted.

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  3. I HOPE WE WOULD LERN FROM THIS, REPORTS BY COMMITTE SET UP TO INVESTIGATE CERTAIN THING S IN THIS COUNTRY SHOULD ALWAYS BE TAKING SERIOUS. THE PREVIOUS COMMITTE SET UP TO IVESTIGATE PREVIOUS CRASHED EVENTS WERE NOT TAKEN SERIOUS. MAY ALLAH TOUCH AND DIRECT THE HEART OF AUTHORITIE'S SHADLED WITH THESE RESPONSIBILITIES.

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