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Nigerian Aviation: Between Stella Oduah And Aluu 4 by villa290: 2:29pm On Oct 23, 2013

On October 5, 2012, four promising students of the University of Port Harcourt (popularly referred to as the Aluu 4) were brutally murdered in Aluu – a community in Rivers State. Someone had raised a false alarm that the students were thieves and, before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’, they were lynched by a blood-thirsty mob; beaten to stupor before eventually being burnt to death.

The case of the Aluu 4, thanks to a video of the killing which went viral, forcefully drove home the reality of the age-long ‘Jungle Justice’ trend which had hitherto received little or no attention in the media space. As a matter of fact, many of us had become accustomed to seeing other humans unjustly murdered in like manner as the Aluu 4 in so far as they were ‘guilty’ of the ‘alleged’ crime.
Sadly, the Jungle justice mentality is now so deeply entrenched in the Nigerian society, pervading virtually every area of our business, communal and inter-personal relationships. And we have, knowingly or unknowingly, become cheerleaders in this theatre of the absurd.

The recent grounding of the operations of Dana Air by the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, without recourse to standard aviation guidelines, is an example of this deep-rooted phenomenon, and this is not the first time such an action has been taken against a legitimate business concern based on false alarm and frivolous claims.
Earlier this year, the carrier was handed a similar suspension order by the NCAA based on a directive from the Minister: On ground Abuja, an aircraft boarded with Lagos-bound passengers developed a snag. The pilot, during his pre-start checks, noticed that the airplane battery was under charging, even when an engineer attempted to rectify the problem.
The captain humbly explained the situation to his passengers and called for a replacement aircraft from Lagos which eventually ferried the passengers to Lagos uneventfully. Later that day, the airline was grounded for ‘safety reasons’. Apparently, one of the Minister’s friends had called her to complain that the aircraft's engine was faulty and could not start.
This is what is very scary in the aviation business. Anyone can call the Minister and, without due diligence by the appropriate authority, a suspension order would be issued. Of course, in that particular case, the airline was not found to have violated any safety regulation and was cleared to fly two days after. However, a wrong signal had been sent to the travelling public about the safety of the airline’s operations as a result of the Minister’s frenzied action.
As has been confirmed by several aviation experts, if the reason alluded to the October 6, 2013 grounding of the Dana Air by the authorities is true then the Nigerian aviation industry is in a deeper mess than we think. According to some media reports, the grounding of the operations of the airline is based on an Air Return it made on October 6, 2013. This is very flimsy in every sense of professional aviation!

Whatever the reason for the air return, the airline’s crew must be commended for their professionalism. Air Returns are not uncommon in the aviation industry as they are initiated as a safety precautionary measure in line with international best practice. As a matter of fact, virtually all airlines, local and international, have had cases of Air Returns due technical and non-technical reasons.

The standard practice is for the NCAA to ground the particular aircraft (not the entire airline) until the issues reported have been rectified and the aircraft certified fit to fly. It is illegal to ground the entire operations of an airline on the basis of an air return. Otherwise, no airline in Nigeria would be flying today as all of them have had air returns due a number of reasons.
Should the Minister and the NCAA continue to act in such erratic manner whenever an airline makes an air return, what signal would they be sending to the airline operators and pilots? To carry on with the journey to destination when, as it sometimes happens, they develop a snag after take-off for fear of being grounded if they return to base? Does this action not portend greater danger for us all?
Obviously dancing to the tune of the Minister, the NCAA Director-General has said that Dana Air was grounded to allow for ‘an audit of the operations of the airline’. But do you really need to ground the entire operations of an airline before carrying out an audit? Will other airlines be grounded for the same audit process? Surely, the selective action (Jungle Justice) meted to Dana Air raises more questions than answers.
While the efforts of Princess Stella Oduah to remodel our old and dilapidated airport terminals is very commendable, her overbearing influence on all the aviation agencies including the NCAA which is supposed to be autonomous as established in the Civil Aviation Act 2006, is less than desirable. Undue ministerial authority and absolute draconian policies are a direct threat to the safety of our airspace.

The NCAA must be allowed to carry out its oversight functions without fear or favour. Its leadership must rise up to the challenge and prove to Nigerians that our airlines are safe by ensuring that the planned audit of all airlines operating locally is dispassionate.
In the case of Dana Air which remains unjustly grounded, the NCAA must prove itself to be fair by commencing the audit as quickly as possible. Besides loss in revenue to the airline, all the Nigerian employees and their dependants risk losing their means of livelihood. The action also sends wrong signals to potential investors in the sector.
Finally, the aviation industry is a highly technical and regulated sector, and the actions of the authorities cannot be based on sentiments or hearsay but on facts and standard procedures. We must not allow jungle justice to prevail; for jungle justice is a travesty of justice.

Edet Akpan – an Engineer – writes from Lagos.

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