On the 3rd of June 2012 a Passenger plane, MD-83 operated by Dana airlines crashed into houses in Iju Ishaga, an area in Lagos. The crash killed all the 153 people on board including the crew members. My friend Christopher Okocha was on that flight, he was a loving husband and father of one. May his gentle soul rest in peace.
Air Transport Safety
Air transport is probably the safest means of transportation and the most regulated industry in the world.
Safety within aviation circles can be defined as the management of risks to harm or damage to property to an acceptable level through a process of hazard identification, risk management, remedial action planning and continuous improvement. The acceptable level is usually determined by the regulatory authority in aviation.
The prevalence of plane crashes in the Nigerian Air space has exposed the need for a safety management system in the Nigerian Aviation Industry.
A Safety Management System (SMS) is a systematic, explicit and comprehensive process for the management of safety risks that integrates operations and technical systems with financial and human resource management for all activities related to any organisation.
Delayed Rescue operations
Reports have it that for about a quarter of an hour, the ill-fated plane was enmeshed in rubble with trapped passengers screaming for help. Besides when help came it was disorganised with no mention of air ambulances evacuating people!
Governmental Influence and policy formulation
There is an urgent need for the Federal Government in conjunction with all stakeholders to develop of a National Aviation Policy that will drive the aviation industry. It can be a 5-year or 10-year plan that can be reviewed periodically.
A National Aviation Policy will guide lawyers and government officials in assessing existing legislation and signing international agreements. In drafting a National Aviation Policy we need to examine the aviation policies of the US, the EU and other African countries. This would help us to decide what level of protection our local airlines need and how best we can go about protecting our economic interest.
Review of the Open Skies Arrangement and Bilateral Aviation Services Agreements.
Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) is an air operation agreement which Nigeria signs with countries that have their airlines operate into the country and from which agreements Nigeria receives royalties. There is the need for a complete review of the Open Skies Arrangement and Bilateral Aviation Services Agreements. The Arik Air debacle has revealed that the BASA’s are not particularly favourable to Nigerian flag carriers.
The need for round pegs in round holes
We need aviation experts running the aviation industry in Nigeria, we can’t afford the politicisation of the appointment of key personnel in the Ministry of Aviation and the regulatory bodies in aviation, and this is because lapses in air travel regulation often result in tragic loss of life.
Public Sector branding in aviation
The regulatory bodies overseeing aviation in Nigeria have made concerted efforts to properly brand their organisations through seminars, workshops etc. However trust in the competency of the regulator is undermined every time an accident occurs. Airplane crashes have far-reaching effects as was seen when the market capitalisation of the listed equities on the Nigerian Stock Exchange fell by N106 billion or 1.5% per cent to close at N6.899trillion down from the N7.005 trillion it opened with on Monday 4/6/2012.It is important to note that public sector branding is ineffective especially when systemic failures are so critical that they result in wanton loss of life and property.
The need to restrict multi designation in Nigeria
Multi-designation is the assigning of foreign airlines to operate from more than one airport in Nigeria. It deprives local carriers a percentage of its local passenger market; as foreign airlines go to different airports to pick their passengers for flights to their destinations instead of local airlines bringing passengers to one airport for the foreign airlines.
Government participation in Aviation
All over the world more governments are actively participating in aviation.
The American Experience
A look at the American government’s Policy would reveal a strong protectionist tendency.
The Fly America policy compels all beneficiaries of air travel paid for by the American government, to use only American airlines with very few exceptions.
There is ample bankruptcy protection for American airlines, and almost all major American airlines have received bankruptcy protection at least once since September 11 2001.
The American government gave a total of $15B in aid to its airlines in the aftermath of September 11 2001.
Middle East experience
Emirates was established in 1985, it is now one of the youngest and strongest carriers in the Middle East. It is owned and funded by the government of Dubai. It has a viable, low-cost business model, which enables it to offer superior in-flight and ground facilities and free visas. These incentives are offered at the same price competing airlines normally charge for the flight ticket alone without any other benefits. The government of Dubai also has an important role by drawing investors with a zero corporate tax policy to set up businesses in Dubai.
Other Challenges in Nigerian Aviation
Better Consumer protection
NCAA has Consumer Protection Units in all the airports, which have been upgraded to a full-fledged directorate. Cases of harassment and ill-treatment of passengers by airline operators are now being addressed by the NCAA.
Airport facilities /Better access roads to our airports
Airport users all over Nigeria have decried the dirty state of its infrastructure especially the airport corridor and toilets. This is shameful as our airport is the primary first hand impression foreigners have of Nigeria. We urgently need better access roads to our airports.
The Montreal Convention has been domesticated into the Nigerian Civil Aviation Act 2006, which stipulates that airlines should pay victims of air accidents a minimum insurance compensation package from starting with $10,000 and a maximum of $100,000 per head.
The need to maintain Category one Status
Category One certification that was earned by Nigeria is evidence that our aviation sector has the potential to be world class. It has been alleged that the Dana aircraft that crashed Sunday revealed that, the plane – MD 83aircaft has a history of malfunctioning before it was re-sold to the Nigerian airline in 2009.
There is a policy that stipulates that Nigerian airline operators should not fly aircraft that are more than 22 years old. Despite this, investigations have shown that some Nigerian airlines still operate aircraft that are more than 22 years old (http://www.planespotters.net/Production_List/Country/Nigeria ).
There is a glaring need for Government to act quickly to restructure the aviation industry and save it from possible collapse, perhaps Mr President should act with the same speed and determination it has deployed in forwarding the bill renaming Unilag in addressing the problems facing the aviation industry, insecurity, the reinstatement of Justice Salami and the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill that has been dragging for so many years.
May the souls of the departed rest in peace.*
Megathos Law Practice © 2012
*(As it appeared in Thisday Lawyer 12/06/12) http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/saving-aviation/117847/