Saturday, August 04, 2012

Nigeria: Plane crashes take toll on aviation sector

The tragedy of the June 3 Dana Air crash is creating ripples in the aviation industry, writes OKECHUKWU NNODIM

The decreasing interest in air travel among passengers in Nigeria since the June 3, 2012, Dana Air crash in Lagos has risen to an alarming state, according to experts in the country’s aviation sector.

The experts say the panic generated is cutting across virtually all classes passengers from different sectors of the economy, a development that has discouraged most regular air travellers from the sectors from flying domestic airlines.

According to them, the Federal Government has not helped matters by the manner it conducted investigations into the recent crash and the ones before it.

In the opinion of the experts, if the phobia many travellers currently have against the sector persists, the sector may be heading for a collapse.

They point out that the regulatory and voluntary grounding of some domestic airlines sequel to the crash of the Dana aircraft has heighted the fear and the threat it poses to the sector.

A Lagos-based aviation consultant and the former President, National Cabin Crew Association of Nigeria, Mr. Olumide Ohunayo, says efforts to stem the panic have yielded little or no results.

He says, “Since the Dana crash, the country and populace have been drawn into an unbelievable hysteria and anti-aviation phobia. The phobia has continued to run in all facets of the country, despite the assurance and support of the international community and organisations that have been steadfast and strongly believe in our system and processes.

“The government bowed to the hysterical pressure by quickly setting up a committee that was not necessary and whose report cannot be taken seriously to go beyond the realms of its initiator.”

He adds, “Thereafter, the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation came up with their own version of investigation by quickly suspending Dana Air’s licence and directing the Director-General of the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria to proceed on suspension.”

He says the law makers went too far in trying to create new laws, which can be detrimental to the sector’s interest.

He says, “They went further to describe our aircraft as being too old and intend to initiate laws that will lower the minimum age to 15 years. The MD aircraft series were virtually labelled sick and old aircraft designed to kill Nigerians in spite of their safety records and statistics.”

Ohunayo argues that the MD series used by Dana was the same aircraft that gave that airline the best rating in terms of timeliness and posturing among airlines in Nigeria over the years without disappointing its clients, who also voted the airline as the best customer-friendly airline.

He says a version of that aircraft is parked on the tarmac of the Abuja Airport by the United Nations to lift Nigerian and other troops for peace keeping missions up till this moment.

He adds that Air Burkina and Air Mali use the same aircraft to lift Air France passengers going to points beyond Ouagadougou and Bamako, “yet Nigerian carriers with younger aircraft and certification have not been considered fit for code share agreements.”

The consultant observes that activities by industry activists since are not auguring well for the sector. He stresses that the government may tighten regulatory polices, but calls for policies that will build rather than kill the interest in Nigeria’s air travel.

He says, “AIB, the body saddled with the responsibility of investigating, reporting, updating and publishing incident or accident reports, but chose to make them look more like classified espionage reports, had to be pushed by industry activists to release the preliminary report of Dana aircraft accident.

“And unbelievably, in an anti-AIB speed, the agency released the report of the recent Arik Air incident at Jos Airport. Though it is a norm because it is from AIB, it is obviously a departure from the usual.”

The President, Aviation Round Table, a body of industry experts, Captain Dele Ore, during a news conference in Lagos, had said that the sector was at the verge of collapse, if nothing drastic was done to salvage the situation.

He said the recent grounding of some airlines by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority had directly led to the loss of jobs.

Ore explains that it is better for the authority to seek ways or remedy the situation, rather the halting the operations of these carriers and putting hundreds of employees out of job.

The aftermath of the Dana Air crash led to the regulatory and voluntary grounding of some carriers. Some of the affected airlines included Dana Air and Air Nigeria. Apart from these carriers that were recently grounded, some other domestic airlines in the country had earlier ceased to operate because of financial challenges and the harsh operating environment.

Industry experts note that while it is better not to go into details, it is sad to see that the other airlines flying have cashed in on it by increasing fares phenomenally. They say these carriers are attributing the hike in fares to increased fuel surcharge, which makes it easy to fleece passengers and government agencies.

“Fuel surcharge is usually loaded on international fares based on sector length, while on domestic fare the charge is minimal. Our carriers have reversed this rule in this season of absurdities,” Ohunayo says.

Analysts cite Air Nigeria as one airline that is going through a trying period probably as a result of wrong perception, stressing that at the beginning, it was the country’s national carrier.

According to them, the airline was funded and managed by some privileged private placement heroes and a foreign technical partner, but the foreign partner has fled, while the private partners have ceded ownership and management.

Meanwhile, the analysts insist thatno matter what, Nigerians will continue to travel, stressing that the important point is the share of the business that comes to local carriers to make business continue. They subsequently call on stakeholders to ponder on ways to get the sector back on track.

Ohunayo asks, “Is it fair for foreign carriers to keep increasing gauge, while we are left to collect tolls called Bilateral Air Service Agreement?

“Is it so bad that Nigerians now fly to Dubai on Rwanda Airlines?”

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