Saturday, October 12, 2013

Capt. Daniel Omale: Suspension Of Dana Air Illegal

By: Capt. Daniel Omale on October 12, 2013 - 2:46am

Again, in less than 12 months, Dana Air has been handed another suspension from flying in our national airspace by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). The reason given is flimsy in every sense of professional aviation. According to the regulatory agency, the airline made two air returns (aborted trip) in a week. While the NCAA's argument is that Dana Air's two separate flights made two air returns due to engine-related issues, the airline vehemently refutes the allegations. The carrier insists that the first air return was as a result of auto throttle "warning indicator" in the cockpit and the pilot in command promptly opted to go back to the departure airport, Port Harcourt. The second issue had to do with the aircraft’s battery under-charging, and the captain of the flight initiated similar procedure--- to return to base.

In all these arguments, as a professional pilot, whether the two incidents were engine-related or not, the airline's crews must be commended, and the carrier should be mandated to file two separate incident reports (if neither was filed as stipulated in the regulation). An invitation by the NCAA for discussion, as opposed, to outright grounding of its operation would suffice. The regulatory agency cannot, on the basis of rumour/ speculation, take such drastic action.

Also, the NCAA could simply elect to intensify its safety oversight on the airline, by going through the various engine log books, or assign an inspector to make unscheduled ride in the airline's airplanes for a first- hand evaluation of how the airplanes are actually performing.

Sound professional decisions/judgment by the airline's pilots should be acknowledged by the authority.

Another statement of fact is: this is the only country in the world whereby a passenger on a flight, usually a friend of the minister of aviation, can easily call the minister to complain about what he or she suspects to be an engine problem with an aircraft, and? without verification by appropriate authority, could ground an airline.

This seems to be the case in most of Dana’s issues with the NCAA. Earlier this year, on ground Abuja, one of Dana aircraft boarded with Lagos-bound passengers’ experienced similar fate. The pilot, during his prestart checks, still noticed that the airplane battery was under charging, even when an engineer attempted to rectify the problem. The captain humbly explained to the boarded passengers that another airplane was en route from Lagos to rescue them as his airplane was not fit to fly. A few minutes after, all the passengers disembarked, the expected aircraft arrived, and took the passengers to Lagos, uneventfully. Later that day, Dana air management was informed that the airline was grounded for an undisclosed reason.

Apparently, one of the minister’s friends had called her to complain that the aircraft engine was faulty and could not start.

This is what is very scary in this business. Anyone can call the minister of aviation, and? without due diligence by the appropriate authority, a suspension order would be issued.

This is not only absurd, but a direct rape on the profession we dearly participate in with the notion to foster its growth.

The fact that an investor is unsure of what tomorrow will bring in this business is scary enough. Undue ministerial authority and absolute draconian policies will definitely kill airlines in this country.

Another danger the action of the NCAA poses for the airline is: subjecting airline's operational issues to public judgment is equally indicting of the regulatory agency. The more we expose airline infractions to, or we accept speculations from, the public, the more air transportation becomes unattractive.

Government's over-reaction after each aircraft accident is unnecessary, and it's only an agency like the NCAA that can set things right if, actually, capable hands are employed to manage the agency.

On the other hand, if the NCAA is incapable of carrying out its functions because the minister's overbearing authority supersedes the agency's purview, then, all the efforts to create autonomy for the NCAA as established in the Civil Aviation Act 2006 have become futile.

What is most appalling is the cynicism, weakness, and directionness of the apex agency responsible for air safety in our country. It is absolutely disgusting to note that experienced pilots, surveyors, and other professionals in the country now cede to know their left hand from right, when under the spell of the ministry. Has the NCAA forfeited its responsibilities to the ministry is everyone scared of standing up to the true call of this noble profession?

Everyone is scared of losing his job if he challenges the minister, even when, clearly, the regulation is being breached. This is what is worrisome. How can anyone invest  in this country, if someone, an outsider, just because of his closeness to the minister could ask for an airline to be grounded for mere unprofessional assumption?

If we are too scared to experience further air crashes, then, the most realistic option is either to force the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) to produce reports of the investigations of all recent aircraft accidents with a view to taking corrective actions and prevent future occurrence, or the NCAA should ban all airplanes from flying within the country. We cannot prevent aircraft accidents, but we certainly can minimize it. If because some people are scared of losing their jobs should another air crash happen, then, operators should not be punished for their selfishness.

If the decision of the pilot in command to abort a flight is not noble enough, then? the NCAA should not license anyone again.

There is no airline in this country today that will accept this new procedure of instant grounding because safety enhancement decision is made by its pilots.

Why must the NCAA wait for an accident to happen before embarking on airline audit? Airline audit should, and must, be routine--- and there should be no qualm about it. But, again, how many NCAA inspectors are current with the required professional refresher training since Dr Demuren's departure?

Airlines would cut corners, not only in Nigeria but everywhere else, if the regulatory authority is incapable of keeping the standards. The minister's incursion in how the NCAA should handle its affairs has become glaring, and the agency heads are dancing to the gallery.

Whether Dana Air's pilots on the two occasions shut down engines and safely brought the airplanes to safety, the airline's displayed professionalism must be commended. But grounding the airline for frivolous allegations is against the ethic of our profession.


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