Plane Crash And
culled from THISDAY, November 7, 2006
On Sunday, 29 October another
Nigerian air carrier with 104 passengers reportedly owned by Aviation
Development Company crashed and burned after take off in a storm from Abuja.
Six passengers are said to have survived. This follows several other fatal
crashes of Nigerian airliners in the last year; all involving poorly
maintained Douglass DC-9's, Boeing 727's and 737's. Many of these aircraft
were purchased from storage for under $1.0 million and flown with only
superficial maintenance to Africa where they never again receive major
inspections and are often flown by pilots who haven't seen the inside of a
training simulator for years.
Africa, as a whole, accounts for 4 percent of the air travel worldwide but
has 25% of the accidents. The exceptions to the rule are those air carriers
in South Africa where aviation safety is taken very seriously, even
exceeding in many cases the stringent regulations of the US FAA and the
JAR's in Europe. In Nigeria, by the way, Virgin Nigeria and Aero
Contractors, both operated by highly experienced aviation professionals,
offer highly safe transport to most destinations in country.
The FAA issues many AD's (aviation directives) on new and aging aircraft and
indeed, there are entire manuals dedicated to the upkeep of older aircraft.
The CPCP (corrosion prevention and control program) was written and expanded
after the roof blew off an Aloha Airlines 737-200 and focuses detailed
attention on every area of possible corrosion mandating repairs at regular
intervals. Since those procedures have been issued Western carriers have
never again suffered similar problems.
We have structural inspections that require the operators to check every
area of stress using sophisticated testing devices and programs to 'look'
beneath the surfaces of metal to detect hidden flaws. These inspections are
required on fixed schedules and are incorporated into the MIP (maintenance
inspection program) and the MPD, (maintenance planning documents) that
govern every inch of commercial airliners ensuring their structural
integrity and requiring the replacement and overhauls of all the various
Western crews are subjected to proficiency checks every six months as well
as annual recurrent systems training and periodic checks by roving Federal
inspectors as well as company check airman. Most pilots in Nigeria and,
indeed, throughout the third world, have never taken any kind of serious
proficiency check because they obtained their jobs through military,
political and family connections (nepotism). These pilots are only
'examined' by their peers and, to my knowledge; none have ever been 'pinked
slipped' meaning they failed a check ride. What I am saying then is that in
the third world there are no failures at all in the testing of airline
pilots. Everyone gets a free pass.
Indeed, as a simulator instructor for a major training facility, when we had
any of these crews scheduled, I was advised not to fail any engines or other
systems, inject no wind sheers or do anything except manage the simulator so
that the phony 'check rides' were conducted in the most routine manner
possible. The idea was not to 'embarrass' the trainees. When these tired old
aircraft arrive in Nigeria they are painted and pressed into service. None
of them have been fitted with updated avionics such as required in all
western countries. Devices such as TAWS (terrain awareness warning systems)
FMS's units (flight management units) with MFD's providing visual routing
displays are not mandated or installed. In Africa, there is no enroot radar
and RVSM (reduced vertical separations minimums) are not required. To be
fair, the RVSM is probably, at this time, not necessary.
To retrofit and update these old aircraft can easily cost more than their
owners paid for them. There are numerous and very expensive AD's required on
the JT8D engines that power most of these older stage II second generation
jets and to keep up with the MIP (inspection program) can easily cost $1000
per hour. As the local currencies in many 3 rd world countries are not
easily convertible, the operators don't have access to the US dollars
required to pay for the repairs and inspections on their aircraft. Indeed,
even if they did, the cost of the maintenance would be greater than the
revenues they receive. Additionally, in all of West Africa there are no ICAO
or FAA licensed maintenance facilities even if they could afford to have the
The nearest maintenance facilities are in Europe or South Africa and the
cost to ferry any aircraft there and back could easily be over $100,000 and,
without RVSM, TAWS, ELT modifications, and 8.33 radio conversions, it is
doubtful that these Africanized old beasts would be allowed into European
skies. Let me add here that all modern airports have SIDs and STARS (complex
approach and departure procedures)†that are dependant on the aircraft having
dual FMS and GPS navigation receivers with MFD's displaying the routings.
Since none of these West African Junkers have any of this equipment, it
would be almost impossible to navigate into any European destination even if
the operators wanted to.
If a West African air carrier were to deliver an aircraft to such a licensed
facility it is doubtful that it would ever leave. Licensed maintenance
facilities are not permitted to ěsign offî any aircraft that is not
completely airworthy and the cost of catching up on the AD's and inspections
on any 'African' aircraft that has been flying for a few years 'in-country'
could easily be in the millions of dollars and require many months to
complete. Of course, since the aircraft's historical records haven't been
maintained, there is no way any licensed maintenance facility would have any
idea where to begin. Another reason these companies have such a horrendous
safety record is that, in addition to the almost complete lack of
inspections incorporating CPCP and SSID Programs, none of the crews have
access to simulator based training as there are no simulators within 1000
miles. Of course, even if this were not the case, these pilots would resist
any penalty based training regimen. To keep a crew trained as is routinely
done in the developed countries, costs annually about $50,000 per crew. This
money is not available in Africa and, even if it were, until the African
crews are trained properly ń meaning trained as western crews are, the
expenditures would accomplish nothing.
Considering the lack of proper maintenance and poor crew selection and
training, it is a wonder that more of these terrible accidents don't occur.
It is important to note that this intolerably poor safety record has nothing
whatsoever to do with the age of the aircraft and everything to do with the
miserable maintenance they receive and the deplorable state of their crew
training. American Airlines alone operates something like 350 MD-80 series
aircraft. These machines were introduced in 1980, 26 years ago and together
they are all safely flying about 105,000 hours a month. Today, Nigeria bars
any aircraft greater than 20 years of age from being imported. Until their
maintenance and crew training standards change such a rule will do nothing
to improve their safety record. So, remember if you ever travel to any
undeveloped country- fly a western carrier or don't go at all.
•Robert Firth wrote from Boca