Plane Crash And Nigerian Airspace


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Plane Crash And Nigerian Airspace




Robert Firth,



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 components.

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 work done.

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 Raton, Florida



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