We’ve all probably judged the safety of an airplane by how new and modern it looks. It’s hard not to. But is it superficial to be taken in by new seats and other things that make them newer. However, aircraft engineers think otherwise. WOLE SHADARE reports
The big question The release of four accident reports, including that of Associated Airlines Embaer aircraft penultimate week by the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) has brought to the fore the issue of geriatric aircraft as the cause of many of the plane crashes, which report do not in any way show that the crashes were caused by the age of equipment used by the operators.
However, age of aircraft dominated discourse and question and answer session when a reporter asked whether the accidents recorded in Nigeria were not caused by the age of the aircraft as many of the crashed jets and helicopters were between 15 and 24 years old.
Olateru thinks otherwise
But Commissioner, AIB, Akin Olateru, an aircraft engineer, quickly debunked the insinuations, saying Nigeria is the only country where there is restriction on aircraft from operating in the airspace.
His words: “There is nowhere else in the world it happens. Fifty year old aircraft are still flying in the United Kingdom, United States and other places. Nobody restricts them. We have a regulation that restricts aircraft of over 22 years from coming to our country. I think it is an over kill.
“It is not the age that determines the safety of an aircraft. Air France crash that happened in Brazil about five years ago was almost two years old aircraft. Everybody died in that crash.
You have seen accidents all over the world. Age is just a number. What matters is your maintenance procedure/culture. What matters is how well are you training your people. What matters is the culture of the company itself. How healthy is your company to fund aircraft purchase?
“Older aircraft are too costly to maintain. You have a lot of delays when you are running an older aircraft, on time performance drops. There are lots of associated reasons for that. In the new world, you don’t need to fly an old aircraft.
You have to look at the environment. Who gives airline finance in air transportation business? Will the bank support you with finance? We are such at a disadvantage. I believe that we are on the right track and over time, we will surmount all these problems”, he added.
Nigeria’s flag carrier airline, Arik was the pride of the country’s aviation industry when it showed commitment in doing things differently in the aviation sector by acquiring over 20 aircraft; some of the ‘tear rubber’ like the airline prided itself then. The airline was the toast of travellers and the corporate world.
It used it to its maximum advantage as its competitors lost out in the power game. Many travellers were conscious of the type of aircraft they flew.
Many linked incessant plane crashes to the use of aged airplanes. Even when experts explained that the age of airplanes had nothing to do with air safety.
Arik’s new airplanes then can no longer be called new because airplanes of close to 15 years are no longer considered new. The airline has not acquired new airplanes since its crisis over two years ago, which necessitated its take-over by the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) due to N500 billion debts to banks.
It would be recalled that former Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Kema Chikwe started the ban policy after the crash of EAS Airline in Gwamaja, near Kano in 2002.
The Government policy then barred BAC1-11 B737-200 and B727 aircraft for what it considered old age. Many of the airlines such as Chanchangi, Bellview, Savannah Air, Fresh Air, Al Barka and many others closed shops because many of them had the airplane types.
Government thereby pegged the age limit of planes coming to the country at 22 years then. In 2010 after another major crash, government moved the maximum age of aircraft in its airspace from 22 to 20 years. Another Minister of Aviation, Fidelia Njeze, had said that any aircraft imported into the country must not be more than 20 years old, adding that none of the aircraft in the country’s air space is above 20 years old.
Slow fleet modernisation
Nigeria, however, is slow in the march towards fleet modernisation. A few years ago, government set a 22-year age limit foraircraft that could be brought into the country.
Former Secretary-General of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Mohammed Joji, said the age of aircraft does not matter, arguing that the same aircraft types that were banned aftermath of air crashes shows that the country is only reacting to issue and not proactive.
Joji explained that airplanes of over 20 years are still being used in Europe, United States and other countries. He stated that airliners and business jets are built with a certain number of cycles in mind, adding that a cycle is usually defined as a pressurization and depressurization of the cabin.
Many domestic carriers have the Boeing 737, 500, 400, 300, and 800 series in their fleet. Majority of the active domestic carriers such as Arik Air, Aero Airlines, Air Peace, AZMAN Air, Medview Airlines and HAK Air have Boeing aircraft dominating their fleet.
A few years ago, Boeing advised African carriers, including Nigerian operators, to modernise their fleet in order to be able to compete on routes dominated particularly by foreign carriers.
A study by Boeing revealed that twin – aisle planes will account for 32 per cent of new planes in Africa in the next 20 years, compared with 23 per cent globally. According to Boeing, many factors drive the demand for replacement of old aircraft.
Age, according to the corporation, is one, but other factors include relative airplane economics, maintenance requirements and overall market environment.
It said in recent years, high fuel costs have played a larger role in influencing decisions to remove airplanes from service. Boeing’s push for re-fleeting, is predicated on the fact that newer aircraft are more cost effective for operators in terms of fueling, maintenance and insurance, among other considerations. It is debatable whether Nigerian carriers have embraced this old aircraft phase out scheme being pushed by Boeing Corporation.
Despite the 22-year age limit set by government for aircraft a few years ago, old airplanes are a common sight in Nigerian airspace.
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