Are ageing fleets a contributing factor?
Two crashes in one weekend shock Africa’s frequent flyers
(eTN) - Readers of newspapers will wake up this Monday morning to news that the Lagos crash of Dana Air, which operates on the route between Abuja and Lagos, has claimed 147 lives when all on board the MD 80 aircraft died as the plane apparently hit a building. Not long before, an Allied Air B727 freighter hit vehicles on the ground in Accra, Ghana, when coming in short, killing almost a dozen people, while the crew of reportedly four survived the crash.
In both cases, aged aircraft were involved, and while at this stage it is hugely premature to speculate over the causes of both air accidents, it nevertheless will bring about fresh focus on flying in Africa, how safe it is, and how perhaps ageing fleets may be contributory factors.
Africa has the worst aviation record of any ICAO region, and this weekend’s events will only add to the black marks against the continent’s records and history. In Uganda, over the past years, reports of stone age aviation aircraft, such as Antonovs, Iljushins, F27 freighters, and B727s, have met their fiery end, and while strict and exacting maintenance and crew training standards can keep those birds flying safely – classics like the Dakota, aka DC3, are still in use in the region are living proof of that. There seems to be an alarming connection between the lack of those crucial elements and the use of such stone age sky howlers. In fact, having eye witnessed some years ago the actual crash in Entebbe of a B707 freighter on contract to Ethiopian, when first overshooting the runway on first try to land from a northerly direction out of heavy rain clouds and then coming in rather too short of the runway when attempting to land from southerly direction this latest news serves as a stark reminder of the inherent dangers of flying with the wrong crowd, especially in countries notorious for lax oversight and enforcement of rules and regulations if not the outright absence of it in the first place. The entire crew of this disaster, fortunately did survive, as a result of instant reaction by the Entebbe emergency teams.
Only days ago, I reported that the next licensing hearing of Uganda’s Civil Aviation Authority will again deal with applicants who propose to use such aged aircraft for start ups and perhaps the time had come to say ‘”NO” to the use of Soviet-era-built aircraft, which emission and noise footprints are in any case intolerable in this day and age, and where suspicions creep in that the massive fuel bills these types of aircraft incur may perhaps then be catered for by shifting funds from budget lines more concerned with training and maintenance.
CAAs, all bound by ICAO directives, should make sure that start-up airlines use state-of-the-art equipment, and if the promoters only got the money, or are willing to spend the money needed for aged aircraft, perhaps they should simply stay out of aviation and put their money in bonds or securities and leave the skies above us to those who have shown that aviation in Africa can be safe.
As a frequent flyer, it is nevertheless bad news that Nigeria, a few years hit badly by a series of crashes, is again in the spotlight, and when in the weeks and months ahead clarity emerges on the cause of this latest crash in Lagos, as well as the one in Accra, perhaps fresh lessons can be drawn as to how to make flying in Africa safer and give passengers the assurance that things are improving. For now, my thoughts are with those who perished, with their families and friends, and the distant hope that “happy landings” do come true for all those who step on an aircraft in Africa, today, tomorrow, and beyond.