The quick succession with which Nigeria has recorded air crashes in recent time leaves a reason for deep concerns, while emphasising the importance of air safety.
On the first day of this month, August 2023, an unusual incident was recorded in Lagos that sent shock waves round the whole country. On that day, a helicopter dropped from the sky in broad daylight on the busy Oba Akran Avenue in Ikeja, capital of Lagos State. While it may be argued that air crashes are not totally new, non has ever occured in the centre of a metropolis.
We have heard of ruined aircrafts with their human and material cargo destroyed in water, farmland, mountainous region and such far-flung places, but not nose-diving into a road cramped with speeding cars that were forced to stop.
The aircraft was described as a Jabiru J430; a light single airplane with Nationality and Registration Mark 5N-CCQ operated by Air First Hospitality & Tours. Interestingly, the company is privately owned by Gbolahan Abatan, Director of Airworthiness Standards of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). The aircraft was said to be on a test flight within Lagos with two passengers onboard before it crashed and burst into a huge inferno. Thankfully, no fatalities were recorded.
Research on Wikipedia reveals that Jabiru J430 is one model in a large family of two-and four-seat Australian light aircraft developed as a touring aircraft. Light aircraft are used as utility aircraft commercially for passenger and freight transport, sightseeing, photography and other roles, as well as, personal use.
The concerns around the Jabiru J430 crash hangs on the integrity of the government agency, NCAA, which has oversight functions to regulate Aviation Safety without political interference. With the revelation that the doomed aircraft belonged to the man designated to give the final word on Airworthiness Standards, this has clearly become a case of the hunter becoming the hunted. The comforting news is that the Nigeria Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB) formerly Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) has stepped into the matter.
“With the revelation that the doomed aircraft belonged to the man designated to give the final word on airworthiness standards, this has clearly become a case of the hunter becoming the hunted”
NSIB is charged with the responsibility to investigate any civil aircraft accident and serious incident arising out of, or in the course of air navigation and occurring either in or over Nigeria, or occurring to Nigerian aircraft elsewhere. The fundamental objective of NSIB is to improve aviation safety by determining the circumstances and causes of air accidents and serious incidents, and providing safety recommendations intended to prevent recurrence of similar accidents. The purpose of this is not to apportion blame or liability.
Its sister agency, NCAA, which has become implicated by reason of its Director of Airworthiness ownership of the ill-fated aircraft was established by Decree 49 of 1999 as the regulatory body for aviation in Nigeria. It became autonomous with the passing into law of the Civil Aviation Act 2006 by the National Assembly and assent of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Act not only empowers the Authority to regulate Aviation Safety without political interference, it also confers on it the powers to carry out oversight functions of Airports, Airspace, Meteorological Services, as well as economic regulations of the industry.
An important aspect of the agency’s work is to provide aviation safety and economic regulation in the most efficient, effective, quality and technology-driven manner to the satisfaction and benefit of all stakeholders, consistent with the highest international standards and the sustainable development of the industry and national economy.
While the Jabiru J430 crash recorded no fatalities, at least 24 security operatives in a Mi-171 helicopter conveying dead and wounded soldiers from am evacuation mission in Niger State, 249 (155 miles) north of Abuja were not so fortunate. A spokesperson for the Nigerian military, Major General Edward Buba, disclosed that there were 14 soldiers and seven wounded ones aboard the aircraft when it crashed, alongside two pilots and two crew members.
As it is wont to happen with military operations, not all details have been rendered to the public by the military authorities. For instance, Buba did not say if there were survivors. He made a broad remark, claiming investigation had begun to determine the cause of the crash.
While a good number of ruined aircraft recorded fatalities, claiming the lives of the entire passengers and crew, a few were listed with significant survivors.
However, there is no crash that does not come with telling financial costs, much less irrecoverable human loss. For the military, the loss of each aircraft subtracts from the number in its fleet and weakens the striking power of that squad. There is no doubt that immediate attention needs to be given to aviation safety, with a view to managing risks. Deliberate steps must be taken to prevent aviation accidents and incidents through research, educating air travel personnel, passengers and the general public, as well as the design of aircraft and aviation infrastructure.