By Capt. Daniel Omale
— December 26, 2015 2:31 am
The ladder incident in Bauchi on December 17, 2015, involving Aero Contractors aircraft instantly went viral on the social media. My friends from the United States, and even India called me with scornful messages of how Nigeria’s aviation sector is in sheer jeopardy.
As ugly as the incident seems, the sector is constantly evolving for better, and we cannot accept such ridiculous stigma. But one thing is certain: there or has to be a proper investigation into the cause of such an unprofessional act.
The big question on everyone’s mind is what happened to the aircraft’s airstair? Virtually all older generation B737 aircraft, including the 500 series operated by Aero that day should have been equipped with serviceable airstair before embarking on a trip to a remote airport like Bauchi. It is also possible to fly an aircraft without airstair once there is confirmation that a handling company would provide an external airstair, but if for any unknown Reason the aircraft landed at the destination and the equipment is not available, what would be the best option for the captain? There are two serviceable airports to use as alternate: Gombe and Jos.
The decision to either go to an alternate airport or use unapproved equipment rests solely on the Captain. In this case, in my opinion, the pilot in-charge adopted incorrect judgment. While the cost of flying to either Gombe or Jos airport may be part of the Captain’s considerations, a fatal accident as a result of unapproved procedure will surely cost the airline twice the operational expenses forgone by the crew.
The incident has, to some extent, damaged Aero Contractors worldwide professional reputation; this cost alone is immeasurable.
Blaming the airport’s management for failure to provide eternal steps for the aircraft is unnecessary and grossly irresponsible of Aero’s management. Additionally, the airline cannot say that the passengers accepted to use an unapproved equipment to deplane, because the safety of the flight does not rest with passengers, but the airline.
On the other hand, who approved the new Bauchi airport for operation without listing the minimum required equipment before granting permit for utilization? Three agencies in the country, NCAA, FAAN and NAMA must certify the safety net of an airport for initial or continued operation. If the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), as narrated below by its spokesperson, claims that the management of the airport remains with Bauchi State Government, then the airports’ authority’s role in security and safety oversight of all the airports in Nigeria is hopelessly in doubt.
Below are excerpts of FAANs defense, and Aero Contractors analysis of the incident:
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN has made public that the unacceptable incidence at the Bauchi Airport is not its making. According to the statement made available through the agency’s spokesman, Yakubu Dati, “ we wish to clarify that Aero Contractors’ use of unauthorized equipment (ladder) to disembark its passengers does not have anything to do with FAAN.”
Dati explained further that the Bauchi Airport is managed by the Bauchi State Government and that FAAN only provides statutory services at the airport such as aircraft marshaling, aviation security services and fire cover. The Authority does not provide handling services for Aero Contractors and therefore does not understand why it should be held responsible for non-provision of appropriate equipment for passenger disembarkation.
Meanwhile, the Accountable Manager of Aero Contractors, Captain Russell B. Lee Foon explained that all proper arrangements were made including the assurance of the airstairs before they embarked on the charter operation of the aircraft Boeing 737-500 to the Bauchi Airport.
Briefing aviation correspondents at their Headquarters on the issue, Russell said: “On Thursday 17th December 2015, a charter was booked and confirmed from Abuja to Bauchi on a Boeing 737 -500 series aircraft. The charter was booked by a group of young people, part of a wedding party, attending this important event in Bauchi.”
“On Friday 18th December 2015, confirmed arrangements were made by our Head of Ground Operations, Mr. Peter Omata for the handling of the flight through the airport manager of Bauchi, Mr. Abubakar. He confirmed on many occasions the availability of the airstairs and cost. The aircraft to be used for the flight was 5N-BLG, a Boeing 737-500 series aircraft. This aircraft was positioned into Abuja on the evening of December 18th 2015.
“On Saturday 19th December 2015, schedule time of departure for Bauchi was 09:00. Passengers arrived late at the airport after departure time and this delayed the flight’s departure. The flight was under the command of Captain Nikcevic VLADO.”
While Aero Contractors and FAAN try to justify their position, trading blames will not undo the incident, but a proper investigation must be carried out to find the true position of all the airports in Nigeria.
Obviously, there is no reason, whatsoever, to engage a construction ladder to disembark passengers. Since it is not an approved equipment for non-emergency operation, structural damage to the aircraft is possible, in addition to passengers hurting themselves.
It is absolutely irritating for Aero Contractors management to even indicate that the passengers chose to use the ladder. This statement which has been credited to one of Aero’s managers, does not make sense. The final decision of how the aircraft should be operated does not rest with the passengers, but the airline.
There is every rational reason to investigate the incident properly as directed by the minister, because aircraft accidents always occur with sequence of events. This is an incident that indicates wrong operational procedure/judgment.
With high level, rampant social media as watchdogs in our society, it is very difficult, today, to get away with unprofessional behavior in aircraft operations.