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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

PLANE CRASH: Stella Oduah Still In Hot Soup?

Stella Oduah
The Senate on Tuesday summoned the Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah, and heads of agencies under her ministry, to explain the real state of the nation’s aviation industry.
The invitation followed Thursday’s Associated Airlines plane crash in which about 15 out of the 20 passengers and crew on board, had been confirmed dead.
The 23-year-old aircraft was conveying the body of a former Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, to Akure, when it crashed barely a minute after take-off from the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Ikeja, Lagos.
Hours after the accident, a Saudi Arabia-bound Kabo Air plane with 400 passengers on board made an emergency landing in Sokoto on Friday when it lost its two main body tyres.
The decision to summon Oduah was taken after the Senators exhaustively discussed a motion moved by Senator Hope Uzodima. In the motion, the lawmaker drew the attention of his colleagues to the Associated Airlines plane crash and expressed serious concern that the incident had underscored the need for the country to re-examine its aviation sector.
He also noted that the incident, the seventh between June 2, 2012 and October 3, 2013, was “suggestive of a deep-seated systemic problem that must be unravelled and resolved to avert futher occurrences.”
Other senators, in their contributions, also lamented that reports on past crashes had offered recommendations on what should be done by the relevant agencies in the aviation sector to avoid future occurences.
For instance, Senator Abiye Sekibo, challenged the Senate Committee on Aviation to, as part of its oversight functions, find out the airworthiness of all the aircraft on the fleet of the airlines in the country.
Senator Barnabas Gemade,who noted that the aviation ministry had improved facilities at the nation’s airports, said there was an urgent need for professionals to be fully in charge of the sector to enhance its efficiency.
Senator Oluremi Tinubu noted that Nigeria had the worst airport runway in the world, a situation she argued, posed a great risk to air travellers.
She also described as frightening and disheartening, statements credited to the aviation minister that accidents were “an act of God and therefore inevitable.”
Senator Smart Adeyemi said his findings showed that the plane was supposed to be on a test flight to Akure and therefore should not have carried passengers.
Adeyemi added that the plane was being repaired and had not been flown for sometime hence there were engineers on board to ascertain its performance.
Other senators submitted that the current situation demanded an holistic approach because the sector was already in a state of emergency.
The session, presided over by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, observed a one-minute silence for the victims and condemned the inability of relevant agencies to unearth the causes of air crashes in the country.
The senators therefore unanimously agreed to summon Oduah and the chief executive officers of all the agencies under her supervison to explain the true state of the aviation sector.
Ekweremadu, while ruling on the submission of the Senate, however, clarified that the invitation of Oduah and others was not an indictment of their competence.
Rather, he said it would afford the aviation chiefs, an opportunity to state their efforts at implementating past reports and recommendations of the Senate aimed at ensuring safety and sanity in the industry.
He said, “The observation of lapses in the aviation industry expressed by senators is not also an indictment of the Senate Committee on Aviation. The senators expreseed frustration on the issue and not that they passed a vote of no confidence in the committee.”
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, while briefing journalists after the plenary, said the minister and the aviation chiefs would appear before the Senators after their resumption on October 22.
He noted that the Senate suspended plenary till after the Sallah celebration so that all the reports pending before it would be submitted.
Shortly after the Senate resolved to summon her, Oduah said the Federal Government had no fact yet on the insurance status of the crashed aircraft.
The minister, who also explained again that Dana Air’s operations were suspended due to operational lapses, said additional financial assistance would be given by the government to domestic airlines to enable them to keep afloat.
She told journalists in Abuja that it would not be right for the government to speculate on the insurance status of the ill-fated aircraft since the report on a probe by the Accident Investigation Bureau had yet to be released.
She said, “For now, if I answer you, it would amount to speculation because AIB, whose responsibility it is to know, has not finished with the investigation. We don’t have enough facts for me to tell you what it is that you want me to tell you. So, I don’t know what you are talking about.
“I really want to beg every one of you (journalists) to stop speculating. We do not speculate on accidents and this is because we are going to have a preliminary report. The report will tell you the exact state of the insurance, and whether it is there or not and you will have it as facts.”
Media reports had it that the aircraft might not have been insured as it claimed. The airline’s alleged insurer, Nigeria Reinsurance Plc, denied having any insurance contract with the carrier.
The second insurance firm named by the carrier, Sema Insurance, is neither registered with the National Insurance Commission nor an insurance broking firm known by NAICOM.
On the suspension of Dana Air operations, Oduah said it was not a witch-hunt but was based on investigation which was carried out on the carrier.
She said, “Certification of airlines is a routine and regular exercise and in the course of certification, there may be operational lapses and when they are noticed, we have to look at them again and take the necessary steps that would ensure safety and security.
“If somebody has high BP (blood pressure) and takes medications and the sickness calms down, if he stops his medication wrongly, what do you think would happen? If an airline has a clean bill and fails to maintain it, it will be suspended.”
The minister also said the government would by the end of this month announce when a national carrier would commence operations.
“I guarantee you that before the end of this month we will announce it, ”she told the journalists.
On the financial assistance to airlines, Oduah explained that it would be a single digit interest facility.
“This will be for a period of 20 years and it will help boost their operations. We are currently waiting for approval by the Central Bank of Nigeria,” she added.
Also, the Managing Director, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Mr. Nnamdi Udoh, stated that the pilot of the Kabo air plane that had a burst tyre while landing in Sokoto had been suspended.
He said, “The airline had investigated and found out that it was an operator fault and as I speak to you, Kabo Air has suspended the pilot that was involved.”
Source: Punch