The Director General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Captain Usman Muhkta may have considered other options instead of meting out what has before now been a regular approach in dealing with airlines in Nigeria when it comes to the issue of crashes, which has always been to suspend the entire airline’s operating license. But this time the NCAA towed a different path.
Approaching the occurrence with what seems controversial to most Nigerians, the aviation authority’s helmsman has applied a tactical approach in dealing with the issue of the serial crashes by Bristow Helicopters. The approach on a critical look disappoints the expectations of several Nigerians who would want Bristow’s operation license to be withdrawn.
Instead, the aviation authority towed a path which seems to be in tandem with global practices in aviation control management and regulations by not suspending the airline’s operations, but rather preferring to suspend only the aircraft model, the Sikorsky S-76C++ model of aircraft.
The Director General, Captain Muhtar Usman, while announcing the suspension of the Sikorsky S-76C++ helicopter type said that the civil authority’s ‘decisions are without prejudice to the investigations being conducted by the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB)’.
He insisted that ‘the Regulatory Authority views with utmost seriousness the successive mishaps of Bristow Helicopters’ operating aircraft SirkoskyS-76C++ on the coastal waters of Lagos.
In the last six months Bristow Helicopters has recorded two crashes into the coastal waters of Lagos by the same model of aircraft involved in the accidents.
Though the actual and technical reasons why Captain Muhtar toe this path instead of a total suspension of the entire operations Bristow was not clearly stated during a parley with the press, yet a careful look at other facts about that decision seems to favour the NCAA’s decision.
But Mr Joseph Onyeaghalam, a businessman who came to pick a relative returning by air at the Muritala Mohammed international airport, displayed so much disappointment with the federal government, saying that, ‘Everything in this country now has become an issue of using money to settle every problem.
‘To me it shows that the government does not value the lives of people. What more can we say, an aircraft crashed twice in six months and all you can do is to suspend that aircraft type that got involved in the crash? So, what happens to the personnel who certified the airline to be in good condition before it’s task-off’?
Before this era, it has always been the practice by the civil aviation to withdraw the operating licenses of airlines whenever an airline crashes. During the ill-fated Dana Airline crash, the airline was banned. And even the House of Representatives insisted on retaining the airlines’ ban and insisting on firing NCAA’s MD Harold Demuren, who defended the re-certification of the airline. The same fate befell Sosoliso, and Bellview.
It would be recalled that Bristow’s Regional Director Africa, Duncan Moore, during his speech to declare resumption of operations after the August 12 2015 crash explained that, ‘… Bristow is in full compliance with regulatory directives issued for our aircraft. Special maintenance and monitoring programs developed by the aircraft and engine manufacturers, the helicopter operators and the FAA/CAA in recent years have ensured all our aircraft are maintained to optimum standards.
And according to the report of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) on the crashed helicopter, which was released in September 2015, this revealed the cause of the crash to be as a result of uncontained engine failure which lasted 12 seconds.
AIB explained then that, ‘The crew did not declare an emergency. According to FDI data, the upset lasted for 12 seconds… There was no evidence of fire outbreak before or after the crash. The life rafts on the helicopter were observed deflated and floating in the lagoon’.
Ikechi Uko, a travel expert, airing his opinion in support of the decision of the NCAA, said, ‘This is the first time the right thing is being done in Nigeria. The best thing to do under such circumstances is to ground that particular helicopter model and not the Bristow Helicopters as a whole. So, if it was a maintenance error, corrects it. Ethiopian airline B787 engine caught fire. The entire B787 was grounded, investigated and corrected’.
The DG, therefore, after embarking on a short tale of the history of the Sikorsky helicopter model, went on to say, ’If you may recall, in August 2015, a Bristow Helicopter operated Sikorsky S-76 series crashed around Oworonshoki axis in Lagos. What this means is that yesterday’s incident is occurring a little over six months after the preceding one.
‘Therefore, as a responsible regulatory Authority, it is important to stem this rapidity of occurrence and ensure the airline carry out safe operations”, he stated.
The NCAA boss further stated that the suspension of operations for the impending whole audit is not a vote of no confidence on the airline, pointing out that it is to ascertain the adequacy and propriety of the operating aircraft type.
Captain Muhktar concluded that the suspension is not new in the industry, saying that, ‘it is the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) all over the world’.