The Re-building of Nigerian National Flight Career

by Christopher Odetunde, Ph.D

Once upon a time, there was a Nigerian National carrier, Nigerian Airways. What caused its demise needs to be well researched and a solution for its recreation proffered. The questions on the minds of most Nigerian aviation professionals are the following: Was the collapse caused by mismanagement, greed, lack of maintenance culture, inexperience engineers and pilots, or can the answer be in placing a political to manage the industry instead of having an oversight function of the aviation industry? Whatever the reason or combination of reasons are, it is time to understand and attempt to resuscitate the pride of Nigeria, the national carrier. It is believed that in order to bring back national carrier, in some form, lessons from the myriad of mistakes that caused the collapse Nigeria Airways must be learnt.

In the past, I was invited by some Nigerian aviation professionals to craft a way forward to re-establishing the aviation industry in Nigeria. Although the professionals were capable bit the political environment was control by those that believed that only expatriates are capable of inventive ideas in aviation. I believe with the advent of a learned professional like President Yar ‘Adua, the efforts at resuscitating the industry is now. Before we go into the reasons why Nigerian Airways collapsed, it is necessary to note that almost every country, small or big, has a national carrier which is often a sign of progress, power and technological strength or indication of continuous improvement in the nation’s aviation technology sector. For this reason, a national career needs to be reestablished so that all the efforts and money spent on training our Aerospace/Aeronautical engineers and competent pilots do not go to waste on the long run. So, whatever happened to our National Carrier and what lessons can aviation experts learn?

Prior to 1959 the West African Airways Corporation, WAAC, a joint venture between Nigeria, Gambia, Sierra Leone, and Ghana, which left WAAC in 1957. WAAC operated services to London in collaboration with the British Overseas Airways Corporation, BOAC. During the period in question, WAAC employed Boeing 377 Stratocruisers. However, in 1958, Nigeria Airways was formed as national airline of Nigeria which was headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria. The airline was owned, managed and controlled by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Because each succeeding administration, democratic or military saw the airline as a means of exercising political power and control, they exhibited such power through allowing mistresses and family members to fly free, they delayed the aircraft’s takeoff from international airports and landing in Nigeria at will and they encouraged reduction in aircraft maintenance in order to pocket some of the money for maintenance at the expense of lives of passengers. They reduced paying passengers to “bole kajas” victims.

During the administration of Alhaji Shehu Sagari, most especially, politicians converted Nigeria airways aircrafts to private aircrafts by ceasing the aircrafts, at will, to transport their mistresses to London for meaningless parties and often with little or no fees. There were also various allegations that between 1980 and 1998, Nigerian rulers looted the airline and thus accelerated its demise. For some inhuman treatment of passengers and for not following internationally accepted operations, Nigerian Airways went into liquidation and is currently subject to numerous law suits. For instance, in 2001, the United Kingdom refused to allow Nigeria Airways to operate from Lagos to London due to concerns about the safety of the Air Djibouti Boeing 747 which was leased to operate the service. The service had been halted since 1998. Passengers also abused the aircrafts by almost converting them to cargo and causing overload which violated aircraft design and aircraft’s safety. As a result of none compliance with internationally accepted operations, one of the law suits, a $50 Million dollar multiple-count suit was filed against the Nigerian Airways by Fagbenle Attorneys, LLC (Global-Lawyer) in the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. The law suit was filed on behalf of over 400 New York passengers stranded in Lagos. The airline was said to have abandoned all passenger luggage in New York, and left hundreds of passengers with worthless return tickets when it, Nigeria Airways, abruptly ceased operations in December 2002.

For any national carrier to be airworthy, it needs to subscribe to the National Air Carrier Association, NACA which has ability to provide members with a variety of support services, in a timely manner and at an economy that does not adversely affect the carrier’s bottom line. NACA’s members are all certified under 14 CFR Part 121 of the FAA regulations, and uphold the highest safety standards in the airline industry. NACA also promotes national and international interests of their members and represents their interests before the Congress of the United States and the many US Government agencies that have oversight of the US Aviation Industry. NACA encourages maintenance of aircrafts for airworthiness.

No design is perfect but maintenance can improve any minor flaw in design. Maintenance of aircrafts for airworthiness has nothing to do with knowing design of aircrafts. Understanding of aircraft design is left to Aeronautical, Aerospace, Mechanical and even Chemical engineers (aircraft power plant designs and implementation). Handling of the guts of a plane, however, cannot exist without adequate training, following and understanding aviation rules. This is where quality aviation training from top-notch aviation schools comes into play. Between 1960 and early eighties, Nigeria embarked on rigorous quality training of aviation professionals in such areas as power plant maintenance, airline/travel, aviation maintenance, avionics, pilots, and quality control experts. Airframe and power plant technicians are trained to keep planes, jets, helicopters, and other crafts in optimum flying conditions. A professional with a degree in avionics, for example, is capable of understanding design, and is capable of implementing the latest technologies to power an aircraft.

During the period of aviation industry development in Nigeria, politicians who did not understand the importance of aviation in a nation’s growth strangulated and rendered capable aviation professionals useless. Unfortunately, during this same period, aviation decisions were left in the hands of professional politicians rather than in the hands of aviation professionals. The result was the collapse of the nation’s flag bearer, Nigeria Airways and hence budding Nigerian aviation industry. Our immediate past president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo claimed he left several aircrafts in the fleet of Nigeria Airways as a military head of state but came back to meet fewer aircrafts as a democratically elected President. Little did he know that combination of corruption, looting and substitution of substandard parts, lack of maintenance culture were to blame for the reduction in functioning aircrafts. Chief Obasanjo also failed to realize that aviation accidents that occurred under his watch as the president of Nigeria had little to do with the abilities of Nigerian aviation professionals but has more to do with corruption and political maneuvering of aviation industry. Therefore, even OBJ had substituted Nigerian aviation professionals with expatriates as he suggested then, the planes would still be falling off the skies without addressing the root cause of the aviation accidents.

In looking at what caused the demise of Nigeria Airways, aircraft safety/security must be taken into consideration. Aircraft safety/security involves a full spectrum of integrate, professional services in aviation systems safety, facility security, and information sharing. It involves cooperative efforts between experienced pilots, air safety officers, engineers, former airport security managers, and aviation safety analysts. The experiences that these professionals acquired provide them with an in-depth understanding of airport operations, airline organizational structures vital to quality safety and security management. Such understanding also provides valuable insights into the features and benefits of new control technologies in support of civil aviation and international commerce including placement of satellites in space for commercial and communication uses.

For smooth operation of aircraft, aviation professionals must understand, among other issues, failure system evaluation such as: 1) Preliminary Hazard Analysis of Early Warning Systems; 2) Risk Assessment of Aircraft Surveillance Systems; 3) Reliability and Maintainability Analysis of Navigation Systems; 4) Simulation and Modeling of Airport Passenger and Baggage Flows; and 5) Failure Mode Effects and Criticality Analysis of Global Positioning Systems. Aviation professional associated with any national carrier must understand and be able to analyze safety data such as, Accident factor analyses; Safety indicators development; Airport emergency studies; and Collision/Incursion safety assessments while provided with knowledge of physical securities such as: Airport Security Site Visits; Airfield Operations Threat and Vulnerability Assessments; Air Traffic Control Center Security Surveys; and Baggage/Cargo Screening.

To the extent that additional safety requirements have been placed on airport operators by terrorist threats, in such a case, additional knowledge of identification of badging system design to identify intruders; card key entry/Egress system Biometrics; Integrated Security Management Systems; and security Technology assessment are necessary. The above are all ingredients necessary to improve aviation industry and to eventually lead to a sound and proud national carrier.

On all counts, the defunct national carrier failed woefully. The fact here is that we cannot shy away from addressing a need to reconstitute our national carrier simply because we failed in the past? To embark on a new aviation carrier project, serious improvements must be made in order to protect lives, prevent terrorist threats, and have a seamless experiences passing through Nigerian airspace, and airports just as experienced in JFK, Heathrow, or Charles De Gaulle. There is a need for business process re-engineering and a paradigm shift on the part of Nigerian passengers. Passengers must begin to see air transportation as a unique opportunity to move swiftly through space and time, to improve commerce, and develop technology that may make their businesses globally acceptable.

For this reasons, all Nigerian aviation professionals must find a need to regroup, refocus and re-strategize without allowing the past to constraint their future performance. Politicians who usually are not spared when aviation accidents occur must understand the importance of establishing sound, verifiable national aviation policies as it affect their constituents and their family. When auto accidents occur, may be, maximum of twelve lives are lost. When aviation accidents occur, large hundreds of lives are lost and the economic implication of such accidents is usually incalculable. It is not too late for aviation professionals to regroup and help form a new national carrier which may complement Virgin-Nigeria Airways for competition and ultimate reduction in ticket prices outside and within Nigeria while at the same time making air transportation a choice for all citizens. And, of course developing Nigeria’s aviation industry will reduce excessive stress on our road infrastructure, provide a complementary and efficient way of developing business and most importantly, help boost our nation’s technological know how through creation of Aerospace/ Aeronautical engineering and aviation departments in our universities and improve aviation related infrastructures. The challenge is thrown to the aviation professionals and to the administration of President Yar’Adua.

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Bilal Yakubu October 11, 2009 - 4:32 pm

This is great!Bravo!!

ENGR. BANJO BANJOKO April 5, 2008 - 2:18 pm

Ahoy! keep it up and get in touch.

Alpha male March 12, 2008 - 1:33 pm

Very good article… so how and where do all aviation professionals converge…


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