Posted by Vanguard on
LAST weekend, the nation woke up to the rude news of an air crash involving a Boeing 737-200, owned by Bellview Airlines, one of the nation’s best known carriers, while operating Flight B210 on the Lagos Abuja route.
LAST weekend, the nation woke up to the rude news of an air crash involving a Boeing 737-200, owned by Bellview Airlines, one of the nation’s best known carriers, while operating Flight B210 on the Lagos Abuja route. It was, after initial conflicting reports, found to have crashed at a village called Lisa, in Ogun State of Nigeria, less than five minutes after take-off. In aviation terms, it was a complete write-off, and was the 122nd of such write-offs in the history of the B737-200s. All 117 persons aboard, including crew perished.
According to the Boeing 737 technical website, hull losses of the B-737 total 122, including four hijackings/bombings and seven ground accidents. While this may sound a high figure, it should be compared with the fact that over 5,000 737s have been built since 1967. This gives a 2.5 per cent accident rate or approximately three per year, or one every 2.5 million flight hours.
How old is the crashed aircraft?
As the nation mourns those who perished in the ill-fated flight and accident investigators work on-site to unearth clues that might have led to the crash, there is palpable apprehension that findings at the end of the day would unearth more questions than answers. According to Wikipedia, the online free encyclopaedia, the Boeing 737 is the world’s most popular medium range, narrow body commercial passenger jet aircraft. With 5,851 ordered and 4,867 delivered, it is the most ordered and produced commercial passenger jet aircraft of all time, and has been continuously manufactured by Boeing Commercial Airplanes since 1967. Also production of the B737-200 was stopped in 1988. This gives rise to our first question:
Just how old is Bellview’s crashed B737-200, given the fact that the first one (B737-200 ADV) was produced and entered service in May 1971, some 35 years ago, and the last one produced in 1988 before giving way to production of the B737-NG (Next Generation)? Since Bellview clearly didn’t buy the plane brand new from Boeing, a knowledge of that aircraft’s history of purchase and usage will be very useful. A source said that the crashed airliner rolled out of the factory 24 years ago in 1981. It might be interesting to note that the B737s are classified as old (the B737-100s; only 30 produced, and Lufthansa was launch customer), Classic (B737-200, later B737-200 ADV, with United Airlines as launch customer), and NG (B-737 Next Generation. Following the NG is the B737-ER (Extended Range), begun only in July this year, while the first orders will be delivered in 2007.
The crash of the EAS airliner in Kano, May 4, 2002 raised a lot of questions and exposed hitherto many hidden facts about the Nigeria aviation industry. For instance, it came to light that many airlines operating in the domestic arena had only one or two aircraft, which they rostered on all viable routes. The resulting phenomenon was that of aircraft over-use. It was also discovered that XYZ Airlines for instance, with one aircraft, say a BAC-1-11 or B727, operated that aircraft on the Lagos-Abuja route. When passengers deplane in Abuja, the same aircraft goes on to Kano, from whence it comes down to Jos, and thence, perhaps to Port Harcourt, before returning to Lagos to park
How long should a pilot fly continuously?
Just as there is talk of aircraft overuse, there is also talk of pilot overuse in the Nigerian aviation industry. Only recently, concerned regulatory authorities sanctioned Bellview Airlines, operator of Flight B210 that crashed for pilot over use. The American Federal Aviation Administration regulations impose an eight-hour limit for a pilot’s flight time during a 24-hour period. They specify that pilots must have eight hours rest during that same period. But by general convention, and in many countries by law, an airline pilot is only permitted to fly 100 flying hours in one month. The maximum duty time usually is 14 hours.
On a typical work day an hour before flight plus turnaround times on short haul flights is allowed, and a pilot is said to be off duty half an hour after parking at the gate on his last trip of the day. On long haul flights, as much as three or four pilots are rostered, but that doesn’t apply in the Nigerian environment where all domestic flights are by distance short haul.
Aircraft safety and maintenance Another salient question agitating the minds of aviation service users in Nigeria is how well aircraft in use are maintained. In a sombre broadcast to the nation after he was bereaved, President Olusegun Obasanjo last Tuesday announced that he had ordered tighter application of safety and maintenance procedures for all Nigerian aircraft, while promising an exhaustive probe into the cause of the Bellview airliner crash.
"I have already ordered a full and thorough investigation into the cause of the air crash with a view to ensuring that this sort of calamity does not repeat itself," said Obasanjo. "In addition, I have directed the aviation ministry to ensure strict compliance with maintenance and operational requirements and standards for all aircraft in order to plug loopholes and ensure passenger safety," he said.
In another report, government is mulling moves to ban aircraft more than 20 years old, though this seems to overlook the fact that with proper capital outlay on maintenance, aircraft really don’t get old. Not a few Nigerians believe that the President’s directive is coming a little too late. Airlines operating in Nigeria lack basic equipment to do routine checks which are mandatory after every flight. They enjoyed the services of the defunct Nigerian Airways while it was alive, and since then, many use the Air Force hangar and whatever services it can render.
It is on record that only recently, the crashed Bellview airliner underwent C-checks at Air Maroc’s facilities in Morocco. Others use the facilities of South African Airways, in Johannesburg or Egyptair in Cairo, or Ethiopian Airlines in Addis Ababa. Perhaps the most serious problem airlines face in Nigeria is the lack of a maintenance hangar.
A bid by AOG SheetMetal, promoted by Dr. Peter Obafemi of RiteTime World Airways fame to build a hangar in Lagos did not materialize. If there were a hangar, it would be easier for regulatory authorities to monitor compliance with maintenance schedules.
Also, airline operators complain of strictures that reduce their cash flow which make it impossible for them to plough back into operations. For instance, it is well known that aviation fuel is costlier here, as most foreign carriers refuel in Ghana (a non-oil producing country) before landing in Nigeria. Also, sundry charges airlines pay are among the highest in the world
What existed, or what should exist as a matter of course in a sane aviation industry with regards to maintenance? What are Bellview’s own internal controls regarding flight operations and safety? And what roles are played or not played by the regulators in this regard? Since the aircraft involved is a Boeing make, it might be pertinent to refer to the Boeing Safety Management System (BSMS), which is a tool designed to aid airlines in maintaining flight safety. BSMS also consists of Maintenance Error Decision Aid (MEDA), Procedural Event Analysis Tool (PEAT), Cabin Procedural Investigation Tool (CPIT), and the Ramp Error Decision Aid (REDA).
As Boeing aircraft are flogged daily across our skies in the aviation sector, are any of the operators using tools designed by the aircraft maker to enhance safety?
This becomes pertinent because the airplane maker reported that it concluded a 10-year study in 1991 which showed that maintenance crew errors and flight crew deviation from established procedures contributed to nearly 20 and 50 per cent respectively, of all hull-loss accidents. Before going further, it might be necessary to await results of investigations into the crash.