AIRLINES under the aegis of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) may have devised a new means to offset the debt they owe the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) as they have said that after proper reconciliation, the airport authority might be the debtors. In this report ANTHONY OMOH examines how the AON intends to bill FAAN for the recurrent bird strike losses incurred.
In Nigeria, the Bird strike phenomenon has become something of a recurring decimal with airline operators at the receiving end spending altogether billions of naira of which they are threatening to balance the account with the agency in charge, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
Bird strike or bird hit, or Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) is a collision between an airborne animal (usually a bird or bat) and a man-made vehicle, especially aircraft and is a significant threat to flight safety, having caused a number of accidents with human casualties.
Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) last week while airing their grievance over the issue said that airline operators in the country have lost well over billions in naira.
A fortnight ago, at the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA) an Abuja bound Dana aircraft with 97 passengers and flight number 9J- 995 lost one of its two engines to a bird strike and was forced to make an air return.
If it is anything to go by, that airline has lost not just millions of naira to the bird strike but also potential millions as the aircraft is not going to fly until the affected engine is repaired or overhauled as the case may be.
Although FAAN is said to have spent over N1billion on measures aimed at combating bird strike, Assistant Secretary General of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Alhaji Mohammed Tukur, pointed out that just one airline in the country lost a whopping N1.5 billion to bird strike in 2009, stressing the airline would have packed up if it did not have strong foreign partners.
According to Alhaji Tukur of the AON, the airport authority would rather waste money on lofty seminars and symposiums without actually implementing the outcome of whatever is discussed, and the bird strikes still persists all the airport.
“Bird strike is a heavy blow on airlines. It’s something that must be urgently addressed. In fact I want FAAN and the airlines to use the cost of fixing engines in reconciling the debts airlines owe FAAN. For instance, once the airline fixes the engines, we hand over the repair invoice to FAAN and FAAN can minus that from the amount the airline owes them. NAMA too delays us and we burn extra fuel. All these gulp our revenue and we can work out something on that in terms of debt settlement. We want every agency working with us to survive”, Tukur stated.
“FAAN is always asking for landing and parking charges, and calling us airlines debtors, yet it is not freeing the airspace of these birds that cause damages to our engines and make us park them and they calculate that too as parking charges and give it to us as bills.We will call for reconciliation. We are not saying that we do not owe FAAN, in fact our members do. We are, however, saying that FAAN should also be responsible as it is done all over the world or we will reconcile our accounts and know who owes who. They will give us our debt sheets and we will give them theirs on the damages to our aircraft and then after adding and subtracting, we will pay them the balance or they will pay us.”
Tukur further explained that that portion of the 2009 NCAA Act is there basically to protect the airlines especially from bird strikes.
“It is also there to ginger FAAN to do something about bird strike since FAAN won’t be willing to part with N250 million per every bird strike. Painfully, what is being done by FAAN to address bird strike is inadequate. In other countries, they’ve evolved modern technologies to scare away birds and it’s working”, he said.
They also said that in developed countries the airport authority pays the airlines compensation for such damages but Nigeria was an exception yet FAAN would claim the airlines owe them millions.
An airline, Aero has had 37 bird strikes in the last 24 months, 19 on take-off, 18 on landing and half of these incidents took place at the Lagos airport with an average loss of revenue or cost of repair by Aero on each strike of approximately $250,000 (N 37,587,501.53) about N1, 390, 717,537 IN 24 months.
Head of Communication of Virgin Nigeria Airways, Francis Ayigbe, said that the airline has had no less than 15 bird strikes in the last one year, noting that Air Safety Reports (ASRs) is required by law to be raised anytime there is a bird strike.
“As for costs, an engine repair could be from $20,000 absolute minimum (this is approximately the cost of shipping one way) to a maximum of $3.5 million if the engine is destroyed. Most likely, it will be somewhere between these two figures typically between $100,000 and $1.1 million. This is due to the fact that an engine is perfectly serviceable on wing but once opened up it is inspected to workshop standards which are more stringent than in service levels,” he said.
He explained that this is done in accordance with maintenance standards whenever the engine is opened for inspection, and whenever a bird strikes it prompts the opening of the aircraft engine.
“This is not necessarily the cause of the bird strike but there would have been no need for the inspection without the bird strike. These figures are for the B737 only; the E-Jet figures can be double,” he said.
Ayigbe also disclosed that in addition to this is the cost of a leased engine or the additional investment burden of buying a spare engine.
“A leased engine for a Boeing B737 is around $3 million, the E-Jet engine is $7 million. A leased engine for a B737 is usually for a minimum of 90 days (workshop turnaround is usually 60 days plus shipping) and will cost $1 million plus,” he explained.
He disclosed that in the experience of Nigerian Eagle, the airline has been fortunate not to replace an engine due to bride strike.
“Engines are not the only part of the aircraft to suffer; the airframe fuselage is also impacted and damage is caused. We have had three incidents within the last six months on the airframe. The last incident caused us to pay $7,000 for rectification and this does not account for the loss of revenue. The only reason the cost was so low was that our engineers managed to carry out a repair which was approved by Embraer. If this had not been possible the repair costs would have been over $150,000; again without loss of revenue accounted for,” the Head of Communications said.
He also remarked that in other operating environments like Europe, the airport managers or owners pay airlines for damages incurred through bird strikes and to ensure that birds do not strike aircraft at the tarmac during landing or take-off is the responsibility of the airport administrators.
“Sadly, in Nigeria, airlines are made to bear the brunt of the damage,” he said.
Spokesman of Arik Air, Adebanji Ola, also said that the airline in the last one year has had over 35 bird strikes.
The aircraft involved in these cases include the airline’s Airbus A340-500, Boeing 737-800/700/300 and Bombardier CRJ900.
As a panacea, the Financial Secretary of AON, Chief Obi Ogbolu suggested that the airports environment should be surveyed to identify areas were the birds converge.
He also said that prompt refuse disposal and general cleanliness of the terminals is a sure way to avoid birds nesting around the airports.
Ogbolu appealed to the Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Fidelia Njeze, to leave up to her promise in the provision of sophisticated bird scaring devices across airports in the country to save the airline operators from bird strike nightmare.
Bird strike is not a clear and present danger in Nigeria alone, even as global aviation has felt the impact from the United States of America to Europe; airlines are counting cost of losses suffered from bird strikes to their equipment.
Last year there was the Hudson River incident where an American Airlines’ pilot ditched his airplane in the river to avert a fatal crash. But for the ingenuity of the pilot, America and, indeed, the entire world, have been ruing the death of 155 persons, caused by bird strike.
Not even America’s high level of technology had succeeded in advancing a solution to the menace of bird strike. In fact, despite renewed efforts by New York officials to keep skies around the city’s airports clear of wildlife, a passenger plane was damaged after hitting a bird as it landed a few weeks in what is a growing industry problem.
While the flight landed safely at La Guardia airport, it became one of about 7,000 planes a year in the United States to be involved in a so-called bird strike, of which 14 percent suffered damage, industry data show.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) must be heaving a huge sigh of relief by the inability of the United States to contend with the phenomenon called bird strike, especially considering the flurry of criticisms that has trailed the agency’s failure to tackle the problem head-on.
However, while the Americans are finding the problem intractable to contend with, FAAN could begin to take proactive measures to mitigate the problem by, first and foremost, clearing the forest that has become a part of airports’ environment across the country, especially the Murtala Muhammed Airport.
Also, efforts must be stepped up to clear the airports area of waste generated by airlines and which are often disposed around the airport. This is said to attract birds to the airports. Efforts should also be intensified by FAAN to study the migratory nature of birds, as those found to be very destructive of aircraft are birds that migrate into the country during a certain period of the year.
However, all these do not demean the claims of the airlines who are seeking justice to be done because of debts incurred due to bird strikes.