The increased spate of collisions in Nigerian airports especially between ground handling equipment and aircraft have become quite alarming, and very expensive thus opening a vista for a solution for airlines which includes reviewing existing agreements to give room for defaulting parties to take responsibility in the event of such collisions.
A few days ago, stair equipment belonging to the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Plc collided with an Airbus A320 aircraft belonging to Air Peace with the registration number: A320 ES-SAZ damaging the aircraft elevator at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.
The distraught airline in a statement after the incident claimed that this incident was the third in the month from the same handling company which renders services to it, and suspected a case of sabotage but importantly complained about how this affects their operations with multiple delays on their schedule due to that incident.
Stakeholders feel that people should be held accountable for negligence especially as the impacts of some of these collisions are far-reaching.
Some equally feel that approaching the Courts to rule on these matters is not the best option as it would cost time and money but argued that airlines could easily renegotiate their contracts to enable the handlers to pay for the serious effects of the delays since the aircraft are insured and damages would be paid.
Strategist, Policy Analyst, and the MD/ CEO of Global Investment and Trade Company (GITC) Mallam Baba Yusuf, who spoke to NigerianFLIGHTDECK said that investigations and identifying the root causes of the accidents, the people responsible, and taking the necessary proactive actions by all concerned is key to minimizing or averting such unfortunate recurring development in an industry where safety is a critical success factor.
In addition, Service Level Agreements wherein penalty clauses for such negligence are added will ensure a significant reduction in such operational hazards.
With regard to the Agreements, he said, “What I am talking about is how airlines and ground handlers structure their agreements. The provisions of the agreements should cover such potential issues (collision) and the provisions can come in the main agreement or a Service Level Agreement (SLA). Within the SLA there could be penalty clauses to be applied in the event of certain scenarios, based on which the Ground Handler could be penalized X dollars/ Naira in addition to the insurance cover for damage on the aircraft.
“Essentially, such penalties are to be deterrents to guide the service providers against negligence. This will also ensure caution, vigilance, and professionalism. It is worthy of note that such penalties should be only applicable only if the service provider is proven to be responsible for the negligence or damage leading to the ripple effect on the airline operations, income, and/ or reputation.
” You can also put a proviso to say that the money would be deducted at the source of monies accrued for payment, or in a second scenario where the client is not owing any money, the service providers will be obligated to pay within an agreed timeline. If that happens, it becomes binding on all parties.
“At the point of negotiations or re-negotiations of the agreement, if a service provider e.g. in this instance the Ground Handler objects to the insertion of the penalty clauses without any cogent or convincing reasons, then at the point the Client/ Airline could look for alternatives or negotiate with a service provider that demonstrates readiness to take responsibility and capacity of critical risk mitigations and safety standards compliance.
“Someone will surely sign those agreements because they want business. If there is no agreement and you move on, it is difficult to take some actions when such damages due to negligence or unprofessionalism happen. There is nothing one can do because you cannot put something on nothing.
“A serious handling company should be ready to negotiate and sign penalty clauses in such an agreement because when the accidents and damages occur, they impact the airlines’ operations, their business, their image, and their relationship with clients, regulators, and other stakeholders. It is therefore important that they re-negotiate and review their respective agreements,” he said.
Also speaking, Mr. Babatunde Adeniji an aviation management consultant, who also gave his thoughts on the issue towed the same line. He also said some of these incidents might not be training related but caused by fatigue or other human factor situation but would not aid the airlines who get blamed for the delays.He stressed that accidents and equipment damages are an unfortunate sad reality of aviation but the goal always is to minimize the risk and occurrence.
He said, “The damages are covered by the ground handling contracts signed by the airline with their handlers. What will not be covered is the loss in man hours and loss of goodwill but I think the airline, in this case, can strongly push for better compensation now that the rates meet the safety threshold.
“There is no need for litigation as this will just add additional costs and complications to the process that already has a framework that works but needs to be improved contractually.
“In terms of solutions, handlers have been able to get what they call safety threshold, so the airlines are now supposed to sit down with them and say let’s renew our contract. If you have this number of incidents these are the penalties we would apply to our turnaround. If you delay me for example, there is a certain percentage I would deduct from the money I am paying you.
“Since this is a safety threshold, anytime there is an incident, we know insurance covers the aircraft but the airline loses the goodwill of the passengers who would still blame them so something needs to be done there.
“So they need to introduce that scenario into the contract, call handlers for negotiation and tell them you want to include safety threshold penalty rates for operations. Meaning they would pay the threshold rates but would apply penalties to delays from when handlers damage the aircraft.”
Both stakeholders equally attributed the fact that the ground handling environment equally needed to be conducive for the staff to enable them to give his best and not live in fear.
Mallam Yusuf also added that in providing service, especially to a client that provides a chunk of revenue, the Ground Handling Company should put its best foot forward, advising them against only focusing on their operational costs and bottom line.
He opined operational excellence and staff welfare are key to sustainability and growth.
According to him, now that there is a “Safety threshold”, for the pricing of their services, the Ground Handling Companies should review their manpower and equipment quality, deployment, optimization, supervision, and management so as to improve their service quality which will significantly reduce the rate of accidents/ damages by investing part of that threshold in staffing or equipping, when and if necessary.
He posited that the frequency of incidents or accidents should worry the industry, calling on the regulator to be more proactive and assertive so all service providers in the industry will be at their best at all times.
Collisions & Near Collisions
Before this month’s incident, there has been a long line of collisions or near collisions between vehicles and aircraft on the ramp, some of which are not from handling companies but other industry players, some of who have no business on the airside.
In April 2017, a truck belonging to Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL) hit and damaged an aircraft belonging to Air Peace at the Benin Airport.
On December 21, the same year, another truck, this time operated by the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) rammed into and damaged the same Air Peace equipment during the loading of passengers’ luggage into the cargo hold of the aircraft scheduled to service the carrier’s Lagos-Uyo route.
In 2021, November 21 precisely, a Max Air Boeing 737-300 aircraft, which was parked at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja with nationality and registration marks 5N-DAB was involved in an on-ground collision with Skyway Aviation Handling Co. Plc (SAHCO) lavatory service truck with fleet number 9/5.
On 17th December 2021 an accident was averted as a Max Air jet, which landed on runway 18L of the Lagos airport, almost rammed into a malfunctioning van that was being test driven on the runway 18L by unauthorized personnel sanctioned by supposedly trained FAAN Civil Department.
On January 6, 2022, barely weeks after the Max Air incident, another mishap was averted at the airside of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos when a speeding vehicle belonging to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) had a near collision with a Dana Air MD 83 plane with registration number 5N JOY, taxing to take off on Runway 18L of the airport.
All these series of collisions and near collisions point to poor regulation in that aspect as well as not studying accident investigation reports, some of which have produced safety recommendations that address these situations.