AUDITS, both safety and economic are tools civil aviation regulators all over the world use to monitor airlines’ compliance issued the regulator’s Air Operators Certificate (AOC) to minimum standards and recommended practices as safety is the keys word in aviation.
Last week’s revelation involving popular carrier, Azman Air has brought to the fore, the importance of continuous safety inspection of airline and strict regulations especially as it seems that some airlines no longer take safety as their primary responsibility.
In a letter dated 15th March, 2021, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) suspended Azman Air for safety infractions that went on for six (6) weeks cumulating with loss of aircraft gear component mid flight and still going ahead to violate safety regulations by not grounding the aircraft. READ ALSO: NCAA puts the record straight on Azman Air suspension
The NCAA did what it usually does in Pursuant to Section 35 (2) of the Civil Aviation Act, 2006 and Part 18.104.22.168 (A) of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig.CARs) 2015, grounding the airline’s Boeing 737 fleet because some of the incidents were similar and the airline had a homogeneous fleet it uses on the domestic market for now, this however did not go down well with the airline who wanted to be on the air.
This led to two letters written, one to the NCAA in appeal to commence operations while the other signed by ‘Management’ allegedly a clandestine move to force the regulator to bend the rules in Azman’s favour.
The venomous message which pervaded social media sought to cast doubt on the process the airline was grounded and the objectivity of the regulator and its Director General by giving many untenable reasons why the airline was being witch-hunted by the regulator.
This caused the NCAA to open a fresh can of worms; reeling out Azman Air’s infractions in just about six (6) weeks and why it had to ground the airline.
The NCAA in a statement written by General Manager Public Relations Sam Adurogboye stated that during a routine ramp inspection on 10th February 2021, at Abuja Airport, NCAA inspectors found an Azman Air maintenance engineer carrying out replacement of the right-hand main landing gear wheel assembly (nos. 3 and 4) of their Boeing 737-500 aircraft with registration 5N-SYS, without referring to the manufacturer’s maintenance manual. READ ALSO: Azman Air lied!! NCAA shuts down airline’s operations for safety reason
He stated, “…This is a violation of the Civil Aviation Regulations, for which both Azman Air and the engineer have been sanctioned but are yet to pay the fine.
He went further to state that on 11th February 2021, Azman Air flight AZM 2318 operated with the same Boeing 737-500 aircraft with registration 5N-SYS departed Kaduna for Lagos of which during take-off, a component of the aircraft was observed to have fallen off the aircraft and Air Traffic Control (ATC) notified the Captain, who elected to continue the flight to Lagos. Upon arrival Lagos, the Captain failed to make entry in the aircraft technical logbook.
The missing part was discovered to be the no 3 Main Landing Gear (MLG) heatshield and according to the regulator, the maintenance team neither made an entry in the technical logbook nor rectified the defect but released the aircraft for a scheduled passenger flight from Lagos to Abuja.
According to NCAA while investigations were ongoing Azman flight AZM 2325, with the same Boeing 737-500 aircraft with registration 5N-SYS, suffered burst tyres while landing in Lagos, with resultant severe damage to the aircraft engine and fuselage this happened exactly five days later, on 16th of February 2021.
On 15th March 2021, Azman Air flight AZM 2318, operated a Boeing 737-500 aircraft with registration 5N-YMS, departed Kaduna for Lagos with burst tyres. DG instructed NCAA Lagos office to conduct a ramp inspection of the Azman aircraft where they discovered that two severely damaged tyres had been replaced and further inspections revealed damage to a hydraulic line with resultant hydraulic leak and damage to the hydraulic reservoir.
According to the NCAA, The alarming trends of tyre failures, in combination with improper tyre maintenance procedures, are a clear and strong indication of an accident chain formation in its final stages stressing that no responsible Civil Aviation Authority will fold its arms and wait for the next incident to occur, perhaps a fatal accident, before taking action.
These incidents and the airline’s confrontational stance has elicited responses from the industry, many of which are of the opinion that aviation is marketed by safety as speed was the added advantage. Most flayed the airline calling on them to instruct themselves in communication and not drag the industry down.
Azman Air eventually reacted to the publication after a flurry of negative reviews on Sunday through their social media handles in a press statement signed by Muhammad Hadi Abdulmunaf, its Accountable Manager denying all the allegations.
The airline stated that the campaign of calumny against the NCAA DG never came from them expressing shock that it never alleged extortion from the DG as the message said.
“Our reaction to that publication is coming now because firstly, we were bemused as to why anyone would do this in the first place and secondly, we needed to undertake an in-house investigation as to where this was coming from. Who were the architects of this falsehood? What could be the reason behind it? READ ALSO: Safety: Better to temporarily cease operations than compromise needed aircraft components- Air Peace to Customs
” We wish to state for the avoidance of doubt that Azman Air is ready and ever willing to cooperate fully with the NCAA in its investigations of our operations as safety has remained our watchword.
“To this end we wish to disown that unfortunate publication as never coming from Azman. The authors have failed in their deliberate ploy and plot to discredit Azman Air and Capt. Musa Nuhu, the DG NCAA.”
However, this statement denying the allegations came in five days after the initial messages circulated on social media giving the falsehood time to permeate.
Chief Executive Officer of WestLink Airlines, Capt. Ibrahim Mshelia, defended the decision of the NCAA to suspend Azman Air’s Boeing 737 fleet.
The renowned trainer said his support is premised on the fact that the suspension will enable the NCAA conduct a thorough audit of the airline to determine the root cause(s) of the incidents, and recommend corrective actions to forestall re-occurrence.
He said,” Just few weeks ago, Lagos airport was closed when Azman Airline had multiple tire burst on landing and the only serviceable runway was closed. It is in the public domain. So the NCAA has presented its position, which is factual and verifiable.
He however referred to a second statement purported to have come from Azman making rounds on social media describing it as shocking and mediocre.
He went further to explain why the action of the CAA was on point stressing that the three fundamental principles in aviation as recommended by ICAO are safety, economic and political considerations by individual states.
Mshelia said,“ICAO recommendations are sacrosanct on the safety bit and number one! They equally emphasize that there can be no compromise on safety. Now if you are to classify what has happened, is it under economic regulations, or political or safety? It is about safety. So NCAA knows everybody’s book, they supervise us. And the Air Operator’s Certificate itself they issue us, we are supposed to self-regulate first to approved standards and they (NCAA) are supposed to supervise and ensure compliance.
They are also empowered by same provision to apply sanctions, which is what NCAA did in the case with Azman. This is not the first time also that NCAA has done this.
“When NCAA gives an Operator AOC, the operator is under obligation to maintain its aeroplanes and operations in accordance with the regulations and approved operations specifications.
“For example, tyre burst. Tyre bursts can happen to a brand new tyre, but when you can see a thread on a tyre before it bursts, then that is negligence. A brand new tire can also blow off, If the anti-skid system fails, even if you have four brand new tyres you are likely to lose all four of your anti-skid system malfunctions.
“But when the tyre is showing you tear and wear signs that are visible, and you keep flying it, and then the tyre bursts, that is punishable negligence. If you read between the lines as to what the NCAA said, the aircraft suffered the problem three times in a row within a short time.
Another stakeholder, Chairman of Fly Hudson Aviation and former Deputy General Secretary of the Airlines Operators of Nigeria, (AON) Alhaji Mohammed Tukur also condemned the statement purportedly issued by the AZMAN Airlines’ management after the suspension of its operations by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA).
Alhaji Tukur who described the press statement by the airline as reckless and unprofessional said by such action, the Managing Director, Alhaji Faisal Abdulmunaf was no longer fit to serve as the accountable manager of the Airline.
He also demanded that the Chairman of AZMAN, Alhaji Abdulmunaf Sarina should honourably resign his position as the chairman of the domestic airlines’ body, Airline Operators of Nigeria, (AON) because he has exhibited lack of integrity and honour to lead the body.
Tukur opined that for AZMAN to have toe the line of blackmail to respond to the action of the NCAA indicated its lack of understanding of the aviation safety procedures in aviation industry adding. “it is not easy to witch-hunt in this industry because the records and books on NCAA inspections are open and cannot be manipulated “.
He also suggested a withdrawal of the airline’s airworthiness certificate, if in at the end of the audit its is found culpable so that it will serve as a deterrent for such action by any airline in future.
In all, the events of the last few weeks and its exposure has led to passengers questioning how safe the airlines truly are and if they can trust these airlines with all these coming into play.
Many, including stakeholders and the flying public feel the NCAA must further step up to keep people safe as all investors are profit driven while safety is more often than not neglected.
The aviation enthusiasts and stakeholders feels regular and unplanned inspections that will not affect the frequency of the airline be done more often than normal and key airlines be monitored like hawks due to the antecedents.
They also feel the NCAA should have enough safety inspectors as it would seem that the non-punitive reporting system no longer works as airlines impress on their pilots not to log incidents on the check book as is the case with Azman which had a burst tyre and went ahead to change and hide the damaged tyres without the CAA.
A lot needs to be done to not only provide the impression of safety but entrench safety through in through.