Red Alert! Benin Airport Is Next Death Trap

Magazine cover 26Magazine cover 26The airport at Benin, capital city of Edo State has been described as a death trap waiting to snare flights either landing or taking off the airport. Two incidences of near misses last week gave credence to the troubling prospect of the next airport that may become the epi-centre of bad news in the aviation sector.

Not a few passengers on an Aero Contractor’s scheduled first flight to Benin from Lagos this past Monday, 20 July 2009 suffered a shake down resulting from a massive pump of adrenalin as the pilot of the airline reportedly made two unsuccessful but near fatal efforts to land on the runway of the Benin Airport. The pilot had to return to Lagos after the second attempt.

“We arrived at the vicinity of the Benin Airport without any incident, and we were actually in descent to the runway for final landing when suddenly all passengers, and apparently, the pilot saw that we were far away from the airport runway. What suddenly jumped at house from the ground was a mix of green field and trees while the airplane speed was at full throttle,” said a passenger who shared his experience with Fortune&Class Weekly.

“The pilot had to quickly revert position by taking off. He announced through the cockpit’s address system that he had to abort landing procedure because of poor visibility caused by low hanging cloud. He then informed us that he would make a second try, the passenger added.

However, according to the passenger, the second landing effort turned out scarier than the first.

“That second attempt threw every passenger aboard into panic; again, the pilot had to abort the landing and announced that he had to make a turn back to Lagos because of the bad weather. I must confess that when we heard the pilot’s voice on the address system, the voice was much shaken. In fact, we were made to understand that the experience got under the skin of the pilot that he had to surrender the control of the flight back to Lagos to his co-pilot, a female,” the passenger said.

Meanwhile, another reported that as the Aero Contractor airplane, a Boeing 737-500, headed back to Lagos, two Arik airplanes, one from Abuja and the other from Lagos successfully landed at the Benin Airport and this roused a heated debate among passengers on the flight on the possible reason for the successful landing of the two Arik Air planes while Aero Contractor had to abort landing.

Aviation experts we spoke with, however, explained that the Arik Air planes were of smaller carrying capacity which allows them to manoeuvre for landing better than the Aero Contractor’s Boeing 737-500.

Another expert, however, submitted that the lack of appropriate instrument landing system at the airport has made the airport a potential death-trap. The expert argued that the Aero Contractor’s plane made those near disastrous landings because it was not properly directed from the control towers, “and that is because the airport doesn’t have reliable landing instrument to guide the effort of the pilot. I hope the authorities will quickly address this shortcoming before something disastrous happens,” the expert said.

Between Aero-Contractors and FAAN The Rigmarole

This report as submitted by Jonah Etufunwa

It was clear to us that Aero-Contractors must have knowledge of what happened that fateful Monday morning when the passengers had their hearts in their mouths as their aircraft’s attempts to land twice at Benin Airport were aborted. Even the pilot, a male, who became faint-hearted, we learnt, had to be assisted by the co-pilot, a woman, back to Lagos.

Getting to their office at the local airport, Ikeja, we were jolted by the evasive attitudes of officers there.

We wanted to speak with the public affairs manager, but the receptionist told us that the person to talk to us was the commercial manager, who was not in the office then, so his secretary after hearing the story from us, told us to hold on. We waited for more than 40 minutes and later discovered that for more than additional 15 minutes her lines rang without her response as the receptionist tried to remind her that we were still waiting.

The woman who asked us to hang on had disappeared. We could understand her situation; she was not authorized to speak on such matters to the press, but she could have treated us in a much better way. One thing was obvious at Aero-Contractors, a public affairs manager is not on their payroll.

Before leaving we reminded the receptionist that we did not want to report our story without confirmation, but that they were making things difficult for us.

Our investigation took us to NAMA and we were told by a source at their public affairs department that Aero-Contractors’ difficulty with landing could be associated with the aircraft’s malfunctioning or the pilot’s error. “As far as we had given them the right to land, missing the run-way twice is between Aero and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN). FAAN is the landlord, it provides landing equipment.”

An official of NAMA who would not want his name in print, however, noted that if there was a fog or cloud, it is not advisable to land. “If you are driving, and it begins to rain, visibility can be maximally reduced, that does not mean the road is not good; and at such a situation one may even park for a short while,” the official reasoned with us.

We asked if nothing could have been done to aid visibility in the inclement weather. He said the landing lights are supposed to be on. “Could the light have been off due to one reason or the other,” we further asked. He said that NAMA manages Nigeria’s airspace and they are responsible for airborne aircraft from zero to 5,000 feet and to make sure that their equipment are always functioning to make communication possible with all aircraft landing or taking off, “NAMA maintains powerful generating sets every time. FAAN does same,’ he said.

The following day, last Friday, we were at the office of the General Manager, Public Affairs, Akin Olukunle. After listening to our story of the averted tragedy, he said he was just hearing that for the first time, that he would commence investigation immediately and would get back to us. We knew he would like to also get firsthand information from the Aero-Contractors’ management. We therefore decided to return to Aero-Contractors office. The receptionist knowing we were there the previous day, called the commercial manager’s office. The secretary, (not the one that spoke with us the day before, Thursday) in the absence of her boss, directed the receptionist to a captain, who definitely we thought would solve our problems, but unfortunately when we were asked to speak with someone on phone, we ended up talking with the secretary.

What we got from this secretary was an anti-climax. She blurted: “Go to Control Tower.”

“Where is the Control Tower,” we asked.

The secretary further shocked us, saying, “You say you are a reporter and you don’t know Control Tower? Go to FAAN.”

“Why are you getting angry?” we asked her and she never replied. We did not have to go to FAAN because the air-lord of Nigerian airports, the controllers of the Control Tower, is NAMA, not FAAN and we had already spoken with FAAN’s GM, Public Affairs.

To expedite action, our reporter sent a text message to FAAN’s GM thus: “Pls, assist me with d investigatn of what happened to Aero-Contractors’ aircraft on Monday morning @ Benin. My editor is waiting for the story 2day. When u’v found out, flash me n I’ll call u. Tanx.”

Until Saturday morning before going to the press, we did not hear from the FAAN’s GM.

The Call To Upgrade Instrument Landing System

An Aeronautical Scientist, Mr. Dauda Ajeye Nuhu, had in a presentation argued for the upgrade of certain major airports in Nigeria to the optimum category (CATIIIB) for Instrument Landing System (ILS) approaches.

Dauda writes: “ILS approach is that which allow the automatic pilot land the aircraft in poor visibility without the human pilot’s manual input on the yoke during aircraft landing at airport runway. It is true to say that not every airport in the developed world has Category Three B (CATIIIB) autopilot approach ILS installed on all, but most of the busy airports are. This goes to say that at least certain airports in Nigeria can get these systems installed and certified, especially for International airports and the busiest local airports that run relatively active local flights on day to day basis.

One Response

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