Nigerian Airspace Safe But Crashes Are Inevitable – Aviation Minister

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Akin Akande,

Following criticisms about the safety of Nigerian airspace in the wake of last Thursday Associated Airline plane crash in Lagos, the Federal Government on Monday insisted that the Nigerian airspace is still among the safest around the world.

It maintained that the last Thursday’s incident was an inevitable act of God even as the government encouraged Nigerians to keep patronising the sector. It said accidents were bound to happen.

While responding to questions from journalists after attending the inauguration of the National Dialogue Committee by President Goodluck Jonathan, Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, rejected the criticism that she abandoned safety and concentrated all her attention on beautifying the airports.

“We have the safest air space. Nigerians shouldn’t be afraid to fly, Nigerian airspace is very safe,” she said.

“We do not pray for accidents but it is inevitable. But all we do is to do everything to ensure that we do not have accidents. But is an act of God! Again, we do not speculate on the cause of accidents until that happens you can say this is the cause or that is not the cause,” she added.

“But what is obvious and is the truth is that, in aviation there are shared responsibilities, starting from the man that carries your luggage to the man that makes sure that your boarding pass is issued to you,” the minister stressed.

“And so the regulatory agency, the operators, the management, everybody has their responsibility and all must work in tandem for there to be an optimal, secured and safe aviation sector. And that is what we have been working,” she said.

Emphasizing the rating of Nigeria in the world, she said: “There is no seminar, there is no conference where Nigeria has not been given what you call a exemplary role.

“For instance tomorrow, we are hosting global space conference, Nigeria is hosting it! We are not hosting it because we can afford it, we are hosting it because we are exemplary.

“Every nation wants to emulate what is it that we have done within such a short time to be able to have a safe air space,” she explained.

Princess Oduah described the criticism of her efforts as ignorant, saying her focus on infrastructural development is part and parcel of safety measures.

Said the minster: “I think its ignorant to start with because you cannot have security and safety without funding it, it has to be funded. If you are talking safety for instance you need to have the infrastructure that address that, if you are talking security you need to have the infrastructure that address that and all that must be sustained and must be maintained. And if you do not do that you are not just being sincere.

“And then when you talk about the issue of renovation, the terminal itself is the first safety and security facility that any passenger comes across. And so in a plan you must start from A to Z. And in aviation is often said that if you think safety and security is expensive, wait until accident happens and see how expensive it is.

“And so everything we have done has been with security and safety as pivotal of it all. You cannot do anything in aviation without this. And what saddens me really is that ICAO says just last week that Nigeria is way above the global average, we actually scored 65 per cent. Secondly, ICAO says Nigeria is the 12th most safe aviation globally,” she said.

In a veiled reference to former minister of aviation, Femi Fani Kayode’s criticism over the weekend, Oduah said: “And then when you hear bar comments, drunks and addicts making comments that have zero bearing on reality it is very annoying.

“What I will advise the public really is to recognise the fact that aviation is a very professional area, you cannot listen to bar comments because there are just unrealistic and totally untrue,” she said.

The minister also spoke on suspension of Dana Airlines, saying the step was not connected to the Associated Airline air mishap.

She added that it was a routine safety and security measure.

“Again those are operational issues. And the law, the policy says that the assessment, the certification is ongoing. In aviation, security and safety measures are work in progress, you don’t stop. You don’t say that I have attained this and so we stop, it never stops. You continuously, constantly assess operators to make sure they are in compliance,” she explained.

On the investigations of Thursday crash, she said:  “We are still on it. The preliminary report should be out in a couple of weeks.

“The experts that are coming from France and the manufacturer of the aircraft, we must have them regardless of how we want to accelerate it.

“We are waiting for them to come so that we can open the engine and find out exactly from them. And you cannot do any of those without their presence, if you do that then you have contaminated the investigation, so we must wait for them,” she said.