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Like candles in the wind

—Most unfortunate; what a waste… of innocent kids travelling with their parents, young men and women starting out in life, some just commencing their working life. There are also some like Professors Celestine Onwuliri and Obot; and Damcida, an old retired permanent secretary —who are at the zenith of their careers and repositories of experience and knowledge… all and many others gone the ultimate way of all flesh.

—It is the manner of their going that keeps gnawing on ones mind. Reports say the plane came down on buildings and exploded into a ball of flames, a conflagration sort of, consuming the human cargo it was carrying into the Lagos airport.

—But couldn’t all these deaths have been avoided? Certainly there wasn’t anything inevitable about the crash because the aircraft was known to be not in the state to be put out to work. It was old, falling apart and in dire need of urgent repairs. Still the owners heedlessly put it out for use, quite against the dictates of regulation. And now we have this huge tragedy on our hands.

—Well, do not let us jump into any conclusions, the black box, thankfully, has been retrieved and it has been sent to the US for examination to know what actually caused the accident. So, in good time we will be told how it came about that Dana air took some one hundred and fifty three people to their death.

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—But by the time the report comes, as always happens, the country would have moved on to other matters, and the immediate impact of the horror of the Dana air crash would have dulled in our collective consciousness. It is imperative that even without the black box report the perennial reasons that bring about this kind of calamity should be pointed out.

–And what are they?

— Good. Many of the aircrafts are too old and should have been long put out of use, grounded and turned into simulation exhibits to teach aspiring pilots.  But as if that is not bad enough the owners do not adhere to the requirement of regular maintenance of the aircrafts. Many years ago, the UK impounded and grounded a Nigerian aircraft for not being air-worthy. This particular aircraft should have been sent for an over- due check up and maintenance work. That was not done and in its defective state it was still being flown and used to carry people about.  So the UK air traffic authorities impounded it.

— You have a point on the airlines owners delay in taking their aircrafts for maintenance. It is the Nigerian malaise of not effecting repairs and maintenance as and when due, as long as your car is moving you think nothing of the deafening racket caused by a bolt missing under the car. And then the inevitable mishap happens because of the delay in undertaking repair work on the car, creating needless loss of lives that result from it. As for the age of the aircrafts, well I heard it said once that as long as repairs and maintenance are effected regularly, the age of an aircraft can be discountenanced, really.

— Where did you pick up such a mistaken view? Just as an old car is a contraption that has fallen into disuse and should be discarded, so also must an aircraft be discarded when they become unserviceable. And going by the official published figures the average age of commercial airlines has been put at twenty five years, which means they are long over due for replacement. Not servicing old aircrafts which are hauled up into the sky in line of duty is akin to a death wish. This is not the first time this kind of horrific disaster would be occurring, yet we never learn the lessons they teach us.

—But new aircrafts do fall from the sky always?

—No, that happens infrequently. And when they do, the cause is not due to systemic failure but the malevolent act of some fanatic seeking notoriety.

—But how can you be so sure? These things happen so often that it is all one can do to know their causes. Brand new aircrafts on maiden flight being showcased to potential buyers have been known to have crashed and the cause put down to malfunction. All I am saying is that with aircrafts one may never know.

—Still, I insist that the situation worsens when the airline owners refuse to undertake periodic repairs as they should and the organization charged with enforcing strict observance of regulation look the other way rather than doing the proper thing.

—So, what should be done now? Certainly, the regularity with which airplanes are falling should not be allowed to go on unchecked.

—Simple. The bar to becoming an airline owner should be raised. No one should be allowed to operate old decrepit aircrafts over the age of five years. Yes, and that would mean ignoring all those know- it- all aeronautic engineers who would want to tell us differently that when it comes to aircrafts the older the better. Surely, engines of new aircrafts do not just pack up in mid air; those that do so are those of old ones. Also one- man ownership of airlines should be discouraged. Licenses should be given only to consortium of owners with certified wherewithal and expertise in the line of business. This is necessary so as not to make it a business for all -comers, including those whose source of money is dubious.

—Still, your panacea may not be enough to bring the air transport sector out of the woods. How many of them can afford new aircrafts not above five years? Insistence on your suggestions could turn air transportation into an elite thing with cost driving many people away. It will kill the sector off entirely.

— Some wicked wit has noted that air transport still remains the safest means to travel in Nigeria. True, regrettably every once in a while people die because of air mishaps, still it is far better than the carnage and slaughter that bad roads cause in the country.  So if circumstances make it elitist and eventually kill it off due to unsustainable operational cost, it may at last force government to take the renewal of road and railways infrastructure seriously.

— Well, the way I see it no one sector should die in order for the others to be revitalized. We should continue to bemoan the deplorable state of roads in the country and hope they will be repaired. But it should not be at the expense of safer air travel. It is still within the capacity of government to build good roads to limit occurrence of accidents and at the same time take measures to make air travel less prone to disasters.

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