Graveyards of Dead PlanesPDFPrint
Written by Emmanuel Uffot   
Monday, 18 January 2010

Nigerian airports have become an eyesore as both functional and grounded airlines have turned them into graveyards for dead aircraft To a first  time  visitor  to Nigeria’s airports in Lagos,  Port Harcourt, Abuja or Kano, they look like graveyards for dead airplanes. In terminal one of the domestic wing of the Murtala Mohammed airport, Lagos, otherwise known as GAT-1, the visitor is confronted with several rusty aircraft littering the airport. At other airports, abandoned and disused aircraft belonging to both operating and rested airlines litter the adjoining areas of the runways. As a plane taxies to  the  take offpoint at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, for instance, a passenger looking through the window would shudder at the sight of dusty planes belonging to Albarka Airline. Buba Marwa, retired brigadier-general and owner of the airline, had abandoned them there since 2005 when it dawned on him that airline business was not a tea party. 

Dissatisfied with the ugly sights, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, gave owners of the disused and unserviceable aircraft up till December 31, 2009, to dismantle or remove them from the air sides and other prohibited places at the airports to give room for safe operations. FAAN said the order became necessary because of the security and safety implications the abandoned aircraft posed. The latest directive by FAAN was the fourth in three years.But two weeks after the expiry of the deadline, the owners of such abandoned aircraft are yet to comply with the directive. FAAN is pleading that their owners see reasons that the aircraft constitute safety risk at the airports.Akin Olukunle, general manager, Public Affairs of FAAN, said that apart from occupying space, investigations had further revealed that there are certain emissions from the abandoned aircraft that affect signals.

He said the authority had, over time, pleaded with the airlines to remove the aircraft but regretted that they had not been co-operative. He said between 2006 and now, the authority had made several efforts to remove the abandoned aircraft but such efforts were thwarted by the owners who went to court to obtain injunctions restraining FAAN from either forcefully removing the aircraft or compelling them to do so.He particularly listed the recent judgement by a Lagos Federal High Court in favour of the authority against Okada Air. But the defunct airline has appealed. Akin explained that what they required from the owners of the airlines was to dismantle the disused aircraft and sell them to smelting companies.  

A close look at some of the abandoned aircraft has revealed that many have deteriorated beyond redemption such that they can only be sold as scraps to aluminum smelters or iron and steel factories at peanuts.Newswatch gathered that over 100 abandoned aircraft belonging to no fewer than 30 airlines, most of whom have gone under over the years, are littering almost all the functioning airports across the country.The airlines that have abandoned aircraft at various airports in Nigeria are Aviation Development Corporation; ADC; Albarka; NICON Airways; Chanchangi; Fresh Air Limited; Executive Aviation Services, EAS; Space World; IRS; Associated Airlines and Dasab. Others are Sosoliso; Harka Air; Harco; KOLKOL; Chrome; Afrijet; Gas Air,;Freedom Air; Kabo Air; Okada Air; Savannah; Hamza; Bellview; Triax and Oriental; Capital Air; DHL; Easy Link; Skyline Aviation, Intercontinental Air; Aero Contractors; Concorde Southern Air; Buray Air; Allied and UMAR.Over 20 abandoned aircraft belonging to 60 percent of these airlines are at GAT-1, in Lagos. The Abuja Airport is littered with abandoned BAC1-11 planes of Albarka Air.

Those of IRS and Chanchangi are also competing for space at the airport. In Benin, the Edo State capital, Okada, once the toast of indigenous airlines, has 19 unserviceable BAC 1-11 and Boeing 727 aircraft types littering the airport. The same is applicable in Kano and Kaduna airports that have several abandoned aircraft belonging to Kabo and Chanchangi.Of  all these airlines, only Chanchangi, Bellview, Aero and IRS are still in operation. The rest have either gone under because of industry challenges or were grounded by the federal government on account of air mishap involving their planes.Although Okada airline stopped operation since the late 1990s and has since been delisted by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, yet its aircraft are still parked in the airline’s hangar at Benin airport. Albarka’s and Dasab’s problems were compounded when the federal government banned BAC1-11 aircraft type and planes exceeding 22 years from flying in Nigeria in 2001. The duo operated mainly with these aircraft type.

The policy was a fallout of the Executive Aviation Services’ crash of 2001 in Kano which claimed the life of Mark Aku, then minister of sport. Government blamed the crash on the age and type of the aircraft. The ill- fated EAS BAC1-11 aircraft was over 25 years old. This policy also affected many other airlines that had the aircraft type in their fleet.For the ADC, Sosoliso and the EAS, their operations were grounded by the federal government due to air crashes involving their planes. To date, the three airlines are still battling with the challenges of paying compensation to the families of victims of their plane crashes of 2006, 2005 and 200 respectively. For some airlines still in operation, government grounded their planes due to their inability to take them out for routine D and C checks abroad. Some of their planes also fell within the category of those that have exceeded the prescribed 22-year-old limit for aircraft flying in Nigeria or were outdated aircraft types like the BAC 1-11 and Boeing 727, 737-200 series.Instructively, for the past one decade, the issue of abandoned aircraft littering Nigerian airports had generated controversy between the FAAN and airline operators. For instance, in December 2000, NCAA had listed 450 aircraft for delisting. The authority said they were abandoned at the various airports and gave the owners a specific deadline to remove them. But airline operators accused FAAN of  insincerity.

They blamed the regulatory authority for reneging on the agreement to provide a burial ground around the airports for the dumping of disused aircraft as provided for in the books of the International Civil Aviation Authority, ICAO.Steve Mahonwu, chairman, Airline Operators of Nigeria, AON, and former director of communications, Okada Air, said owners of disused aircraft met with the FAAN whereby a decision was reached to build a ‘mortuary’ inside the airports. He said if FAAN was sincere, it would have built a cemetery where all disused aircraft would be cannibalised in line with the ICAO rules which make it mandatory for airports to provide a specialised place around each airport for disused planes to be parked.Even though FAAN has created a  site at Ejigbo for the dumping of abandoned and unserviceable planes, that did not satisfy the owners of abandoned aircraft in Lagos.

They reasoned that Ejigbo is far and wondered how they were expected to move the aircraft to such a ‘graveyard.’ Olukunle, however, disagrees with the notion that Ejigbo is too far from the airport. He said Ejigbo is one of the three areas in Lagos bordering the airport and was not far as portrayed by airline operators. He reiterated that what FAAN requested was that owners of the aircraft should dismantle them at where they were parked to make for easy disposal and convey them to the dump site.Already, the operators have secured several court injunctions restraining the FAAN from enforcing the removal of the abandoned aircraft or compelling them to do so. But many stakeholders are not comfortable with the development. Olumide Ohumayo, an aviation consultant, insists that abandoned aircraft pose safety problems. He said that apart from obscuring the airside, they occupy space during operational and emergency-related hours. Mohammed Tukur, assistant secretary, AON, is worried that the current cash crunch affecting the industry could force some hard hit airlines to cannibalise the abandoned planes to service others. He said this was risky.

Tukur said that would amount to economic waste for owners of such aircraft to abandon them at the airport perpetually when it could be cannibalised and sold as scraps to aluminum smelters.Newswatch gathered that the fresh directive to owners of abandoned aircraft to remove them was fuelled by government’s plan to hand over the nation's four major airports to concessionaires by the first quarter of this year. This will make the airports attractive to investors.



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