The aircraft accident at Murtala Muhammed airport

THE aviation industry is among the most severely affected by the global economic downturn triggered by the outbreak of Covid-19, and with travel reduced to all but the most essential, one would be justified in dismissing news of a collision between two airplanes. Yet, this is precisely what took place last week when an Airbus A330-243 belonging to the Middle East Airline (MEA) apparently collided with a Boeing 777 cargo aircraft with registration number TC-LJC operated by Turkish Airlines. According to media reports, the Turkish cargo flight was parked at the international airport apron when the taxiing MEA Airbus rain into it, ripping off part of its right horizontal tail unit.

In a statement titled “Press release on Turkish Airline and Middle East Airline Ground Collision Occurrence,” the General Manager, Public Affairs, of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Mr. Tunji Oketumbi, confirmed the above details, adding that “All passengers on the Middle East Airline had to disembark with no injury or fatality.” Mr. Oketumbi also assured that a formal investigation into the incident would be undertaken by his office, following which it would issue a formal release. Like all Nigerians concerned with safety at the country’s local and international airports, we eagerly await the result of the formal investigation.

In the meantime, our curiosity is piqued, and we have questions that Mr. Oketumbi’s team should consider taking on board as it conducts its investigation. In the first place, how is it that two airplanes belonging to two international airlines can manage to collide at a major airport, and at a time when aviation activity is at an all-time low and flights are more or less grounded? Is this perhaps a pointer to the quality of navigational aids at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), concerning which questions have been raised in the past? There are unconfirmed reports that some airlines have been doing brisk business carrying passengers under the pretext of flying cargo. Could this rather strange incident be connected to these rumours in any way?

The incident itself falls within a pattern that seems to suggest a certain laxity on the part of authorities at the MMIA. For instance, in January this year, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) reported a bush fire incident around one of the airport’s landing safety areas. In July 2019, a 32-year-old Nigerien invaded the airport runway, jumping atop a Port Harcourt-bound Azman Air aircraft.

While we are not accusing the airport management of anything, the conclusion is not unwarranted that the safety of passengers is not high on the list of its priorities. The management needs to clean up its act before it is too late.

 

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