The Coordinator of Concerned Aviation Professionals, Capt. Mohammed Badamasi has said that the excuse offered by the management of United Nigeria Airlines (UNA) that it diverted an Abuja bound flight to Asaba Airport due to a bad weather situation at the former was flimsy and unacceptable.
Badamasi who was also a pilot with the former national carrier, Nigeria Airways, said that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) was right to have suspended all wet-leased aircraft in the fleet of the troubled airline, suspecting that the crew were unfamiliar with the Nigerian terrain.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Nairametrics in Lagos on Tuesday, Badamasi insisted that there was a coverup on the incident by the management of the airline.
According to him, if there was a communication between the control tower at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja and the aircraft, there would have been a transcript of the weather report from the air traffic controllers advising the pilot to divert to an alternate airport, but doubted if there was any of such.
Badamasi also emphasised that for any airline to divert from its original destination for whatever reason to the other, the cockpit must inform the passengers on board, which he said never happened during the period of the flight.
He said: “I believe there was a cover-up. If there was any communication between Abuja and the aircraft, there should be a transcript that Abuja gave them that the weather report in Abuja was bad and that they should divert to the alternative.
“So, we have to get to the bottom of this. This is a cover up by the airline itself. The truth of the matter is that these people went to Asaba instead of going to Abuja. If you want to divert, you must tell the passengers. Definitely, there is a cover up.
“This incident will continue to generate controversial comments from the public and aviation stakeholders. With modern equipment, weather reporting is updated every 30 minutes. Early morning fog development starts before sunrise.”
NCAA’s Right Step
Badamasi further explained that the industry’s apex regulatory body was right to have suspended all the wet-leased aircraft in the fleet of the airline, pending the outcome of its investigation into the incident.
He pointed out that a wet-leased arrangement was supposed to be a stopgap for operators, stressing that this option denied Nigerian pilots and engineers employment.
A wet-leased is a leasing arrangement whereby one airline (the lessor) provides an aircraft, complete crew, maintenance, and insurance (ACMI) to another airline or other type of business acting as a broker of air travel (the lessee), which pays by hours operated.
“This is one of the things I fought against in early 2000 till 2006 under the Concerned Aviation Professionals and we were able to win the case then.
“The issue of the weather is one that needs to be investigated. A thorough investigation must be carried out by the NCAA to unravel the mystery and set the records straight,” he said.
Besides, a suspension letter from NCAA obtained by our correspondent, dated November 27, 2023, with the reference number: NCAA/DGCA/GC/8/16/687 with the head: ‘Suspension of Wet-lease Operation,’ addressed to the Accountable Manager, UNA, said the suspension was immediate.
The letter, which was signed by Capt. Ibrahim Dambazzau, Director of Operations Licensing and Training on behalf of Capt. Musa Nuhu, the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), said that the authority had commenced an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the occurrence.
Also, our correspondent can report that the A320-200 is the only wet-leased equipment in the fleet of the aircraft.
The letter said: “Sequel to the operation of your wet-leased A320 aircraft with registration marks: LZ-FSA into Asaba on 26th November, 2023, the authority has commenced an investigation into the circumstances surrounding this occurrence.
“In the meantime, the authority has suspended the operation of wet-leased aircraft by United Nigeria Airlines with immediate effect. This means PART G of your Operations Specifications, which hitherto authorised these wet-lease operations, has been suspended.”
United Nigeria had said on Sunday that its flight NUA 0504, operating from the Murtala Muhammed Airport two (MMA2) in Lagos enroute Abuja on Sunday, diverted to the Asaba International Airport.
The airline in a statement by Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu, Head, of Corporate Communications, had attributed the diversion to poor destination weather.
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