By G9ija

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) yesterday said it suspended the operations of local airline, Azman Air, to avert a national tragedy and loss of life, “which may become inevitable if the airline continues to operate with disregard for safety procedures.”

The NCAA suspended the operations of Azman last Tuesday after the airline suffered three incidents in quick succession. The NCAA had also ordered the airline to undergo a safety audit to determine the root cause(s) of the incidents, and recommend corrective actions to forestall re-occurrence.

However, Azman in a statement claimed the airline complies with safety standards, and that it was safe.
Regardless, the civil aviation regulator of the Nigerian airspace, in a statement issued by its General Manager, Public Affairs, Sam Adurogboye, said it would not be blackmailed and or threatened while carrying out its statutory responsibility.

It said over a period of about six weeks, Azman Air’s Boeing 737 aircraft operating scheduled passenger flights were involved in three separate incidents, resulting in damage to the aircraft in each case but with no loss of life, “for which we are grateful to God.”
The NCAA said the Accident Investigation Bureau was currently investigating the “serious incidents”, adding that it exercised its duty as the regulator and sanctioned the engineers of the airline and Azman Air itself for certain breaches of safety procedures but that the fines were yet to be paid.

NCAA said: “During a routine ramp inspection on 10th February 2021, at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, NCAA inspectors found an Azman Air maintenance engineer carrying out replacement of the right-hand main landing gear wheel assembly (nos. 3 and 4) of their Boeing 737-500 aircraft with registration 5N-SYS, without referring to the manufacturer’s maintenance manual. This is a violation of the Civil Aviation Regulations, for which both Azman Air and the engineer have been sanctioned but are yet to pay the fine.

“On 11th February 2021, Azman Air flight AZM 2318 operated with the same Boeing 737-500 aircraft with registration 5N-SYS departing Kaduna for Lagos. During take-off, a component of the aircraft was observed to have fallen off the aircraft and Air Traffic Control (ATC) notified the Captain, who elected to continue the flight to Lagos. Upon arrival in Lagos, the Captain failed to make entry in the aircraft technical logbook,” the authority said.

It also explained that Azman Air maintenance team on ground in Lagos were notified of the detached part and carried out an inspection, which identified the missing part as the number three Main Landing Gear’s heatshield.
However, NCAA said the maintenance team neither made an entry in the technical logbook nor rectified the defect but released the aircraft for a scheduled passenger flight from Lagos to Abuja.

“NCAA inspectors in Abuja were notified and promptly grounded the aircraft, until the defect was rectified, before releasing the aircraft for resumption of flight operations. A Letter of Investigation was issued to Azman Air, and investigations are ongoing.
“Exactly five days later, on 16th of February 2021, when the previous incident was still under investigation, Azman flight AZM 2325, with the same Boeing 737-500 aircraft with registration 5N-SYS, suffered burst tyres while landing in Lagos, with resultant severe damage to the aircraft engine and fuselage. The Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) is currently investigating this occurrence as a serious incident,” NCAA said.

It also recalled that on Monday March 15, 2021, Azman Air flight AZM 2318, operated with a Boeing 737-500 aircraft with registration 5N-YMS, departed Kaduna for Lagos and the Captain reported a loud bang after retracting the landing gear during take-off but decided to proceed to Lagos as all parameters were normal.

“The aircraft landed Lagos and taxied to its parking stand when ATC informed the Captain of the burst tyres as reported by the Airport Fire Service. NCAA Kaduna Regional Office Manager alerted the Director General (DG) of tyre debris on the runway in Kaduna when an inspection was carried out after the departure of the Azman flight. The Director General instructed NCAA Lagos office to conduct a ramp inspection of the Azman aircraft. When the NCAA inspectors reached the aircraft, they discovered that two severely damaged tyres had been replaced and further inspections revealed damage to a hydraulic line with resultant hydraulic leak and damage to the hydraulic reservoir,” NCAA disclosed.
The regulatory authority said the alarming trends of tyre failures, in combination with improper tyre maintenance procedures, were clear and strong indications of an accident chain formation in its final stages.

“There was an urgent need to break the accident chain before a completely avoidable national tragedy occurs. No responsible Civil Aviation Authority will fold its arms and wait for the next accident to occur, perhaps a fatal accident, before taking action.
“Consequently, the Director General called for an emergency meeting of the Flight Standards Group of the NCAA, to discuss and decide on the next line of action on the worrisome developments at Azman Air. After deliberations, which lasted for several hours, and comprehensive evaluations of these incidents, the Director General decided to suspend Parts A3 (Aircraft Authorization) and D43 (Aircraft Listing) of the Operations Specifications (OPS SPECS) issued to Azman Air, thus suspending the operation of the entire Boeing 737 aircraft on its fleet,” the authority said.

It also disclosed that a comprehensive audit of Azman Air would be conducted in the areas of operations, airworthiness, training, licensing, financial health and any other area determined to be necessary during the exercise, adding that an audit team of inspectors has been constituted to determine the root causes of these incidents, and recommend action plans to forestall re-occurrence.
The NCAA also reacted to the allegations levelled against the agency and its Director General, Captain Musa Nuhu by Azman Air.
The regulatory authority referred to the press statement issued by the airline where it insisted that its suspension was a vendetta against it.

On what it referred to as spurious allegation made against the Director General that he demanded N15 million for a publication, which carried an Azman advert, NCAA explains: “Between 20 and 22 November 2017, Nigeria hosted the ICAO World Aviation Forum (IWAF/3) in Abuja. The sponsorship of this event was sought from aviation organisations, including Azman Air, through a letter from the then Federal Ministry of Transportation (Aviation).

“The Director General, who at that time was the Representative of Nigeria on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), and a key member of the organising committee of IWAF/3, delivered the letter of sponsorship to the management of Azman Air while he was on a family visit to Kano. The Chairman and the CEO of Azman Air both promised to revert but never did. The request for sponsorship of IWAF/3 can be independently verified with other Nigerian airlines,” NCAA clarified.
It stated that in addition, a publication, ICAO STATES TODAY, carried an Azman Air advert, as the airline subscribed to the advert in 2016, in preparation for the 39th General Assembly of ICAO but till date, Azman Air had refused to pay the advert cost of US$3,701, despite several reminders.

“The invoice from the publisher of the magazine, FCM Communications based in Montreal, Canada, can be independently confirmed with the publisher. The official request for sponsorship of IWAF/3 and reminder of payment for the long overdue invoice of US$3,701 to FCM Communications, are the basis for the false claims against the Director General of allegedly demanding the sum of N15 million.”
NCAA described the allegation of “sitting” on the request of Azman Air to hire expatriate pilots as outright falsehood: “The Director General assumed office on 24th February 2020 and shortly afterwards, in late March 2020, the Nigerian airspace was closed to all flights. Azman Air applied for expatriate quota by a letter signed by its Managing Director on 8th December 2020 and it was promptly turned down,” the statement also said.

NCAA said it neither approves nor issues expatriate quota, but that the inputs of the Federal Ministry of Aviation and NCAA were part of the approval process of the Nigerian Immigration Services (NIS).
NCAA said Azman Air terminated the appointments of six Nigerian pilots (three Captains and three Co-Pilots) on November 6, 2020, “due to recent happenings and developments in the company” and a few weeks later, on 8th December 2020, applied for expatriate quota for six expatriates to replace the terminated Nigerian pilots and the Director General refused to endorse their request.
“Neither the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority nor its Director General will succumb to any blackmail and or threat in carrying out the statutory responsibility of the safety and security oversight, in addition to the economic regulation, of the civil aviation industry in Nigeria, as enshrined in the 2006 Civil Aviation Act,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the airline admitted that it recorded three incidents involving the aforementioned aircraft, but noted in its twitter handle, @Azmanair, that “over 1,000 staff of Azman Air will be directly affected if the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) does not soft-pedal and lift a suspension order it placed on the airline.

Azman Air, which started commercial flight operations in Nigeria in 2014, has its hub at the Kano airport. The airline has up to seven aircraft in its fleet which mostly comprise B 737 aircraft. It plies up to 10 domestic destinations.
The Nigerian civil airspace has maintained a relatively safe record in about a decade now. The last tragic air crash involving commercial airplane in the country was in June 2012 when a Dana Air McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft from Abuja crashed near the Lagos airport while attempting an emergency landing, killing all 153 souls on board and six on the ground.