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Monday, 11 June 2012


In the immediate aftermath of the two unfortunate air disasters involving two Nigerian airlines resulting in the killing of nearly two hundred lives, there is now an ongoing debate regarding whether the age of an aircraft or the maintenance is the major causative factor for air disasters.
In my previously published article on the above air disasters, I had called on the officials of the Federal ministry of Aviation to introduce a policy whereby all locally operated commercial aircrafts that are above ten years post-manufacturing should be phased out  but some persons who are in the aviation sector reacted by faulting this particular line of argument and stated that the age of the air craft is not the fundamental reason for air disasters if the said aircrafts are regularly maintained.
The hullabaloo generated around this issue of age and maintenance of aircrafts for effective air safety perfectly reminds me of the famous debate we engaged in as first year philosophy students on the question of chicken and egg which one comes first.
For me, Fela’s Iconic song which says “dead body get accident and this one that double ‘wahala’ [trouble] for the dead body and the owner of the dead body”, is also another interpretation to be given to the emerging debate around the age or maintenance of aircrafts as necessary factor to air disaster. This is because I am in great difficulty to understand why emphasis has suddenly shifted to this debate rather than resolving the fundamental problem of negligence that gave rise to the recent air mishaps in Nigeria.
At first, when I read an interview in a recent weekend edition of a national daily credited to the spokesman of the Federal Ministry of Aviation Mr. Joe Obi who said maintenance of aircrafts is the best safeguard to air accident and that age does not matter much, I was shocked. I ask if that is so, why manufacture new aircrafts then?
As I put this piece together a little debate between me, my legal consultant Miss. Ogom Kifordu and my research assistant Miss. Nwamaka Asuzu on the all- important universal debate of “Chicken and egg which comes first?”
This is with a view to finding out between age and maintenance which one serves as effective safeguard to air disaster. Ogom Kifordu, a lawyer of over five years post-call believed that the chicken comes first since it is the chicken which generates the egg but both me and my research assistant held tenaciously to the opinion that egg comes first because it is the origin of the chicken. In effect, while my legal consultant says age is of essence, we chose to stay with some experts who say that maintenance is of greater essence towards preventing air disasters.
But another expert opinion from the United States of America reported by Reuters stated that the Aviation authority in the United States are also concerned about the age of aircrafts and have commenced knowledgeable moves to introduce legislation which may propose age limits for commercial airplanes.
In the report published on Tuesday April 18th, 2006, we were informed basically that the United States’ aviation regulators, Federal Aviation Authority [FAA] proposed for the first time operating limits for commercial aircraft to help avoid the most serious age-related metal fatigue cracks and other damage.
The change would exceed long-standing regulations on aging aircraft, mainly concerning maintenance, and apply to thousands of airliners already in service and those on the drawing board, a draft Federal Aviation Administration rule showed.

The FAA estimates the cost to industry at $360 million over 20 years. Plane makers like Boeing Company and Europe's Airbus would incur about 10 percent of this, while airlines and other operators would pay the rest.
But regulators say airlines would save hundreds of millions of dollars on maintenance and other expenses, so says REUTERS.
The proposal covers planes like the workhorse McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series, first popular in the early 1980s and still flown domestically, and the newest Boeing 777, a wide-body that flies premium international service. The rule would also apply to next-generation aircraft like Boeing's 787 and the superjumbo Airbus A380.
John Crawley of Reuters reports that it took several years to conclude an operating limit was necessary. The proposal comes as the average age of many planes in the U.S. fleet is on the way down.
Currently, Reuters reports that manufacturers must determine an expected service life for an airliner, and for new designs, they must show that serious fatigue damage will not occur. But there is no rule that restricts or prohibits operation once a plane exceeds its estimated service life and fatigue becomes a greater concern.
Interestingly, Boeing says its planes are built to be commercially viable for 25 years but airlines can fly them longer if they satisfy airworthiness regulations.
Commercial planes are generally made of aluminum and include fiberglass and some carbon-based composites. Most big planes, except very new ones, have some minor fatigue cracking that is caused by expansion and contraction of the fuselage during changes in cabin pressure and repaired during maintenance.
"As long as it's monitored carefully that's perfectly safe," said Charles Eastlake, an aerospace engineering expert at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
From we were told that the "lifespan" of an airliner is not truly measured in time, but pressurization cycles.
Each time the aircraft is pressurized during flight its fuselage is subjected to stress. The "lifespan" of the aircraft is reached from the metal fatigues and cracks.

The "service life of 20 years" is as generalization that figures 51,000 flight hours and 75,000 pressurization cycles for most aircraft. If an aircraft is used on long haul routes it experiences relatively few pressurization cycles in its "life" it will last far beyond 20 years.
From the above expert opinion what is clear is that both age and maintenance are to be considered in drawing any meaningful conclusion on factors that contribute to air disasters.
What Nigerian Aviation authority should do is to activate transparent mechanism for ensuring that commercial flights in Nigeria are frequently maintained because of the complex and delicate nature of air travels.
Nigeria must not toy with the lives of passengers and the unprecedented rate of air accidents with high fatalities must be minimized.

·            Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head HUMAN Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria,  writes from


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