Two Nigerian airlines grounded after crashes

President Olusegun Obasanjo has grounded two private domestic Nigerian airlines after two deadly plane crashes killed 224 people in seven weeks.

He also announced a review of all aircraft flying in Nigeria. Blaming corruption for some of the industry’s troubles, he said two experts from the International Civil Aviation Organisation will be brought in “to ensure the integrity of the inspection”.

Obasanjo announced the groundings on Tuesday after meeting airline carriers and government regulators to discuss public concern over aviation accidents.

During the meeting, which was broadcast live on state television, Obasanjo read what appeared to be a February intelligence report detailing safety problems at the two grounded airlines, including planes experiencing landing-gear trouble. It was not clear why those concerns had not been acted upon earlier.

Attempts to reach officials at the grounded airlines were not immediately successful on Tuesday.

One of the carriers grounded, Sosoliso Airlines, operated the 32-year-old McDonnell Douglas DC-9 that crashed on Saturday in the southern city of Port Harcourt, killing 107 people, most of them schoolchildren heading home for the holidays.
The plane’s previous owner, Serbia’s JAT Airways, said it did not meet European standards.

The second grounded airline, Chanchangi Airlines, operated a plane that skidded off the runway in the main city of Lagos earlier this year and another craft that developed problems shortly after taking off from Abuja earlier this month and had to return to the capital.

On October 22, a passenger jet crashed shortly after taking off from the main city of Lagos, killing all 117 people on board. There has been little indication of what could have caused the crash. That plane’s carrier, privately owned Bellview Airlines, was not grounded on Tuesday.

“People are asking: When will this stop? How will this stop? And we have to answer these questions,” Obasanjo said as Tuesday’s meeting began, speaking to representatives of local and international airlines and government and emergency officials in the capital, Abuja.

Obasanjo on Monday ousted two senior officials in Nigeria’s aviation ministry.

Aviation Minister Babalola Borishade told meeting participants on Tuesday that flight facilities in the country have long been in decay.

Despite great oil riches as one of the world’s top petroleum producers, wasteful and corrupt rule by military juntas has left much of Nigeria’s public infrastructure in tatters.

“The greatest bane of the aviation industry is corruption,” Obasanjo said as he closed Tuesday’s meeting. “Corruption leads to death and we are not going to have any more of it. It is not a matter of prayer alone. It is also a matter of action and we will start the action from here today.”

Obasanjo, elected in 1999 to end military rule, has vowed to weed out official corruption in a government often cited as among the world’s most corrupt.

Serbia’s state-owned JAT, which in 2002 sold the DC-9 that crashed on Saturday to Sosoliso, said Monday that the craft was built in 1973 and did not meet European standards when it was sold, due to loud noise levels produced by the jet’s two engines.

Sosoliso’s MD, Oscar Ikwuemesi, however, insisted that the company’s aircraft were safe.

Sosoliso was established in 1994 and began domestic flights in 2000. The airline now flies to six Nigerian cities.

Saturday’s flight took off from the capital, Abuja, and crashed as it tried to land in Port Harcourt. Three people survived. Among those onboard were 71 teenagers from a Catholic boarding school in Abuja, heading home for the Christmas holidays.—Sapa-AP

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