Accident investigation: AIB’s experience
It has its headquarters on the grounds of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, and its present Commissioner, who is also the Chief Executive Officer, is Dr. Felix Abali, appointed on March 4,2014. He succeeded Captain Muhktar Usman, who is currently the Director General of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA).
Apart from its primary duty of investigation of aviation accidents, AIB also makes recommendations in case of major incidents or accidents that will help enhance safety and deter future recurrence of such incidents or accidents.
The Bureau, as the Commissioner, Abali was quoted as saying ‘is recognized by ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) as the most qualified and competent air accident investigation body in the sub region through the Banjul Accord Group Accident Investigation Agency and could render its expertise when needed as well as play leadership role within the sub region’.
But how has this all important agency in the aviation industry weathered the storm upon daunting challenges it has faced over the years? An aviation stakeholder, Morris Ugwuegbu said the best way to obtain optimal performance of the Bureau is to try to resolve some of its challenges in carrying out its duties.
When the Guardian contacted the agency to know what these challenges are, a source who refused to be named because he had no permission to speak to the press enumerated some of these challenges.
His words: “One of the major challenges that we have in the agency is that of the public. First are responders, pathologists and coroners whenever we have an accident. When we have an accident, sometimes, you go to the accident site, but unfortunately, the first responders don’t understand the role of AIB. So, it becomes difficult for AIB to conduct its investigation.
In case of an accident, the pathologists and the coroners help in determining whether the flight crew was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs by the identification of the bodies through the DNA test. When they do that, they are not under our jurisdiction. So, it becomes very difficult to get the result as fast as we would have loved to”.
“Another challenge we have is that of funds. AIB doesn’t generate revenue and we depend for money from the capital budget. As it stands now, we have three per cent of the five per cent ticket sales charge by airlines, which is not enough. So, it becomes very challenging to work with such resources when it comes to accident investigation and running the organisation.
“On our prospects, the cardinal role of AIB is to investigate accidents and to come up with final reports and in that final report, there are recommendations that will enhance safety”.
Arguably, a lot of stakeholders in the industry including Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), a member of Aviation Round Table (ART) and a strong advocate of a safe and stable aviation sector have publicly criticized delays in the release of incident reports of past mishaps.
But the situation seems to be improving at AIB since the arrival of the present Commissioner, according to one of the staff who spoke to the Guardian in a condition of anonymity. He spoke on what the new administration has been doing to surmount some of the challenges as identified above.
His words: “What we have been doing is that we try to come to an understanding with the people. We have been trying to write a Memorandum of Understanding, (MoU), with them. As a matter of fact, we just started working with one of the pathologists who basically has a lot of connections with some of the hospitals in different states. These hospitals will work with this individual who will just report to us. If that works, I think the situation would be alleviated”.
On the AIB’s achievement in accident investigation and timely reports, he said: “Twelve reports, including eight whose release had been stalled for years were released to the public with safety recommendations. Another two are about to be released. Rapid progress is being recorded on on-going reports.
“Regarding wreckage hanger the Bureau has completed the erection of wreckage hangar for reconstruction and minor tests in accident investigation. It is currently being equipped.
He continued: “The Bureau has a FDR/CVR laboratory from CAE/FlightScape of Canada, which will enable the Bureau to download data from both flight recorders promptly during accident investigation. Hitherto, these units were taken overseas for downloading. The system also has a capability of being used for real-time flight Data monitoring.
Abali was also said to have opened two regional offices that are being built in Kano and Enugu to enhance the bureau’s response time to accident notification; activated the review of Civil Aviation Investigation of Air Accidents/Incidents Regulation 2006 which is at its final stage awaiting ministerial approval.
he Commissioner was reported to have started the wind-shear phenomena research in conjunction with Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) and with the first and second phases completed.
In the same vein, the new administration also initiated capacity development in which the Bureau has aviators with cognate experience who have been adequately trained as accident investigators, thereby boosting its technical capabilities.
In the area of public awareness the Bureau was said to have conducted several public awareness programmes including: Participating in Trade Fairs and Exhibitions such as in Kaduna, Enugu and Lagos to reach out to the local communities and the general public.
. Community Outreach: The Bureau has put in place a programme for reaching out to local communities around the airports considering the fact that most accidents occur during take-off and landing. This is aimed at educating them on what to do during occurrences and secure their cooperation.
. Electronic and print media: The Bureau sponsors radio programmes and participates in various television shows with a view to spreading awareness about its activities.
The Bureau it was further confirmed embarks on training and retraining of its staff. For instance, the Bureau has a robust human capacity development programme for its staff considering the specialised nature of its operations. All staff go on training and re-training programmes, workshops and conferences to update themselves in their various fields, at the same time, it
has enlisted young graduates who are currently undergoing training to take over from the current ageing workforce in its succession plan of maintaining continuity.