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Row over Max Air landing incident at Minna Airport

By Wole Oyebade
13 September 2019   |   3:07 am
The likely cause of the recent Max Air runway incident at Minna International Airport has sparked a row, with different versions of what happened now emerging.

Minna International Airport

The likely cause of the recent Max Air runway incident at Minna International Airport has sparked a row, with different versions of what happened now emerging.

While the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) has begun probe of the incident, the airline and Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) are making claims and counterclaims ahead of the AIB’s verdict.

Max Air’s Boeing 747-400 aircraft, with 560 hajj pilgrims and 19 crewmembers onboard, had a “serious incident” on hitting the runway but without injuries to passengers reported. The wide-body plane, with registration number 5N-DBK, took off from the King Abdul Aziz international airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

A version of the incident has reported engine (PW4056) failure on approach. According to the report, the crew continued for landing on runway 05 at about 05:00L (04:00Z). The aircraft, however, went off the runway and came to a stop some metres away. On the contrary, the local airline, blamed the malfunctioning of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) – a system that enables pilots to conduct an instrument approach to landing if they are unable to establish visual contact with the runway.

The Director of Operations at Max Air, Capt. Ibrahim Dilli, said amid the rainfall at the time of aircraft’s arrival, the airport’s ILS was epileptic with unreliable signals on approach.“The Instrument Landing System at the airport was epileptic with unreliable signals and the pilot evacuated on approach, using their wealth of experience and knowledge of the terrain to a safe landing and stop on the runway, during which one of the engines slightly brushed the runway due to complex landing manoeuvre occasioned by a strong downdraft. Aircraft did not crash nor skid off the runway,” he said.

Apparently offended by the claims, the agency that manages the airspace, NAMA, dismissed the position of the airline.According to NAMA, “the reported weather on the day in question was 10km visibility in nil weather. Secondly, the said Instrument Landing System was successfully calibrated early this year, and there has been no report of non-alignment by the equipment from pilots since then.”

The General Manager, Public Affairs at NAMA, Khalid Emele, added that other operators that had used the facility, after the incident, did not complained about the ILS malfunctioning.“NAMA has made available other alternative approaches like the Performance Based Navigation (PBN) approach procedures and Very High Omni-directional Radio Range/Distance Measuring Equipment (VOR/DME) approach procedures, which are alternatives to the ILS.

“The agency, therefore, wishes to reassure airspace users and the general public that the Nigerian airspace remains safe for air travel,” Emele said.
The twists and turns notwithstanding, the AIB would have to unravel the mystery, at least to set the records straight and make recommendations that prevent future reoccurrence.

Aviation security consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said in the light of the divergent views, it might be hard to make a headway, but “the AIB would need the reports in the cause of their investigation.”“The case, as provided by some other reports, appeared to involve other causes than the ILS. The engine was said to have hit the ground; that cannot be anything less than a serious incident and would need the AIB’s investigation,” Ojikutu said.