The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), on Friday, exposed the many infractions of AZMAN Air, stating that it grounded the airline’s operations to avert tragedy.
The NCAA made the disclosure in the wake of the airline’s protest against the suspension of its flight operations by the aviation regulator.
Citing safety reasons, the NCAA said it could not ignore the AZMAN Air’s involvement in three incidents in the last six weeks thus it suspended the airline’s flights to enable it carry out safety and technical audit of its operations.
Protesting the suspension, however, the airline claimed that other carriers that experienced similar incidents have not been grounded.
This is coming on the heels of accusations levelled against the Director General (DG) of the NCAA, Musa Shuaibu Nuhu, after its operations were grounded due to safety reasons.
However, the NCAA, on Friday, cited many infractions committed by the airline, stressing that it could not be blackmailed by an erring operator.
In a statement by the General Manager, Public Affairs, Samuel Adurogboye, the NCAA said its action was motivated by safety considerations.
According to the statement: “Over a period of about six weeks, AZMAN Air 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.
“During a routine ramp inspection on February 10, 2021, at the 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 February 11, 2021, AZMAN Air flight AZM 2318 operated with the same Boeing 737-500 aircraft with registration 5N-SYS, and departed 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 Lagos, the Captain failed to make entry in the aircraft technical logbook.
“The AZMAN Air maintenance team on ground Lagos was notified of the detached part and carried out an inspection, which identified the missing part as the no 3 Main Landing Gear (MLG) heat shield.
“However, 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.”
The NCAA stated further that, “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. 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.
“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 DG 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.”
The airline regulator maintained that the alarming trend of tyre failures, in combination with improper tyre maintenance procedures are a clear indication of an accident chain formation in its final stages.
It said, “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 incident 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.
“A comprehensive audit of AZMAN Air will be conducted in the areas of operations, airworthiness, training, licensing, financial health and any other area determined to be necessary during the exercise.
“An audit team of inspectors has been constituted to determine the root causes of these incidents, and recommend action plans to forestall re-occurrence.”
Regarding the allegation made against the regulator’s DG, that he demanded the sum of N15 million for a publication which carried an AZMAN advert, the NCAA spokesman said, “Between November 20 to 22, 2017, Nigeria hosted the ICAO World Aviation Forum (IWAF/3)in Abuja. The sponsorship of this event was sought from aviation organizations, 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 Organization (ICAO), and a key member of the organizing 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.
“In addition, a publication, ICAO STATES TODAY, carried an AZMAN Air advert. The Airline subscribed to the advert in 2016, in preparation for the 39th General Assembly of ICAO but till date, AZMAN Air has 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.”
The NCAA also dismissed the airline’s allegation that it turned down its request to hire expatriate pilots as “outright falsehood.”
It said, “The Director General assumed office on February 24, 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 the Managing Director on December 8, 2020.
“That is just over five months ago, and it was promptly turned down. The NCAA neither approves nor issues expatriate quota, however the inputs of the Federal Ministry of Aviation and NCAA are part of the approval process of the Nigerian Immigration Services (NIS).”
According to the NCAA, AZMAN Air terminated the appointments of six Nigerian pilots (3 Captains and 3 Co-Pilots) on November 6, 2020, “due to recent happenings and developments in the company” and a few weeks later, on December 8, 2020, it applied for expatriate quota for six expatriates to replace the terminated Nigerian pilots.
The Director General refused to endorse their request.