The recent Nigerian Air Force Beechcraft King Air 350i (B350) crash that claimed the life of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru and ten others has opened a worrisome chapter in the history of not only military aviation in Nigeria but aviation in general.
With level of safety of one fatal accident in over one million flights, aviation is arguably the safest mode of transportation in modern times. That level of safety was achieved largely through stringent protocols on both equipment and personnel. No room is normally allowed for error in aviation.
Within three months Nigeria recorded crash of two B350 at Abuja airport on 21st February, 2021 and Kaduna on May, 2021, and a crash of an Alpha Jet (NAF 475) around Maiduguri on 31st March, 2021. Having three fatal aircraft incidents in a space of three months should be a source of concern to any nation.
On the 21st of May, 2021, NAF 203 departed Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja with Lieutenant General Attahiru en-route Kaduna Military Base. On arriving the military base the weather was not suitable for landing, so the pilot diverted to Kaduna International Airport.
The flight was given runway 23 for landing, due to wind direction, but the pilot opted to land on the opposite runway 05 despite the tailwind. Some miles away from the runway the pilot was informed of a gusty tailwind that is about 30 to 35 knots. Despite that information the pilot chose to continue with the approach to land. It was the landing that ended up as a tragedy to the nation.
There have been concerns about training, competency and airworthiness in Nigeria’s military aviation. Nigerian Air Force is a self-regulating body, therefore much is not known about how compliant its activities are to international standards for aviation. However, many hushed stories point to lack of adherence to set standards and slap on the wrist treatment for unprofessional conducts.
The announcement by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) on inviting Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) to investigate the crash of NAF 203 is a welcome development. Hitherto, military incidents and accidents are left to NAF to investigate and no one hears anything from that.
Beyond inviting the civil counterparts in investigation, if a military aviation regulatory authority cannot be established (like is obtained in the UK where they have Military Aviation Authority), it will be a good idea to subject military transport aircrafts and their crew to civil aviation requirements for airworthiness and licences. Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should be empowered to do that. In the UK and other parts of the world, military transport pilots have to keep civil licences to fly these aircraft. Even here in Nigeria, military air traffic controllers must obtain and keep currency of their civil licences and ratings.
To forestall unnecessary loss of life in both combat and non-combat flights focus should be made on military aviation in Nigeria. The FGN should leave no stone unturned in this crash and make public its findings and actions.