Aviation stakeholders have expressed worry over the quality of aviation fuel airlines use locally, especially its exposure to contaminants within the supply chain. The concern is not unconnected with recent findings that linked some air crashes and contaminated fuel. Again, some of the recommendations that emerged from the accident investigations have not been implemented.
Meeting recently at a conference on prevention of human factors in air accident occurrences, organised by the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) Nigeria, in partnership with the League of Aviation and Airports Correspondents (LAAC), experts were displeased that aviation fuel supply was still not well monitored by concerned regulators.
Secretary-General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Group Capt. John Ojikutu, said the concerns were not new, as local operators and European Union Civil Aviation Authority (EUCAA), on behalf of European carriers flying to Nigeria, had reported contamination in fuel that they bought in Nigeria.
Ojikutu said that twice, the AIB Committee on the implementation of safety recommendations visited the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), to figure out their response to the safety recommendations.
“The DPR told the committee that they could only guarantee the quality of fuel that leaves their depot for the airports but not the delivery. They, however, advised the marketers under Joint Unified Hydrant Installation (JUHI), to establish a test laboratory. But JUHI had claimed it had no funds to establish the required laboratory.
“The safety question to ask is: how would the AIB and DPR safety recommendations be complied with? The NCAA, as the civil aviation authority, should urgently get itself involved to ensure JUHI complies with the DPR recommendations,” Ojikutu said.
The former Commandant of the Lagos Airport was particularly worried about how the authorities could exercise safety oversight and quality assurance on about 200 trucks that transport Jet A1 between depots and airports.
He observed that trucks came into the fuel supply chain when pipelines that supplied fuel to the airport ruptured in 1992. Since then, there has been no appreciable effort from the NNPC to repair them.
Meanwhile, there had been repair proposals to the NNPC to partner with JUHI to repair the pipelines. Also, there was a proposal for JUHI and airlines to jointly repair the pipelines. Or that the repair, operation of the pipelines and hydrants is given as concession to a private company for a period of 20 to 30 years.
“Except the repairs are done or the NNPC/DPR and the NCAA enforce quality assurance on JUHI, the contamination through truck tankers transportation that have caused not less than eight serious incidents could begin resulting into serious accidents in future or even now.
“Although it has not been officially confirmed, many industry observers believed that the flameout of one engine of the Dana plane that crashed in 2012, 17 minutes after takeoff from Abuja, could also have been as a result of contamination of fuel. A stitch in time saves lives,” Ojikutu said.
Indeed, the fresh concern is not unconnected with the recent spike in air crashes globally. Nigeria also had its share of fatal plane crashes when a Quorum Aviation helicopter crashed in Opebi, Lagos, in August 2020, smashing the industry’s record of five-year of zero fatality.
A review of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Safety Report of 2020 shows that in 2019, globally there were a total of 114 aviation accidents, six of which were fatal with 239 fatalities.
Director-General (DG) of the NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu, observed that the 2019 global accident rate of 2.9 accidents per million departures was the highest in the previous five years and represents an increase of 12 per cent from the year 2018 figure.
“The same ICAO report shows that the African Indian Ocean (AFI) Region, to which Nigeria belongs, recorded an accident rate of 2.8 accidents per million departures, though with one of the least estimated departures of 1,440, 701 departures, representing only 3.8 per cent share of total global traffic. This is one of the highest accidents rates per region globally,” Nuhu said.
Former DG of the NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren, added that aviation authorities and operators would have to pay more attention to a number of factors, including quality of fuel supply, to reduce mishaps.
Demuren, however, said DPR has exclusive regulatory right to fuel and is currently beyond the statutory functions of the NCAA. He advised that the AIB should rather engage the DPR more on aviation industry’s expectations and enhancement of quality assurance.