Disquiet over frequent crashes of military aircraft

The scene of the helicopter crash that was conveying VP Yemi Osinbajo
FILE PHOTO: The scene of the helicopter crash that was conveying Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

There was disquiet in the aviation industry and the military as Nigeria took stock of its losses arising from Friday’s crash of the Nigerian Air Force owned Beachcraft 350 and what seems like frequent crashes of military aircraft.

Chief of Army Staff Lt-Gen Ibrahim Attahiru and the 10 other victims of the Friday crash were laid to rest in Abuja on Saturday.

Two other crashes earlier in the year had killed nine people, bringing to 20 the number of casualties of military plane accidents this year alone.

Reviewing the situation yesterday, aviation experts asked the authorities to have a fresh look at the Wind Shear Alerting System at the airports with a view to ascertaining their functionality.

Chief of Army staff Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru
Chief of Army staff Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru
Deal of the day

The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) in its initial reaction to the Friday crash attributed it to inclement weather.

Aviation experts who spoke to The Nation said if the accident was indeed caused by bad weather, then those charged with the responsibility of running the airspace should be up and doing.

They said though air accidents happen across the globe, not minding whether an airplane is operated under civil or military regulations, efficient weather forecast equipment at airports could alert pilots and guide them on how to handle difficult situations.

One of the experts, a retired Air Force personnel, told The Nation in a telephone interview that the relevant aviation authorities need to speak on the functionality of Wind Shear Alerting System if it was installed at Kaduna Airport.

His words: “The way the military airplane crashed after landing suggests inclement weather. “Though accidents do happen, what happened to the wind shear alerting system at Kaduna Airport if it was installed?

“The second poser is: was any wind shear warning system installed in the crashed plane that should have received signals about inclement weather at the airport where it was landing?

“Following the spate of air crashes between 2005 and 2007, wind shear alerting systems should have been installed at all international airports.

“Was it installed at the Kaduna Airport? If so, is it functioning optimally? “

The retired Air Force officer said it is wrong to ascribe any conspiracy theory if anyone on board was a target.

Continuing, the source said: “Does the Kaduna Airport have efficient landing system?

“If indeed the equipment is there, is it maintained regularly with the regulator carrying out oversight on it?”

Another expert who pleaded not to be named said the spate of crashes involving military airplane requires collaboration between civilian aviation accident investigative body and the relevant military investigation board.

He ruled out any infractions in the maintenance of military airplanes

Yet another expert, Mr. Godwin Ike, said the Kaduna plane crash might have been caused by hydroplaning, which is also called aquaplaning.

It is defined as a dangerous driving condition that occurs when water causes tyres to lose contact with road surface.

The ill-fated Beachcraft 350 landed during a rainfall and skidded off the runway before catching fire.

Ike said: “When rain falls and you do not have a good drainage system that ensures that no water is lying on the surface of a road or runway, it could lead to hydroplaning.

“If the tyres are unable to displace the water completely so the tyres could have a grip of the road or runway, what happens is that the machine will be slippery.

”Also, because of the way we design our airports, it could be the cause. International standard has it that if you have a 3km runway, the airport should also have a buffer zone of another half a kilometre or one kilometre.

“Some even go as far as installing a net that will wedge an airplane without causing damage. If we have those kinds of buffer and have a net set up in case of an airplane overshooting a runway, then if it is true that they had touched down before the crash and it is true that there was rain and the weather was inclement, the only thing that could have caused the crash was hydroplaning. “The reasons tyres have teeth are to displace water when running on wet ground. But there is a level of water that could be on the road and the tyres would not be able to displace, and what is known as hydroplaning will now take place.

”I suspect that they suffered from hydroplaning, and no pilot has power over and above hydroplaning causing you to crash.

“The culprit for the crash is the bad road maintenance and road engineering. The road is supposed to be such that when any rain drops on it, it will be flushed out to the drainage system and leaves the road dry.

“So, it is possible the runway has poor drainage system or lacks an elevated middle to ease flow out of the road, depending on the engineering design.

“Runways and roads should be designed in such a way that if rains drop on it, it is drained so that if an aircraft is landing, the likelihood of hydroplaning will be minimal.

”So, if it is true that the plane had touched the ground and it was raining when it landed and ended up crashing, there is nothing that could have caused it other than hydroplaning.”