Did we let an inexperienced pilot fly our vice-president?

Did we let an inexperienced pilot fly our vice-president?

Who has read the report of the helicopter crash involving Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo last year in Kogi State?

The Accident Investigation Bureau has just released its report of the crash and, guess what? The pilot is said to have lacked the know-how to land the aircraft! Someone put the Number Two citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the hands of an inexperienced pilot! Pilot of an aircraft, not a ‘ground craft’!

Is this not unbelievable?

No less an organisation but the Accident Investigations Bureau, AIB, is the one that has said that Prof. Osinbajo’s crash pilot lacked landing technique.

AIB, in its report on the accident, attributed the crash to inappropriate landing technique used and non-adherence to company procedures by pilots of the chartered Carverton Helicopter.

AIB Commissioner Akin Olateru briefed the media in Abuja two days ago while presenting the final report on the accident involving Nigeria’s Vice-President who was in the Agusta Westland AW139 helicopter operated by Caverton Helicopters Limited with nationality and registration marks 5N-CML, which occurred at Kabba, Kogi State on February 2, 2019.

Prof. Osinbajo was on an election campaign while preparing for the presidential election which took place that month. There were 12 persons on board the helicopter, including Vice-President Osinbajo, his entourage and three crew members – Pilot, Co-pilot and an Engineer.

According to Olateru, the flight crew said that they sighted the intended landing area as a result of the cloud of residual dust generated by the downwash of a Police helicopter.

However, due to a brownout, the flight crew lost visual contact with the ground and external surroundings and the helicopter experienced a hard landing on the right main landing gear and rolled over onto its right side. All persons on board were evacuated uninjured.

The AIB Commissioner listed factors that contributed to the crash as:

  1. Inappropriate landing technique and misjudgment of distance by the crew members by the crew.
  2. Non-adherence to company procedures for known or anticipated brownout condition during landing.
  3. Lack of risk assessment.
  4. Limited landing site preparation.
  5. Planning prior to commencement of the flight by the crew.

In its safety recommendations, the AIB called on the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) to consider whether the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF), should be involved in the coordination and preparation of all high profile Executive VIP mission (flights), in order to ensure that all Executive VIP flights are conducted in accordance with the PAF’s standards and in line with its approved operating procedures.

This is a very strange situation because the expectations are that Nigeria’s Numbers One and Two Citizens should at all times have the full benefit and use aircraft from the Presidential Air Fleet. It is not right that a commercial aircraft is chartered to convey the President or Vice-President to any part of the country, whether it is for political or official government purpose. Safety should be a major consideration in this regard.

Nigeria is said to have copied the US presidential system of government. We see President Donald Trump boarding Air Force One regularly, even when he is going to play golf! That is the only aircraft that the security and safety of the president is fully guaranteed because of the efforts put in, to ensure that nothing happens to duly elected leaders. Or is Nigeria’s PAF reserved only for the President? It cannot be. We have heard of members of the President’s family using aircraft from the fleet.

Apart from the Presidential Fleet, several Federal Government agencies like the Nigerian Air Force, Nigeria Police, NNPC and Central Bank of Nigeria own aircraft which should surely be safe in terms of servicing and qualified crew.

How did the Vice-President end up with commercial helicopter? Such government agencies who own helicopters would surely be willing to loan out their chopper for an official of the Vice-President’s position. The country was lucky that the Caverton crash in Kabba did not result in fatalities. Such incidents and actions that led to it are better avoided.

As part of its report on the crash, the AIB has requested the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to conduct a Safety Management System (SMS) audit of Caverton Helicopters to ensure that the company has implemented the applicable safety recommendations.

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