Nigeria: VIPs shun charter airlines using old planes

AirplaneCharter airline operators with relatively old planes in their fleet have lost a significant number of their clients after the June 3, 2012 tragic crash involving a 22-year-old Dana Air plane triggered controversy over the safety of old aircraft in the country, investigation by our correspondent has revealed.

The boycott of older planes by passengers, which started with scheduled domestic airlines shortly after the Dana crash, has now spread to the charter sub sector, according to sources close to the operators.

Findings revealed that a good number of the VIPs, who often make use of chartered aircraft, were now shunning operators with older planes in their fleet.

The development, it was gathered, had led to bad business times for operators with predominantly old aircraft in their fleet.

Although the VIPs’ lack of interest in older planes had been noticeable before the Dana incident, safety concerns raised in the aftermath of the crash escalated the trend, sources familiar with the situation said.

A source close to the operators, who spoke under condition of anonymity said, “These are surely not the best of times for charter airlines with old planes in their fleet. Most of the VIPs are dragging their feet about patronising them. The clients prefer operators with relatively new planes.

“But I think it is an ugly trend because we have been explaining it clearly that there is nothing like old or new planes as far as safety is concerned. Keeping to an aircraft’s maintenance schedule is the key thing. I think it is misinformation and it is not good for the industry.”

It was, however, learnt that some charter airline operators like VistaJets and Top Brass Aviation, were still enjoying good patronage due to the relatively newer planes in their fleet.

After the Dana crash in Lagos led to the death of 163 people, speculations were rife that the disaster might have been caused by the relatively old age of the plane.

Industry experts, however, dispelled the rumour, saying age had nothing to do with the safety of an aircraft.

According to them, keeping to the maintenance schedule of an aircraft will enhance safety, while doing otherwise can be disastrous.

They maintained that only the report of the Accident Investigation Bureau could reveal the real cause of the Dana crash.

The AIB has yet to release its final report on the cause of the accident.

The Director, Business Development and Strategy, Aero Consults Limited, Captain Dele Ore, said, “The age of an aircraft does not cause an accident. The age is very important so that you will know what kind of attention you need to give the aircraft. The age does not determine what time you will stop flying it.”

Aircraft age is typically measured by the number of total flight hours and cycles flown. One cycle is equal to one takeoff and landing.

Experts say the number of cycles flown is usually a more critical measure than calendar age, because it reflects wear and tear as well as stress that are related to landings and take-offs, and cabin compression and decompression.

Therefore, age measured in terms of calendar years only is less informative because it does not reflect an aircraft’s actual use patterns.

To determine the retirement age of an aircraft, the industry focuses on the maintenance and safety requirements as well as the economic life of the aircraft, which has to do with the cost of maintenance. Maintenance checks on aircraft are performed at mandatory scheduled intervals.

Critical parts and components of airframes and engines are limited by hour or by cycle of utilisation and/or calendar time, and must be overhauled or replaced at mandatory intervals.

Some have argued that an airplane might be 20 years’ old, but many of its systems must have been updated, upgraded and routinely overhauled or modified.

An engine goes through a similar process. All its critical life-limited parts are replaced at mandatory intervals with new and/or overhauled parts.

However, Ore believes that the true age of an aircraft can be determined by its “economic life.”

“An aircraft becomes obsolete if its operating cost exceeds the cost of a newer competing aircraft. That is once an old aircraft becomes too expensive to maintain, it should be retired by the operator,” he added.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.