Three things informed the removal of disused aircrafts from airports across the country: the threat by Boko Haram to attack Nigeria’s economic hub, the desire to curb the bird strikes as birds build nests in the parked planes and the removal of psychological effect of unserviceable planes, some of which crashed and parked at aircraft take-off point.
Unknown to many, the exercise was well planned and coordinated by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) which also aimed to free about two acres of land where the planes were parked, popularly called the “mortuary”.
According Mr. Joel Obi, minister of aviation, Stella Oduah’s spokesman, though the ministry did not have direct dealings with the removal of the planes, it backed the move because, “they were unsightly and constituted grave danger for obvious reasons. It forms part of the efforts to tidy up the airports and make them safer for users”.
However, barring the incident a few weeks ago where Lagos residents awoke to find two jets parked along Oshodi-Apapa expressway some metres from Sanya bus stop and another at Ighando road, people would not have known that the exercise was ongoing except on learning so from the media.
An old problem
According to Yakubu Datti, FAAN’s general manager in charge of corporate communication, “the issue of disused aircraft has been one of the issues that have been bedeviling the aviation sector. We are talking about several aircrafts belonging to different airlines that have been lying dormant at the local wing of the Murtala Mohammed airport for up to 10 years and these are aircrafts that are at the terminals whereby when there is take off, you see them.
“It was totally against any form of security or safety. In the first place in the case of safety, you are aware that bird strikes have been one of the major causes of aircraft accidents, so these abandoned aircrafts at the terminals created an easy nest for the birds to remain and they were just at the point of take off. So you now have an accident waiting to happen because by the time the birds come out when the flights are waiting to take off, an air mishap can happen.
“Secondly in this era of terrorism when vehicles are being used as shells for bombing, leaving such things provides easy arsenal for terrorism; so for safety issues especially we were given a mandate to ensure we evacuated those aircrafts immediately for the purpose of security and that was done because it was at the height of these bombardments by the terrorists where they also bombed the UN headquarters and there were threats that they were going to attack the artery of the economy which is the airport, so we needed to act on that directive immediately for the purpose of security and safety.”
A stitch in time
Datti continued: “We had almost 65 abandoned aircrafts across the country and the models range from Fokker 28, Embrear 100 to Boeing 727 and 737 which occupied over two acres of land in Lagos alone and these are very strategic lands that were needed for the transformation. For a long time, we had asked owners of these aircrafts to take them away but the people refused to do the right thing and so when this order came in, it became incumbent on us to do it and we ensured that we took all the necessary steps in conjunction with our now developed legal department. We were able to write the owners, gave them time to evacuate them; some responded and some who did not, after the expiration, there was also another extension given with due publicity and when it expired, we moved in and cleared the aircraft.”
While some responded, others did not which prompted them to consider the proposal by some people to be allowed to remove them and use the parts to offset the cost of the removal
FAAN denied it made money out of the removal saying, “we did not make money because in the first place, the process of making money will not allow us to achieve the objective which was to remove the present danger as at then and ensure that within one week, all the 13 aircrafts had been broken down and removed.”
Datti denied they towed any of the aircrafts that were ordered to be removed and denied having a hand in the jets that caused a stir when residents woke up to see them parked by the roadside prompting a hoax that they had crashed.
“The ones that were seen on the roads are a separate issue; they were planes that were parked elsewhere, outside the airport but in one of the facilities under the confines of Nigerian Airports Management Agency. Those were part of the aircrafts that were to be moved away but the ones that were directly on the terminal were the ones that created immediate security issues which was what we did,” he said.
On the procedure to be adopted, he said: “We had insisted on dismembering the aircrafts where they were parked and removing them. We also created a window for owners to take them away, so those who showed willingness we allowed to take them and the way they take them was their responsibility. When it comes to movement of aircraft on the road, I am sure there are relevant agencies that have that responsibility. We are in charge of airports and our responsibility ends at the airport.
“We have the Federal Road Safety Commission, we have the police who are constitutionally mandated to look at issues that have to do with road transportation. They may have overlapping responsibilities but once something leaves our airport it leaves our confines. For instance, I cannot go to somebody who has converted an aeroplane into a restaurant for inspection because it has left our confines and there are clearly defined responsibilities in a democracy and we have to restrict ourselves to our areas of responsibility. If someone moves an aeroplane on the roads, it raises safety concerns on the roads and that is where the police and road safety commission comes in.”
So far all the abandoned aircrafts in Lagos are said to have been removed. Datti said they were almost through with Abuja as “it is almost finished. In Kano it is ongoing. Benin is where we have a little challenge because some of the aircraft belong to the defunct Okada Air, and they have a hangar there. We have been discussing to see how they can either move them to their hangar or elsewhere but we have invited our legal department to see ways we can persuade them because these are issues of safety and security.”
Removal not an emergency
The National Emergency Management Agency public relations officer for South-West zone, Ibrahimn Farinloye, said they were inundated with calls when the jets were sighted but discovered they were not crashed planes. “When we received the alert around 11.00pm that there was an air crash and we went and found out that it was scrap we informed the people. We were not informed when it was being towed as it was not an emergency. We are only involved in emergencies which towing of a disused aircraft is not,” he said.
When the buzz about the crash were on, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency under whose custody the said planes were parked came out to deny any crash as their equipment did not capture any crash or missing plane. Its director general, Nnamdi Udoh, was reported as saying that the junk belonged to the late Apostle Gabriel Oduyemi of Bethel Ministries and was released to Captain M.J. Ekeinde.
“The aircraft was actually released to Captain M.J. Ekeinde who will be using it for educational purposes in Badagry, Lagos. A cross section of the wings was removed to ease transportation to its new location.
“I affirm again that NAMA facilities are working at optimal level and this could have assisted in detecting any missing plane within the nation’s airspace. While we appreciate the concern of the public on sighting the plane at an unusual site, we urge that people should always contact police and local government officials for proper information before spreading the news on incident involving any aircraft.”
Quite a scare
Asked if he was aware of the towing of the planes on the road, the Lagos Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Nseobong Akpabio, said: “We were not informed, we were not involved. We thought it was a crash. They said they contacted the police, they did not contact us.
“People contacted us that there was a crashed plane at a filling station, so we thought it was a crashed plane until we did an investigation and discovered it was not a crash. We contacted the police and they said it was done at night when the road was free”.
Asked if the towing of aircraft on roads did not contravene any law, he admitted that “they don’t tow aircraft on the road but somehow, they contacted the police. Road Safety ought to have been informed on time for possible assistance but in this case, they did not inform us.”
On whether they arrested anybody, Akpabio quipped, “why should we arrest? We did not make any arrests”.
Disused planes can be used for training and could serve as tourist attractions. In some countries there are those that have converted them to restaurants. People can use the parts to recycle in terms of plastics companies or furniture companies. Even though they cannot fly, the shells are still of value.
Aircraft boneyard is a term for a storage area for aircraft that are retired from service. Most aircraft at boneyards are either kept for storage or turned into scrap metal. Deserts, such as those in the Southwestern United States, are good locations for boneyards since the dry conditions reduce corrosion.
Notable aircraft boneyards
Boeing B-52s in storage or awaiting deconstruction in Arizona
• Kingman Airport, Kingman, Arizona
• Phoenix Goodyear Airport, Goodyear, Arizona
• Pinal Airpark, Marana, Arizona
• 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona
• Southern California Logistics Airport, Victorville, California
• Mojave Air & Space Port, California
• Roswell International Air Center, Roswell, New Mexico contains the remains of several large passenger and cargo jets, including at least two Boeing 747s and five Boeing 707s.
• Abilene Regional Airport in Abilene, Texas is home to many retired Saab 340 aircraft, primarily from American Eagle Airlines.
• RAF Aircraft Storage Flight, RAF Shawbury
• Alice Springs Airport in Alice Springs, Northern Territory is the first large-scale aircraft boneyard outside the United States.