In an unexpected twist, Festus Keyamo, Nigeria's Minister of Aviation and Aerospace, has refuted claims by United Nigeria Airlines that the sudden diversion of their Lagos-Abuja flight to Asaba on Sunday was due to adverse weather conditions. During a meeting in Abuja on Monday, Keyamo disclosed that the pilot, a foreign national under a wet lease agreement, was actually heading to Asaba from the outset, contradicting the airline's initial explanation.
Keyamo's statement came into light after PUNCH Online reported the confusion and apprehension amongst passengers due to the unexpected diversion. The incident has further amplified the growing safety concerns in Nigeria's aviation sector, as a PUNCH investigation revealed passengers' fears over the increasing incidents of runway excursions and crash-landings.
The Minister bluntly highlighted that there were no weather disturbances in Abuja during the time of the flight, cleanly refuting the airline's claims. The incident raises serious concerns over the unfamiliarity of foreign pilots with Nigerian terrain, and communication issues that may arise due to this.
Accountability and Action
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority has issued new guidelines aimed at enhancing safety and operational competency in wet lease operations. These guidelines come in the wake of the unexpected diversion and are a clear testament to the regulatory body's commitment to safety in the skies.
In the aftermath of the incident, Keyamo has initiated moves to start blacklisting negligent airline regulators. This decision is in response to the growing concerns over the unfamiliarity of foreign pilots with Nigerian terrain and the communication issues that stem from this.
A Worrying Pattern
Nigeria has experienced three runway excursions at two international airports within 14 days, and at least 10 such incidents this year. This disturbing pattern has raised alarms amongst passengers, regulators, and the wider public. These incidents highlight the urgent need for a comprehensive review of safety measures and practices in the Nigerian aviation sector.
Passengers who experienced the recent unexpected diversion to Asaba shared their traumatic experiences. The incident, they said, not only raised concerns over the wrong flight plan but also brought to light the glaring issues of unfamiliarity with Nigerian terrain by foreign pilots.