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Indonesian searchers locate black box recorders in crashed plane

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Indonesian aviation authorities say they have found the location of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from a crashed Indonesian jet on Sunday, items crucial to understanding what happened to the aircraft that went down with 62 people on board.

Indonesian divers also located parts of the wreckage of a Boeing 737-500 in the Java Sea as rescuers pulled out body parts, pieces of clothing and scraps of metal from the waters where the Siriwijaya Air flight SJ182 carrying 62 people crashed.

“We have located the position of the black boxes, both of them,” said Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of Indonesia’s transport safety agency.

“Divers will start looking for them now and hopefully soon we can lift them up for the National Transportation Safety Committee to investigate and find out the cause of the crash.”

Divers recovered parts of the plane about 23 metres (75 feet) below the water’s surface, the transport ministry said in a statement, citing Indonesia’s military chief.

Indonesian Armed Forces chief Hadi Tjahjanto said the objects recovered included broken pieces of fuselage with aircraft registration parts.

“We are sure that is the point where the plane crashed,” he said in the statement, expressing hope that weather conditions and “the view under the sea are still good so that we can continue the search” on Sunday.

Indonesia’s chequered air safety record is again in the spotlight after the plane went down.

Before the crash, there had been 697 fatalities in Indonesia over the last decade including military and private planes, making it the deadliest aviation market in the world – ahead of Russia, Iran and Pakistan – according to Aviation Safety Network’s database.

The break in the search for Sriwijaya Air flight SJ182 came after sonar equipment on a navy ship detected a signal from the aircraft at a location that fit the coordinates from the last contact made by the pilots before the plane went missing on Saturday.

The plane headed to Pontianak in West Kalimantan crashed shortly after takeoff from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

It is still unclear what caused the crash.

“I represent the government and all Indonesians in expressing my deep condolences for this tragedy,” President Joko Widodo said, adding, “We are doing our best to save the victims. We pray together so that the victims can be found.”

The nearly 27-year-old aircraft was much older than Boeing’s problem-plagued 737 MAX model, one of which crashed off Jakarta in late 2018, killing all 189 people on board the Lion Air flight.

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Aviation

FG suspends Adeboye’s jet over expired documents

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The Federal Government through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority has grounded a private chopper belonging to Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God at the Lagos airport, investigations by Sunday PUNCH has revealed.

It was learnt that the aircraft, AgustaWestland AW139 chopper, with registration number 5N-EAA, was suspended from flying over two weeks ago, following the expiration of some of its papers and spare parts.

The suspension, officials said, would also allow the regulator to conduct vital safety checks on its safety-critical components, especially some spare parts that are due for replacement.

Adeboye had last Saturday during a special meeting with all ordained ministers of the mission at the RCCG, Region 21, in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, called for drastic action against corrupt practices in all facets of Nigeria.

The RCCG leader, who flew a chopper to the venue, said he arrived late for the meeting because someone had requested a bribe from him to fly his chopper.

He said he had decided to embark on the trip via his chopper to avoid a possible gridlock on the busy Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

The 79-year-old mathematician-turned-preacher said, “I don’t give excuses because I have discovered long ago that only failures give excuses. But you must pray for Nigeria.

“Something must be done about corruption in this nation. All I can say is that I am this late because somebody wanted a bribe. And you know if you are expecting a bribe from me, you have to wait forever.

“But the devil has failed. And the devil will continue to fail. I decided to come by helicopter so that there won’t be a traffic jam that would tie me down on the expressway because I know what the devil could do.

“Then, I ran into something else. But by the grace of God, we are here.”

Although Sunday PUNCH could not ascertain who requested the alleged bribe from the revered servant of God, investigations by the paper revealed that the cleric’s chopper was suspended from flying by the regulatory authority over safety issues.

Multiple aviation sources confirmed that Adeboye could not fly his chopper with registration number 5N-EAA to the Ibadan programme but had to fly another aircraft reportedly belonging to Bishop David Oyedepo of the Living Faith Church (Winners Chapel).

A top official of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, who is close to the operations of the two choppers belonging to the servants of God, said, “The team relating directly with Daddy G.O. should have told the man of God on time that his chopper had not been cleared by the NCAA and, as such, it couldn’t go on the Ibadan trip. They shouldn’t have waited till the last minute. The NCAA (aviation regulatory agency) that we have now is different from what it used to be. There is a new man in charge who always insists that things must be done properly as far as the safety of lives is concerned. The church’s protocol team should have told him that the NCAA has not cleared the aircraft and it may not clear it within a short time because certain procedure must be followed. As such, an alternative arrangement should have been made.”

The NAMA official, who chose to speak on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, further said, “On that last Saturday morning, when it later became obvious that the jet was not cleared to fly, they had to make an alternative arrangement with Bishop Oyedepo’s chopper. They had to quickly begin that process by filing the flight plan, etc. It was Bishop’s aircraft that Pastor Adeboye later flew to the event. He could not use his own.”

A top official of Omni-Blu Aviation, the airline operating the chopper for Adeboye, confirmed the development.

The official, who chose to speak on condition of anonymity, said a letter from Italy-based Leonardo, the manufacturer of Adeboye’s AW 139 helicopter, requesting the NCAA to grant a time extension on some spare parts that are due for replacement came late.

The spare parts due for replacement have been ordered from the manufacturer but they have yet to be shipped into Nigeria because they are usually produced on demand, according to Omni-Blu Aviation.

As such, the NCAA could not immediately grant the requested extension. Instead, the regulatory agency requested that comprehensive safety checks be conducted on the aircraft in line with standard aviation safety practice.

He said, “The NCAA that we have now is different from what it used to be. It always insists on standard. We don’t want any disappointing situation for anybody, especially for a globally reputed servant of God like Daddy G.O. It appears the man of God was not properly briefed. But we thank God an alternative arrangement was made to rescue the situation. Safety is first and paramount. No life is worth toying with, how much more that of a servant of God like Daddy G.O. As an airline, we won’t compromise safety no matter the pressure.”

The Omni-Blu official denied knowledge of any bribe request, either by the airline or aviation officials.

He, however, said it was not impossible that some people might have cashed in on the situation to demand a bribe.

“You know some people don’t fear God no matter what. They can even go to the extent of asking a servant of God for a bribe. So, it is not impossible. But on our part, I am not aware of such.”

As it stands, it is uncertain when Adeboye’s chopper will be allowed to fly.

However, findings revealed that NCAA had directed maintenance and safety checks to be conducted on the aircraft.

As such, the operator has secured a date for this at Aero’s maintenance hangar.

When contacted for comments, the Director-General, NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu, confirmed that the regulatory agency had suspended flights on the aircraft for safety reasons.

According to him, the NCAA does not often deal directly with individuals or owners of aircraft but the operator.

In this case, he said the NCAA only had business with the operator of the aircraft, Omni-Blu Aviation.

Nuhu said, “There are safety-related issues that must be resolved before the aircraft will be approved for resumption of flights. Safety is the paramount consideration in all approvals given by the NCAA. No matter what, we must not sacrifice safety for flights; that is the whole idea.”

When contacted, the spokesperson for RCCG, Pastor Olaitan Olubiyi, said the matter was being resolved already.

On the bribery allegation, he said the church would not want to take issue with the aviation authorities on the matter.

Olubiyi said, “We will not want to take issue with the aviation authorities but I can assure you that an amicable solution is being found to the issue.”

-Sunday PUNCH

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Bayelsa airport gets NCAA approval for commercial flights

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The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority has given approval for Bayelsa airport to commence commercial flight operations.

Director-General of the NCAA, Nuhu Musa, presented the approval letter to Bayelsa State Governor, Douye Diri, on Saturday, after an inspection of the airport and its facilities.

Musa said the airport met all airspace standards and is ready for daytime flight operations.

The NCAA DG said the approval followed the report of the agency’s inspection team which, prior to the visit, had certified that out of 29 gaps, the airport had been able to close 26.

He said other requirements were not safety-related and that work was already in progress to achieve night flight operations.

The DG said the agency had to limit flight operations to daytime, as the runway lights were still being installed.

Musa commended the state government for the quality of work done at the airport.

On his part, the Bayelsa State governor commended his predecessor, Seriake Dickson, for executing the project, after it had been on the drawing board of past administrations.

The governor said his administration was determined to ensure flight operations commenced as he set the machinery in motion to get the NCAA approval.

He said, “This is a dream come true for our state and our people. I thank God Almighty because this journey had been a winding one from my immediate past predecessor and I have been in the saddle for over a year waiting for this licence. Today, God made it possible.

“I also thank my predecessor, Senator Seriake Dickson. This airport had been on the drawing board, but he took the bull by the horns by starting the airport and virtually completing it. May I, on behalf of this government and the people of Bayelsa, appreciate him.

“As I came on board, having seen what he did, my administration had to cross the Ts and dot the Is.

“Having been briefed on certain requirements, I wasted no time in approving what was necessary to ensure that the airport was ready for use. Today, we have the approval for the airport to commence commercial flight operations.”

Diri said that other necessary facilities and equipment were in place and would soon be installed for full flight operations.

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AMCON sets up new airline to recover Arik’s debts

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Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria has said that in order to recover its huge debts from Arik Air, it injected over N375 billion in the airline and established another carrier, NG Eagle, expected to run along with Arik Air.

AMCON said it had sustained Arik Air operations since 2017 when it took over in order to stabilise the aviation industry and save jobs.

After its debts recovery, it hinted that it might sell NG Eagle to private investors or through the stock exchange.

Arik Air Receiver Manager, Mr. Kamilu Omokide, in an interview with THISDAY, said, “AMCON came into Arik in February 2017, during the economic recession. At that time, Arik did not have operational funds.

“The workers faced an uncertain future. All the aircraft were grounded because their insurance premium had expired; that at a time the airline did not operate because of insurance.

“Before AMCON came, Lufthansa, which provided technical service to the airline, had walked away. The airline was no more creditworthy to the extent that fuel suppliers shunned the airline.

“It was only MRS that allowed credit to the airline and it had a maximum of N33 million. This was too small for an airline of that size of Arik. So there was no fuel to operate the flights.”

Omokide, who was seconded to Arik by AMCON, said the airline would be operated along with NG Eagle, at least till the end of 2021, adding that with the support of AMCON, plans had been concluded to acquire three aircraft for Arik through wet leasing.

He said, “Arik does not plan to get out of business. It will operate side-by-side with NG Eagle for a while. We have been able to access wet leases and we have been able to run them very professionally. AMCON is not taking all the planes. We have a plan to bring three more planes with the support of AMCON on wet lease, ACMI.

“We are not rushing to kill Arik. We cannot pull all of our aircraft from Arik. Arik will be sustained throughout this year. Arik has a very big space at its headquarters that can take in four airlines on a good arrangement where costs can be shared.

“So Arik has huge facility; it has good workers who are experienced and we have been training staff since AMCON took over, something that was rare in the past. In fact, we have exposed the workers to all kinds of training. Our pilots are some of the best in the industry. Experience is very important,” he added.

He said Arik Air would have gone under without the intervention of AMCON in 2017, noting that the corporation adopted a different strategy in Arik, otherwise, it would have closed the company and sold the assets.

However, he said because of the sensitive nature of the aviation industry and the critical role of the sector as a catalyst to the nation’s economy, it decided to sustain the airline’s operations.

He stated that when AMCON took over, many of its aircraft were overseas on mandatory maintenance because there was no money to bring them back.

He added that creditors were closing in on the airline, with flight cancellation as high as 40 per cent to the extent that passengers mobbed the headquarters of the airline demanding refund of their fares.

“So, the decision of AMCON to intervene was nationally imperative in order to save the airline because of the critical role it was playing; to stabilise the industry and to rescue our funds. AMCON realised that it would take a lot of stabilisation and decided to take its own planes and move them to NG Eagle,” he said.

He said NG Eagle would be a formidable airline, which would eventually be sold to either government or other investors.

According to him, AMCON will treat the NG Eagle as a private sector initiative.

“If the government decides to buy it, that will be good; or we go for the private sector option or we sell it through the stock exchange,” he added.

Omokide said AMCON might not repair all the aircraft it inherited.

He, however, said the corporation had identified those it would repair, and it would either sell the Airbus A340-500 or convert them to cargo planes.

“We do not think we can repair all the planes we met on the ground. We have identified the ones we can repair and sell the other. We plan to sell the A340-500 or convert it to cargo planes. One of the two A340-500 is being preserved. So we are looking at options of cargo,” he said.

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