Air Mishaps and the Business Traveller

A businessman is a business traveller. The bigger the business, the bigger the travel bills. Globalisation makes international travel expedient, even with the availability of amazing information technology.

Audiovisual internet communication does not eliminate the value of face-to-face meetings and conferences. A business traveller has to fly more often than not. However, the Nigerian airspace is neither encouraging business travellers nor helping their business. The past two decades have been fear-provoking.

The question was asked –what is the effect of air mishaps on business travellers? In an age where flights are as common and as normal as breakfast coffee, more people are developing the fear of flying. The words aerophobia, aviatophobia and aviophobia have found a place in the vocabulary of many more people.

While there are emotional reactions to the subject of safety, empirical evidence would confirm that safety is costly. Companies are thus by default faced with the resolution of profit motives over investments in safety, especially where the regulatory structure is skewed towards self-sufficiency and premises its earnings from the activities of these same companies.

The resolution of the apparent gaps between profit and safety objectives is central to formulating public policy. It would appear apparent that if market forces discipline firms, then the need for regulatory oversight is reduced and perhaps eliminated. This is, however, not always the case. The airline industry and indeed the recent air mishaps provide a unique opportunity for the government to demonstrate this principle.

Corruption or Negligence?
The frequency of air crashes in the Nigerian airspace has been linked to poor controls, poor maintenance, misappropriation of funds and even bribery. The industry is pervaded by corruption, inefficiency, cost-cutting, spin-off effect of graft in other sectors, the high cost of fees from regulators, increasing cost of ramp and other services and a general volume problem along the local routes. Tough decisions are needed to overhaul the regulatory framework and institutional capacity (especially, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), and the Aviation Ministry) to ensure that these airlines unreservedly maintain safety standards.

Reports revealed that majority of the planes used in the country are too old to fly and too poorly maintained to be safe, especially considering their ages. An estimated 12% of major aircraft disasters involving Boeing aircraft were due to maintenance and inspection errors. About 39% of aircraft accidents are caused by maintenance errors. The Director-General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Tony Tyler, disclosed that Africa ‘hosted’ 50% of the air crashes in the entire world in 2012.

Today, Africa is reported to have recorded one accident for every 270, 000 flights for 2012, while the industry average was one accident for about 5, 000,000 flights. The failure to follow-up on repairs is another factor. The sequence of events that follow a repair (after a fault is detected and supposedly corrected) could save or waste hundreds of precious lives.  

Maintaining an aircraft is demanding and expensive. It is a complex endeavour that consists of numerous interrelated human and machine components. Errors are expected in the interface and these errors are supposed to be detected and tackled via a process of checks and double checks, inspection and re-inspections. The engineers and mechanics work together.  Teamwork and communication is paramount. No short cuts allowed.

There are also rules and regulations on what is allowed or disallowed. Corruption means that rules are bent and regulations waived whenever the back of the ‘right’ person has been scratched.

Nigerian Airspace
Unfortunately, Nigeria provides a large share of the air crashes in Africa with 10 major (high death toll) crashes in just 2 decades. That is a ratio of one crash for every two years. Factor in an average of 100 people per crash. The Dana air crash, in June last year (2012), was reported to be the worst in 10 years. All the 163 people on board died. The airlines are being blamed for cutting corners to make extra profit at the expense of human lives. The Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and its sister bodies are being blamed for being ‘allegedly procured’ to look the other way at the expense of their own flesh and blood. NAMA has a big problem on its hands and seems to be dragging its feet.

Just by the last quarter of 2013, a few other crashes have followed. The latest being the crash of Associated Airlines, a 30-seater plane reported to be over 23 years old. It was flying to Akure, Ondo State; carrying the remains of the late former Governor Olusegun Agagu and his immediate family to his funeral. A total of 13 lives were lost in the accident. At the moment, we are yet to ascertain what really went wrong.

Aircraft Crashes, Bad for Business
The impact of this on business is huge and bad. Many business travellers are cutting down on air travel and scrutinising airlines. To say that the business traveller is not very comfortable with the Nigerian airspace is to say the least. These aircraft accidents are not followed by lasting penalties, checks and inspections. Within weeks, it is business as usual and this is not very assuring for business travellers. More business travellers have had to stomach frightening mid-air experiences (loud and strange noises, turbulence).

Countless business travellers are willing to pay more money to any airline that gives the slightest illusion of safety. The yawning difference in the British Airways airfares of Nigeria and its neighbour, Ghana can attest to this. The extra travel costs, risks, harrowing experiences and deaths have put many business travellers on ‘travel diets’ that leads to the loss of millions of naira, yearly.

The Nigerian business traveller has to deal with the “419 stereotype” and this has put them under more pressure to meet their business partners and customers face-to-face to prove their genuineness and seriousness as well as secure their confidence. But the ‘flying’ hazard is putting a huge damper on business travel and good money is being lost.