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Dana Air: Issues Raised by NCAA Remain Unresolved Despite 2022 Suspension 

Dana Air’s grounding after runway incident highlights unresolved issues raised by aviation authority despite previous suspension.

Despite the suspension of its operations in July 2022, documents sighted on Thursday showed that many of the issues raised by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) at the time were not addressed by Dana Air, and remain unresolved till date.

The company’s Air Transport Licence and Air Operator Certificate were suspended indefinitely at the time by NCAA Director General, Captain Musa Nuhu, after a financial and economic health audit carried out on the airline by the authority.

Although it was revealed that Dana Air was no longer in a position to meet its financial obligations and to conduct safe flight operations, it was learnt that many of the issues raised by NCAA were not sorted out before Dana was recalled.

On Tuesday, an aircraft belonging to Dana Air experienced a runway incursion upon landing at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos from Abuja, leading to another suspension by the federal government.

Though, the latest incident drew flaks from some aviation experts, who insisted that Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, breached the law for directing NCAA to suspend Dana Air.

But in the damning 2022 report signed by the then NCAA DG, Nuhu, the body stated that investigation revealed that Dana Air committed several flagrant operational violations.

The report said, “Dana Air operated several flights on the MD 80 fleet with no licensed captain. A captain of over 65 years of age sat on the jump seat, while a senior first officer on upgrade training sat on the left seat with a line first officer sitting on the right seat.

“A Senior First Officer occupied the left seat while a First Officer occupied the right seat and operated Dana flight 342 LOS – PHC with aircraft 5N-DKI on April 23, 2022. The flight continued from PHC – ABV and then ABV – LOS. The SF/O even went as far as signing the technical logbook.

“On April 20, 2022, a re-qualifying captain flew with a line captain, instead of a line trainer (instructor) or a check airman.

“Dana Air’s Director of Flight Operations conducted checks on the aircraft even though his Check Airman authorisation had expired on the 12 of September, 2020 and, in addition, he was over 65 years of age.

“One of Dana Air’s captains, who had attained 65 years of age in July, 2021, operated several flights on the jump seat. Also, his Check Airman authorisation expired on August 23, 2021 but he continued to exercise the privilege.

“The Chief Pilot of Dana Air, who does not have an NCAA Check Airman Authorisation, yet conducted checks.

“Flight deck crews scheduled for flights disregarded flight duty times and crew rest regulations. The Zapways rostering system utilised by Dana Air, although a good system, is open to manipulation by the scheduling and rostering staff.”

The report reminded the airline that before then the Authority recently sanctioned Dana Air and its personnel for maintenance violations.

It said while Dana Air was fined a total sum of N30 million, which it had not been able to settle till date (at the time) due to financial constraints, the AME (Aircraft Maintenance Engineer) Licence of Dana Air’s erstwhile Director of Maintenance was revoked for making false statements and false entries in the technical logbooks of the aircraft, 5N-SAI and 5N-JOY.

“The AME Licence of Dana Air’s Quality Inspector was suspended for 60 days and the AMEL Validation of one of Dana Air’s expatriate Maintenance Engineer was also suspended for  60 days, for maintenance violations.

“The Authority is convinced that Dana Air and its personnel deliberately violate the provisions of the Nig.CARs relating to safety and therefore the Airline is no longer in a position to conduct safe operations.

“The cumulative and apparent deliberate violations of the Nig.CARS, as indicated above, by DANA Air employees, especially several key post holders is indicative of a toxic corporate safety culture within the organisation.

“This, in conjunction with report of the Financial and Economic Health Audit, is a good indication that safety and security of Dana’s flight operations are under serious threat and can no longer be guaranteed.”

Although, NCAA suspended Dana Air’s operations indefinitely in 2022, four months later Dana Air was back in the air, a source added, without resolving the issues, which eventually led to the incident last Tuesday.

For the suspension of its authorisations to be lifted, NCAA stated that Dana Air must:  resolve all the findings of the financial and technical audit; provide a detailed Sustainability Plan, which shall include proven financial resources for the running of the airline for a period of at least six months; and provide repayment plans for the settlement of its debts and enter into MoUs with all its creditors, including the NCAA.

After the scheduled audit, NCAA said it found, “Dana Air will not be able to meet current obligations as they fall due without resorting to more borrowings/debts, as the current liabilities far exceed the current assets. 

“This is a red flag on the Airline’s ability to finance current obligations. The shareholders fund (equity) has been in the negative since 2018, and it will take Dana Air several years of operation for retained earnings to erase the negative equity.

“The debt to capital ratio is negative, showing that Dana Air is being financed by debts.

“Dana Air pays staff salaries in batches, between the 1st and the 10th of the succeeding month, and recently sent some employees on compulsory three months leave without pay, an indication of serious liquidity challenge in the payment of staff entitlements, with the consequence of depressed morale, low productivity and consequent impact on safety.

“The going concern of the Dana Air is under serious financial threat, as corroborated in the external auditors report.

“In view of the findings of the Financial and Economic Health Audit, the Authority is no longer satisfied that the resources of Dana Air are adequate for carrying out safe and sustainable flight operations.”

Meanwhile, the Aviation Round Table (ART), an industry think-tank, expressed its disappointment with the actions of Keyamo and the ministry for allegedly failing to follow laid down regulation in the grounding of Dana Air.

The body said it was disappointed because what the minister did was contrary to law and process and to the promise of the minister to respect both law and process, and to restore autonomy to the NCAA.

ART said, in a statement, that the suspension of the entire operations of Dana Airlines as directed by the ministry indicated a return to the ugly past that destroyed confidence in the industry and by the global community.

It stated, “ART condemns the external interference demonstrated by the minister’s directive which serves to erode the institutional autonomy and jeopardises safety in the aviation sector. ART hereby reiterates its commitment to the non-negotiable autonomy of the NCAA as stated in Section 4 (3) of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Act.”

It also noted that the conduct of financial audits of airlines lied exclusively with NCAA, adding that the decisions on what are appropriate sanctions for violations also lie with the NCAA exclusively. 

The statement said, “The ART hereby advises an immediate lifting of the suspension of the entire operation of Dana Airlines and demands an apology to the entire aviation community for the actions from the minister and the ministry while the NCAA/NSIB investigation continues on the affected MD 82 aircraft or fleet and the company Dana,  for which the NCAA is expected to carry on its role and met the appropriate actions. 

“ART also advises the minister to concentrate his efforts on policy issues that positively impact the airline industry.  ART also demands that other agencies be allowed to carry out their statutory obligations without interference, including the observed interferences at the federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

“ART also requests that the minister move promptly to appoint the required Boards to enable the smooth and properly guided operations of agencies.

“The ART commends the NCAA for the recent suspension of three non-schedule operators for operational infractions and urges the NCAA to make public, the list of the airlines concerned in the reported infractions for transparency as well as to highlight actions others must avoid to prevent the same outcomes.”

Other stakeholders in the aviation industry also criticised the minister for taking the action.

Former Chief Operating Officer of IRS Airlines, Yemi Dada, on his verified X (twitter) handle, observed that the action of the minister eroded the autonomy of NCAA.

Dada said, “An independent regulator (NCAA) is a requirement for @ICAO and @FAANews category 1 certification. While the intention (suspending Dana Air) is noble, the message it passes and the impression it gives is not great. The conversation around who regulates the independent regulator is one we must have.”

Industry stakeholder and former Secretary General of ART, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), in his reaction to the minister’s directive and NCAA statement, said, “If any of the reasons stated in both letters of the minister and the NCAA are reasons for the suspension of the airline, then both, too, should be indicted for negligence.

“These reasons are most likely to be in previous investigation and audit reports, which the NCAA had responsibility to ensure that the airline complied with but did not and the NCAA did nothing to enforce compliance, then the agency should be found negligent.”

Emmanuel Addeh and Chinedu Eze

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