POOF! A door falls off Nigeria’s Dana Air

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Fortunately, only after it landed. But the only thing that kept the door on the plane during its flight was the air pressure around the fuselage. This story is even more gobsmacking when you read the updates from passengers on board. One warned the air steward that the door was rattling and appeared to be open but she fobbed him off basically saying mind your own business.

The business end of the door rattled once or twice more after the plane landed and taxi’d to the apron then it fell off.

“When we landed and the plane was taxiing back to the park point, we heard a poof-like explosion, followed by a surge of breeze and noise. It was terrible,” said Dapo Sanwo who was interviewed by the BBC.

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Now the Airline responsible claims a passenger opened the door. This won’t be a first of course. There is a long list of doors being opened particularly in China after disgruntled passengers take the law into their own hands.

Dana Air of Nigeria has issued a statement saying:

“The emergency exit door of our aircraft are plug-type backed by pressure, which ordinarily cannot fall off without tampering or a conscious effort to open by a crew member or passenger.”

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Crew tried to stop passengers filming and photographing the shaky door, followed by the no door moment but failed. Its concerning that instead of instituting and inquiry, Nigeria’s Civil Aviation body has remained mute.

Dana Air recorded a terrible accident in 2012 when one of its planes crashed in a Lagos suburb and killed the 153 people on board. The Airline was then grounded by the NCAA in October  2013. As they re-ordered their systems, the airline then added two Boeing 737-500s to their fleet. They were granted permission to continue operations a year later in 2014.

But its not all bad news for Nigeria, the country’s aviation authority is trying to get to grips with their terrible air safety record. There were no fatal accidents recorded in commercial operations in 2017.

The latest is that the country may actually achieve the highest safety level possible under ICAO if there serious-accident free record continues in 2018.

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MH370 & Sunken Treasure

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The search for the missing Malaysian plane MH370 has taken a mysterious twist with the search vessel Seabed Constructor shutting down its Automatic Identification System or AIS for more than 72 hours while busy off the Australian coast.

That led family and MH370 watchers to go into meltdown believing something was up – had they found the wreckage?

The AIS was switched off on January 31st or ten days into the search and then reconnected on the night of 5th February. The ship left Durban in South Africa on January 2nd heading for the new area and carrying a number of submersibles which experts hope will finally locate the missing plane.

Ocean Infinity, the company which has signed a no-find no-pay deal with Malaysia, has not said why their vessel switched off the AIS. Speculation is that they have found something of significance but its probably not MH370. It may just be a treasure ship according to some.

It’s cruel if that’s the case, because the main problem with locating MH370 was that someone on board switched off its transponder and ACARS system of tracking before it apparently turned South West into the deep Indian Ocean.

Now Reddit and other platforms are abuzz with the theory that the Captain of the Seabed Constructor switched things off because of a possible location of a ship laden with treasure.

One such is the S.V. Inca, built in Peru and which sank more than a hundred years ago. There’s a lot of talk today about what the S.V. Inca was carrying, including gold.

The Seabed Constructor is now heading back to Freemantle in Western Australia and should arrive there on the 8th February.

Why the captain shut down the AIS will be a matter of conjecture for some time until he clears up the mystery. In the meantime, its more frustrating secrecy for the families who have been mentally tortured for this entire period.

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370  disappeared on 8 March 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.  It was carrying 239 passengers and crew.

 

Single African Aviation Market Cracks 23 nods

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It’s taken thirty years, but finally African nations have agreed to form a single aviation market as the sector grows.

The  African Union launched the Single African Air Transport Market at the weekend on the sidelines of the AU Summit in Ethiopia. It’s apt they signed there because the North East African country has now become one of the most important aviation hubs on the continent. The small print is important, only 23 of the 55 member states signed the deal, you’ll see the list below. But fewer than 50% wanted in at this point for various reasons.

The idea of a single market region is not new. For example there’s the European Common Aviation Area which allows aircraft to fly between member states without too much bureaucracy fouling the business.

There’s been a bit of pessimism about Aviation in Africa which is crammed full of government-owned airlines and not much business. South African Airlines is one such beast which is what is known as a “State owned Entity” or SoE. These are public entities which are supposed to operate inside a competitive environment.

My nearest and dearest had occasion to fly to Sierra Leone recently and had to head there via Nairobi. A trip of less than 8 hours turned into a trip that took 24. This is no way to stimulate trade on the continent with its dilapidated infrastructure and vast distances. But that’s not as bizarre as the trip between Freetown in Sierra Leone and Gambian capital Banjul. That’s only an hour journey but because of the odious aviation links, can take three days if you decide to only use African aviation.

Of course you could take a quicker route, via Belgium. Which makes little sense really.

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The launch PR document from the AU says hundreds of thousands of new jobs will be created and that is highly likely if this idea is properly managed. Take a close look at your nearest map of Africa and start thinking about goods and people moving around the continent. We have 15% of the world’s population but less than 2% of the aviation business.  Airlines from 23 countries would now be entitled to conduct their business into other nations markets and operate with full rights provided under the terms of the Yamoussoukro Decision.

These are the countries:

Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo & Zimbabwe.

Talk is cheap so let’s see the expensive bit and how will this actually work in practice. Here are a few salient thoughts. Ethiopian Airlines is probably the most effective on the continent right now and has converted Bole Airport in Addis Ababa into an important aviation hub.

Kenya Airways operating out of its base at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi has also set itself up as a entrepot for those traveling East to West. Then there’s OR Tambo in Johannesburg which has the mighty SAA flying to many African countries. I say mighty only because of its legacy, as at the moment, the national airline is in deep financial trouble and has received numerous financial bail-outs from government. This is a problem and may surface in upcoming business deals as the Aviation Market concept gains pace.

Combine that with general growth figures and things look ever worse for our friends at SAA. South Africa saw GDP growth slump to 0.5% and virtually flatlining, while in Ethiopia its topped 7.5%. Kenya is growing at around 5.8%.

In the north of Africa, Algiers, Tunis and even Casablanca are major air routes now with their vicinity to Europe and the middle East to their advantage.

The Air Transport Action Group reports that the sector totals roughly 6.8 million jobs and earned more than $72.5bn in 2014.  In research published in November 2017, a Singapore think tank reported things are looking rosy for aviation in Africa.

 

“At the moment, the passenger traffic is mainly from 10 African countries, representing a population of about 600 million. If there is a 1% traffic increase from the other half of the African population, there will be an increase of about six to seven million passengers every year. Besides, with the rising middle class in Africa, there will be higher demand for travel. As a result, the increasing passenger traffic will easily justify the heavy investments needed in airlines and airport infrastructure.”

Canadian Airline crash in Saskatchewan and memories of a Botswana suicide

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West Wind ATR crashes after take-off. ©TSB Canada

It’s not every day that a commercial airliner plunges to the ground 1.5km after takeoff with 22 passengers and 3 crew on board. Amazingly, no-one died but the plane was pretty much left mangled in a forested area close to the runway after the accident on 13th December 2017.

How in the Dickens did everyone make it out alive? There are six critically passengers and one crewman injured but lets hope the miracle is complete. However operator West Wind airline has had its aviation certificate revoked as authorities inspect its operations.

The twin engine ATR42-320 Turboprop crashed after take off around 6.15pm just west of the Fond-du-Lac runway in a remote area of the country en route to Stony Rapids. What will surprise, nay shock, you is why the certificate has now been suspended and all aircraft grounded immediately. And furthermore, the ATR has an interesting side-note history when it comes to Botswana, but more of that later.

According to the Canada Transport Safety Board “deficiencies in the company’s operational control system” had been detected.

There are no specifics stated, but the deficiencies could include:

  • Maintenance issues
  • Weight and Balance setup
  • Icing
  • ATC and other communication problems
  • Hours worked by pilots, a lack of experience or other crew related deficiencies.

The final moments before the crash indicate quite a set of issues. The cabin crew are reported as saying something about the plane being overweight. They also appear to have suffered two engine “outs” in a short space of time but some speculation exists that one failed and the other was shut down to avoid a fire upon crashing.

It took less than three minutes from ground roll to accident.  The Transport Safety Board reported that the aircraft lost height and then descended into trees and slid for around half a kilometer before coming to rest in an upright position steeply tilted to the right.

The worst damage occurred to the left side of the fuselage which ruptured at seat row 3. The pilots were injured, one critically. It was night, and a young passenger who was drenched in aviation fuel found himself hanging upside down from his seatbelt. There was a large hole in the fuselage, and he released the belt and walked along a nearby road in moonlight.

ATRs have been involved in more than their fair share of accidents as they operate short haul routes in some of the world’s most dangerous places

There he found rescue vehicles and flagged them down. One of the injured passengers was only cut loose over three and a half hours after the accident. It’s really a miracle that all survived albeit some in serious and critical condition. Take a look at the photos of the ATR turboprop and be amazed. Every passenger was slightly injured as you can imagine if you see the damage below.

It was snowing lightly with a breeze from the West on take off, nothing too strenuous even for a light plane. But this aircraft has issues when the conditions cause icing on the wings.

The Canadian TSB is now conducting a full investigation including the following actions:

  • Examine data from the cockpit voice recorder, the flight data recorder and other electronic devices to help determine the sequence of events prior to the accident
  • Gather and analyze weather information to understand to what extent weather was a factor
  • Examine aircraft maintenance records, pilot training, qualifications and proficiency records
  • Conduct follow-up interviews with witnesses, the aircraft operator and others
  • Review operational policies, procedures and regulatory requirements
  • Examine previous occurrences involving this type of aircraft and subsequent safety action taken in Canada, the United States and other jurisdictions

It’s the third, fourth and fifth bullet points that will probably lead to the discovery of what was behind this accident. But take a look at the background to the ATR Turboprop.

ATR 42-320

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An ATR 42-320 in Air France livery ©Wikipedia

This plane was developed as a short-haul regional airliner by both France and Italy. The ATR stands for Aerei da Trasporto Regionale or Avions de transport régional. The number “42” comes from the standard seating arrangement of at least 42 and up to 52 passengers. West Wind’s plane had 22 passengers, but was carrying quite a bit of cargo

It’s powered by two powerful Pratt & Whitney PR 121 engines but this variant was produced until 1996 so is more than twenty years’ old.

The Botswana connection

There have been 33 hull losses (or accidents where the plane was written off) as this plane as a short haul aircraft would be more susceptible to incidents flying from smaller airfields across the world. There was the 1987 crash on Conca di Crezzo in Italy which killed all 37 on board, then 1994 Royal Air Maroc suicide flight where the pilot disengaged the autopilot and crashed the plane into the Atlas Mountains in North Africa.

However, it was an incident in Botswana in 1999 which stunned the country. On the 11th October an Air Botswana captain Chris Phatswe boarded an ATR 42-320 at Gaborone Airport.  According to medical reports which have been released, he was suffering from the effects of HIV/AIDs and his license had been suspended.

He circled the airport and came on the radio demanding to speak to the President Festus Mogae, Air Botswana’s general manager, and other authorities.

After two and a half hours of flying the plane ran out of fuel. Phatswe then indicated he was going to glide the aircraft into the airport buildings, but ATC said there were many people in the building who’d die.

So instead, the pilot flew two loops and then gliding at 200 knots, ploughed into Air Botswana’s two other ATR 42s parked on Gaborone Airport apron – all three planes burst into flame and burned out. He died but no-one else was injured or killed.

 

The White Bird, a balmy mountain & the forest of ghosts

 

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François Coli who and Paul Tarascon who disappeared aboard the “White Bird” in 1927.

It was apparently overcast on May 8th, 1927, when the two French pilots aboard the “White Bird” disappeared somewhere off the U.S. coast near Maine.  Or so its said. They’ve never been found but the story is important.  That’s because back home this week,  France announced that the two were actually the first to cross the Atlantic – not Charles Lindbergh.  His surname could translate from German as “balmy mountain”.    The French for White Bird is L’Oiseau Blanc,  but I digress.

The aviators concerned were trying to capture the Orteig prize of $25,000 which as we all know, was and is, a fortune.  If you’re earning rands in particular.

Unlike Lindbergh,  the White Bird had two aviators so Charles’ solo flight stands.  But what happened to François Coli who and Paul Tarascon, both WWI veterans?

The White Bird weighed 11,000 pounds of 5,000kg and was bedecked with a black skull and crossbones with a coffin and two candles inside a black heart.  That was chillingly apt by the end of the doomed flight.   It was painted white so it would supposedly be easy to spot when/if it came down.

Both clambered aboard their new Levasseur PL8 biplane around 5am on May 8th 1927.  The aircraft had been redesigned to cope  with the stresses of flying across the Atlantic in summer, with the expected thunderstorms and high winds at times.  The redesign included an undercarriage that would be jettisoned on take-off which would reduce the overall weight, endurance of 7,000km and 4,000 litres of fuel.

The trans-Atlantic flight was supposed to be between New York and Paris and the winner had to ensure that they connected these two cities.  But there’s a lot of debate about whether they made it as far as the Maine coast.   In fact witnesses eastern Canada on the morning of May 9th described hearing a plane overhead and investigators today believe that its possible that’s where the White Bird ended up.

At least 12 different witnesses said they’d heard or seen the plane on the 9th May.  But no sign of this aircraft has ever been found, in spite of at least one case of an obsessive who’s spent 30 years searching for the White Bird who believes it is submerged in one of the thousands of ponds in Newfoundland.

This mystery is a bit like MH370,  with the aviators in the White Bird leaving their radio behind because it was too heavy.  In MH370s case,  someone switched off the radios.  The plane also likely ditched in water because that’s the only place it could land,  the aviators would not have tried to put the plane down on land because they would most likely not have survived.   MH370 is thought to have ended up in the Indian Ocean.

In 1984, France concluded the aircraft HAD in fact reached Newfoundland, but said they believed the plane came down in one of the forests.  We’re all guessing, of course.

Its an enigmatic tale.  In 1992 bits of metal and pieces of struts were found in a Maine forest and the parts were described as similar to the build of the biplane.  Engine metals were discovered near the town of Machias in Maine.  Local residents described a large object which they called a really big motor that had been found in the woods and salvaged by loggers.

Still, Charles Lindbergh the balmy mountain remains the first person to have successfully flown solo across the Atlantic.  He was paid the $25,000 and went on to have many more adventures as we know.

The two French WWI hero aviators,  François Coli and Paul Tarascon, disappeared into that dark place in history where ghosts dwell.

 

 

 

 

 

MH370 report wraps up but ghosts remain

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Most likely area containing the remains of MH370 – ATSB

Its been a frustrating three years searching for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people on board.   What is apparent is that the mystery which at times had conspiracy theorists leaping about blaming the American Air Force, aliens and cockpit fires,  is that we just know nothing about what happened.

Nix.

I’m not a relative of anyone on board,  but had this been the case, the terrible almost transfixingly macabre disappearance surely would have driven me to a visit to the Malaysian embassy in South Africa with photographs and demands.

In Australia,  the Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) reported on Tuesday 3 September “The reasons for the loss of MH370 cannot be established with certainty until the aircraft is found.”

Yes.

Of course.

But it has to be said.  Yet there are clues and we’ve perused these closely.

  1.  Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had simulated a similar route on his Flight Simulator at home.  It’s not a normal route.  It’s not like he was practicing for some emergency.  His simulating featured a flight almost exactly like the one the plane is believed to have taken before disappearing.
  2. The flight characteristics were those only a highly experienced pilot could have managed in the circumstances.  The plane nosed over and dived towards the ocean and then was flared back 180 degrees and more than 30 000 feet below where the dive began.  No beginner here.
  3. The trajectory of the plane took it at low altitude and therefore conducive to radar avoidance,  over Malaysia, then northern Indonesia, then South west into the deep Indian Ocean.  Why?  To avoid  detection.
  4. The point at which communication failure occurred was precisely at the point the pilot switched channels between Malaysia and Vietnam.  The person who switched off the transponder at that point as well as ACARS and other systems was not only proficient,  but had to be seated within seconds of the captain reporting the handover point to the Malaysians. In other words, the pilot or first officer.

I’ve written about this for three years and cannot, as the Australian’s have pointed out, prove anything until the plane is located.

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Aircraft engine ping zone

But you don’t have to be an aviator to understand that there are some glaring issues which the authorities cannot begin to address.  It all looks highly suspicious and the suspicion falls upon the Captain of the aircraft.  I’m not going to say anything further because he too has family and no-one likes a wiseguy from another country thumb-sucking facts.

Still, let’s address facts we do have.  It’s the most expensive search effort for any aircraft, is the largest and crosses many seas.  It began in the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea and then shifted to the Indian Ocean off Australia.

The aircraft was last detected by radar in the Strait of Malacca and in the Andaman Sea.  The engines of the Boeing 777-200ER sent ping messages to the Inmarsat communications network.   Between October 2014 and January this year a massive survey was conducted of 120,000 km2 of sea floor south-west of the Australian coast.

Intitial_search

Several pieces of the plane have washed up in Africa and Indian Ocean islands such as Reunion where the flaperon was found in July 2015

The ATSB says  “It is almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable in the modern aviation era… for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know with certainty what became of the aircraft and those on board.”

It’s 440 page report also says:
“The underwater search has eliminated most of the high probability areas yielded by reconstructing the aircraft’s flight path and the debris drift studies conducted in the past 12 months have identified the most likely area with increasing precision,” it said.

But the money has run out.

The US has offered to bet more involved but Malaysia is now moving away from accepting any further searches for the plane.  While Kuala Lumpur instituted live tracking of its aircraft,  there’s still the fact that 239 people are gone.  And no-one knows where.

Still, there is a slight glimmer of light about all of the above.  Flight MH370 emphasised  to the reasonably minded public that its unacceptable to live in a world where you can attack a little piece of rubber to your arm that tracks you around a bicycle track but where the latest commercial airliner could not be tracked in real time.  Something about it costing $20m per year.   Airliners have put profit before logic.   That’s not a sustainable situation where I can lodge a chip in a local lion and then follow it around on my iPhone from Jamaica but SAA’s chairperson of the board can’t find her Boeing while she’s actually sitting on it.

The Boeing I mean.

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Flight Voice Recorder – in future ICAO wants these to float.

So the International Civil Aviation Organization adopted new standards for aircraft position reporting over open ocean, also extended recording time for the voice recorder, and forces new aircraft sold from 2020 to ensure that the flight recorder ends up floating when planes are submerged.

 

Airports Company South Africa Does What SAA Can’t – Turns A Profit

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A Virgin Aircraft at Cape Town Airport – Facebook

South Africa’s airports company has turned in fairly good numbers for a year which saw the rand shaking,  the local economy rickety,  and their South African Airways main partner rather dilapidated.

Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) reported revenue growth of 3.4% to R8.6 billion in the year ended 31 March 2017, with profit up 10.8% to R2 billion.

So what I hear you say,  revenue growth is below inflation which is over 6.5%?

Yes,  but it’s profits rose 10.8% while expenditure dropped 31.3%.  So if you invested, your return on equity was 11.3% which is slightly lower than the previous period but not too shabby in the period dominated by a limping economy and by SAA’s ramshackle moment in time.

The total number of departing passengers from nine ACSA airports topped 20 million,  with the darling being international passengers which grew at 6.1%.  Domestic growth was tardy at 2.2% but blame that on our economic position presently.

Another gold star went to Cape Town International Airport which saw more than 10 million arriving and departing passengers for the first time, and King Shaka totting up more than 5 million also for the first time.

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A View out of the starboard upon final approach

Domestic landing volumes were flag registering no growth,  while international flight volumes grew at 2.5% which ACSA says indicates a higher number of passengers on scheduled flights.

While money is gets from aviation contributed 63% of the bottom line,  non-aviation such as retail, advertising, rentals, parking and car hire made up the difference.

Bongani Maseko, ACSA COO, sounded cautious when he released the information today.

“The overall financial position of the Company therefore remains healthy despite
regulatory uncertainty and difficult economic conditions.”

Maseko didn’t wax too lyrical about ACSA’s attempts at forcing through a radical hike in tariffs,  which is tried to introduce two years ago as a sort of magical slight of hand.

“Operationally, we are adapting well to a new tariff regime from the regulator which
required a 35.5% reduction for the 2018 financial year with increases in the following
two years of 5.8% and 7.4%,” he said.

So aviation is still alive and well,  and lets hope ACSA refrains from their previous attempts at killing the goose that’s laying their golden eggs.

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Kimberley Airport – Facebook