Air Peace accuses NCAA of cover-up in cargo hold burglary incident


Air Peace has described as “lazy”, “shoddy” and “baseless” the denial by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) that there was a burglary attempt on the airline’s rear cargo hold of Flight 7138 holding for departure on 18R of the Murtala Muhammed Airport about 7.35pm on Thursday, February 8, 2018

Air Peace had raised the alarm that suspected thieves opened the cargo hold of aircraft holding for departure at the airport and that the pilot-in-command, Capt. Adesola Arasi had to contact control tower when he was alerted by the light that came on in the cockpit suggesting that the cargo hold was opened for about 15 seconds and immediately shut.

But in a press statement issued in Lagos yesterday, spokesman for NCAA, Mr. Sam Adurogboye described as “unfounded” and “largely unsubstantiated” the alleged and reported Runway 18R burglary attempt on the cargo hold of the said aircraft.

“This conclusion was arrived at after the regulatory authority reviewed all the reports from the relevant agencies concerning the incident and it was unproven.

“According to the pilot in his report to the tower, he noticed that the cargo compartment light came up for 15 seconds and went off. This means someone has opened the compartment’s door.

“The air traffic controller on duty confirmed receiving the report at about 1933hrs (1833GMT).

“In line with Standard and Recommended Practices (SARPs), Aviation Security personnel were at the holding point of runway 18R monitoring the departure/take off of both Air Peace and Arik Air aircraft.

“The pilot-in-command (PIC) alarm triggered an immediate response. The Escort team overtook the Arik aircraft for a more proximate field look and access to the Air Peace Aircraft.

“On full speed, with the full lights on, no person(s) was found within the vicinity of the aircraft. Importantly, the Arik aircraft which was on queue immediately after the Air Peace aircraft was similarly put on observation at this point.

The Arik Air aircraft also had its full complement of lights on towards the Air Peace aircraft having being aware of his counterpart’s conversation with the Tower. With benefit of this full view, neither movement nor any sign of person(s) was sighted around the aircraft.

“Thereafter the Air Peace PIC requested to taxi back to the Apron at D45 to check if anything had been stolen. In addition, he wanted to clear his doubts that a bomb may have been thrown into the aircraft.

“At D45, the airport chief security called the Nigeria Police Force Explosive Ordinance Disposal team who reported with their equipment at about 2026hrs.

“Passengers were disembarked at 2028hrs. The EOD team joined by FAAN’s Aviation Security and Air Peace Security conducted a search on the Cargo compartment and the passenger cabin of the aircraft.

“The search was completed at about 2055hrs and the aircraft was declared safe by the EOD Team leader.

“The Air Peace PIC therefore briefed the passengers of the EOD’s all clear decision and that the service shall be operated. All passengers re-boarded and the aircraft was escorted to the holding area for take – off by the escort teams from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) aviation security (AVSEC) and the military airside patrol.

“The flight departed and landed safely at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

“Therefore, against this background, the NCAA came to the conclusion that the Runway 18R burglary report is unproven, largely unsubstantiated and therefore should be discountenanced,” said Adurogboye.

In a swift reaction, spokesman for Air Peace, Mr. Chris Iwarah, said Air Peace was “unwilling to be drawn into unnecessary controversy with agencies that ought to have been jolted into action from their slumber by patriotic information as we did on the incident.”

However, he said the airline had been compelled to “say the purported report by NCAA is both a lazy and shoddy job at cover-up.”

“The conclusion by NCAA suggesting that our information on the incident was a false alarm absolutely lacks a basis. From the report, it is clear that the only reason for NCAA’s dismissal of the very serious security breach was the claim that when an aircraft of another airline beamed its lights after our pilot alerted the control tower to the incident, the suspected thieves were not seen.

“We need to reiterate that our pilot’s call to control tower was made after the rear cargo hold of our aircraft was opened and shut after fifteen seconds. We, therefore, begin to wonder whether NCAA expected the suspected thieves to be there waiting after opening and shutting the cargo hold within a space of fifteen seconds.

“Even before we confirmed the incident, our guests on board the aircraft had made their independent accounts of the occurrence public. We would have thought NCAA would make some effort to reach guests on board the aircraft to share their experience. But it decided, once more, to go its usual path – deny, dismiss and protect themselves from the truth.

The light indicating that the cargo hold was opened did not only come up in the cockpit; both guests on board the aircraft and our crew were also attracted by the sound of the cargo hold when it was opened.

“We will like to advise the NCAA and its collaborators to treat complaints of security breach at our airports with the seriousness they deserve rather than this culture of baseless denial and attempt at cover-up. As members of the public may recall, similar incidents reported recently were also dismissed without a basis.

“On our part, we will continue to take all necessary measures to prioritise and guarantee the safety of our guests, crew and equipment,” said Iwarah.


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