Following the death of the former Chief of Army Staff Major-General Attahiru Ibrahim and 10 other officers, the Nigerian Air Force has disclosed that the capability of their pilots should not be called into question despite the recent NAF plane crashes.
According to reports, a NAF Beechcraft King Air 350i had crashed at the Kaduna civil airport, after the pilot diverted from the military airport due to bad weather, and Nigerians had questioned why senior and more experienced pilots, such as Squadron Leaders or Wing Commanders, were not being deployed to fly dignitaries such as the COAS and top generals.
In response to this, the NAF Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore, Edward Gabkwet, said the flight captain who flew the ill-fated military plane, Taiwo Asaniyi, was a Flying Lieutenant with thousands of flying hours.
According to him, “On people saying a senior ranking officer should have flown the Chief of Army Staff and others, people don’t know him (the captain of the crashed plane). He and the pilot flying the President are both Flight Lieutenants. He flew more hours than some of us. He had been flying since his time at the Nigerian Defence Academy. He started flying as a cadet.”
He also disclosed that, “He travelled every year for retraining. Our training involves a partnership with the manufacturers of the planes. It is rigorous; it’s not something taken with levity.”
Meanwhile, Gabkwet reportedly called off rumours that the planes in the NAF fleet were old.
Gabkwet stated that, “We have four Beechcraft aircraft. The Beechcraft aircraft which crashed last Friday was among those newly bought in 2015. They are easy to maintain and they are widely used even in the United States and Britain.”
He added that, “The one that crashed in January was given to us by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency. So, the accident wasn’t about the aircraft. Everyone is saying the weather that day was bad. Even in Abuja, it was bad.”
Gabkwet disclosed that investigations were going on, stating that, “The AIB said they had found the black box. But as for the time frame for the investigation, maybe I’ll find out and get back to you. Definitely, there will be a time frame. The bottom line is this: as soon as we are ready, we are going to have a joint press briefing and nothing will be hidden. Of course, you know why this latest crash is very important.”
He stressed that, “Air accidents and their investigations are essentially to find out what caused the accidents so as to take lessons to avert similar occurrences in the future. We don’t have to massage any ego at all. If you look at it from that angle, you will know that it is painstakingly and carefully done.”
He also disclosed that, “Some Nigerians have been saying we didn’t come out with the reports on past accidents. But military investigations regarding plane crashes won’t necessarily let the public know what happened because the outcomes have implications on operations, the morale of the pilots, and so many other things.”
“However, on the latest accident, we have assured the public that we will let them know the outcome of the investigation so we can all take lessons from there and prevent future crashes,” he concluded.