Management of Aero Contractors has explained why it agreed on the use of ladder to disembark its passengers on the Abuja – Bauchi chartered flight on Saturday.
Speaking during a press briefing at the airline’s head office in Lagos, the acting managing director of Aero Contractors, Mr. Russel Leefoon explained that the charter was booked by a group of young people as part of a wedding party.
Leefoon noted that the airline decided to go on the chattered flight based on the assurances from the Bauchi Airport manager that the motorised airstair at the airport is working.
He said it was shocking for the airline to discover that the stairway became unserviceable shortly before the aircraft landed at the airport.
He said though this was against the standard operating procedure, that the airline had to give in to the passengers after they became agitated, and more so that the groom on the weeding was on the flight as time was running out on them.
Leefoon stated that the airline does not own a ground handling company that could have been used to handle the aircraft at that time.
He said attempt by the Captain to fly back the aircraft to Abuja was resisted by the passengers, while the airport manager assured that the airport Fire Service is coming with a solution which was the ladder.
Leefoon explained that: “On Thursday 17th November 2015, a charter was booked and confirmed from Abuja to Bauchi on a Boeing 737 -500 series aircraft. The charter was booked by a group of young people as part of a wedding party, attending this important event in Bauchi.
“On Friday 18th November 2015, confirmed arrangements were made by our head of ground operations, Mr. Peter Omata for the handling of the flight through the airport manager of Bauchi, Mr. Abubakar.
“He confirmed on many occasions the availability of the airstairs and cost. The aircraft to be used for the flight was 5N-BLG, a Boeing 737-500 series aircraft. This aircraft was positioned into Abuja on the evening of November 18th 2015.
“At 10:42 the aircraft touched down on Runway 35 at the Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa International Airport. The controller advised the crew that due the absence of marshallers and no ramp officials of any sort that parking would be at their own discretion.”
He explained further that “at 10:44 the flight dispatcher on board contacted the Airport Manager to advise him that they were on the ground, to which he confirmed that he was seeing the aircraft on taxi and that they were waiting.
“After parking the Captain reports that they waited for up to 10 minutes for the stairs to be brought to the aircraft but no assistance or stairs came to the aircraft. The Captain reported that he informed the passengers of the situation as they were beginning to get agitated. What was not known to the crew at the beginning of the flight was that the Groom of the wedding was on board the flight. The wedding was to be started in another 20 minutes.
“At 10:57 the crew called the controller to enquire as to why there was no one to position the stairs to the aircraft and he was told then that the stairs had “just broken down” and that the Fire Services are making provisions to sort it out.
“After waiting for another five to seven minutes the passengers became furious as they were now getting very late for the wedding ceremony. The Captain went to the cabin and explained to them that he may have to take them back to Abuja as they cannot disembark due lack of stairs. The group insisted that he cannot keep them on board the aircraft and he considered that their anger was becoming potentially threatening for the crew to take them back to Abuja.”
Mr. Leefoon continued that, “the alternative which the Fire Services provided was a ladder which the passengers took as an option and on their own free will decided to use the ladder to disembark against the wishes of the Captain and crew. The Captain allowed this procedure in order to reduce what he thought was a volatile situation.
At 12:55 with the airstair connected to the aircraft, passengers boarded the return flight to Abuja. The aircraft taxied out at 13:10 and was airborne at 13:24 arriving into Abuja at 14:05.”
The acting managing director of Aero Contractors emphasised that the management of the airline as a result of the development has called an investigation into the incident, adding that the results could lead to changes in their operational procedures.
Leefoon stated further that, “following the findings of this investigation, it will become a part of our training and CRM re-currency training exercises.”
He said the decision to perform any further charters into Bauchi is suspended on B737 equipment but can consider charters into Bauchi on Q400 or Dash 8-300 aircraft.
Leefon noted that, “any future charters to destinations that are not areas of scheduled commercial flight operations must have at least one permanent ground handling company on ground before we will consider.
“We will continue to operate our aircraft safely and within the guidelines of the law and the company must continue to ensure the safety and security of our crews and passengers.”
Similarly, one of the passengers on board the aircraft, Sadiq Waziri in an email to the management of the airline which was made available to the press explained that, “Ajibola Adeoye (F/O on our flight) contacted me to ask about what happened today and I must say we are solely responsible for the decision to disembark using a ladder.
“We were running late, and could not spare time for the repair of the air stairs.
“However, there was only one air stairs in the whole of Bauchi (a so called international airport) and the air stairs was not even serviceable.
“I think this is more of NAMA, FAAN, NCAA and all the responsible bodies for aviation in Nigeria’s fault.
“They should look into providing better standards and services especially with how ridiculously they charge companies for services that are not even rendered or if at all rendered, only partially.
“Besides the slight inconvenience on arrival, the service provided by your company was very satisfactory”
Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika has directed an immediate investigation into the use of unauthorised equipment by Aero Contractors Airlines at the conclusion of a charter flight to Bauchi over the weekend. ‎

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