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Last Updated: Monday, 30 October 2006, 19:38 GMT
Nigerians fly despite the risks
By Alex Last
BBC News, Lagos

Man looking at wreckage in Nigeria
Nigeria's government plans to consolidate the airline industry
Years of neglect and lack of investment in basic infrastructure and weak regulatory control mean flying in Nigeria has long been risky.

Sunday's crash of an ADC Boeing 737 into a cornfield just 2km (1.2 miles) from Abuja's main airport was the third major airline disaster in a year.

The spiritual leader of Nigeria's 70 million Muslims, the sultan of Sokoto, two senators and the son of a former president were among the 96 who died.

Nigerians are grieving but angry too.

Just over a year ago, a passenger jet operated by Bellview went down near Lagos, killing 117 people.

Seven weeks later, a plane operated by the Nigerian airline Sosoliso crashed on landing in the southern city of Port Harcourt, killing 106 people, half of whom were children.

Shoestring budgets

In the aftermath of these tragedies, President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered an overhaul of the aviation industry to improve safety.

Wreckage at the site of the plane crash site in Abuja, Nigeria
Nigerian based carriers could face restrictions when flying to the US

He said corruption and corner-cutting were responsible for its poor safety standards.

So new aviation officials were appointed, and runways are being improved.

The government says airport technology is being upgraded to improve navigation and to detect sudden changes in wind direction, crucial for take-off and landing.

In Port Harcourt, a fence is being built around the airport. Last year, the lack of fencing led to an Air France jet ploughing into a herd of cows which had strayed onto the runway.

The government also plans to consolidate the industry, trying to push out airlines running on shoestring budgets.

But there is a long way to go, and critics in the industry are sceptical that fundamental reforms of the sector are being implemented.

Boom industry

In November, auditors from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) are to visit Nigeria to assess the state of the aviation sector.

Without a clean bill of health, Nigerian based carriers could face restrictions when flying to Western nations, particularly the US.

Despite the crashes, aviation has boomed with up to eight million passengers now flying every year.

Nigeria is a huge country, roads are often in disrepair or plagued by armed robbers.

Many choose to fly with the plethora of domestic airlines operating in the country, despite the risks.

While an official investigation into the cause of Sunday's crash is beginning, the Minister of Aviation, Babalola Borishade, has blamed the pilot, saying he ignored warnings and took off in stormy weather.

The minister said all planes belonging to the Airline, ADC, were now grounded.

But whatever, or whoever was the cause of this crash, it will take a long time to convince Nigerians that their notoriously unsafe aviation industry is being made safe.


SEE ALSO
How can we make flying safer?
30 Oct 06 |  Have Your Say
In pictures: Nigeria plane crash
29 Oct 06 |  In Pictures
Obituary: The Sultan of Sokoto
29 Oct 06 |  Africa
Country profile: Nigeria
11 Oct 05 |  Country profiles

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