Thu, Dec 15, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Nigeria grounds airlines

AP , ABUJA, NIGERIA

People walk past a Chanchangi Airline plane parked at Port Harcourt Airport, Nigeria, on Tuesday. President Olusegun Obasanjo grounded two private Nigerian airlines after two plane crashes killed 224 people in seven weeks.

PHOTO: AP

President Olusegun Obasanjo grounded two private domestic Nigerian airlines after two deadly plane crashes killed 224 people in seven weeks.

He also announced a review of all aircraft flying in Nigeria. Blaming corruption for some of the industry's troubles, he said two experts from the International Civil Aviation Organization would be brought in "to ensure the integrity of the inspection."

Obasanjo announced the groundings on Tuesday after meeting with airline carriers and government regulators to discuss public concern at aviation accidents.

During the meeting, which was broadcast live on state television, Obasanjo read what appeared to be a February intelligence report detailing safety problems at the two grounded airlines, including planes experiencing landing gear trouble. It was not clear why those concerns had not been acted upon earlier.

Attempts to reach officials at the grounded airlines were not immediately successful on Tuesday.

One of the carriers grounded, Sosoliso Airlines, operated the 32-year-old McDonnell Douglas DC-9 that crashed on Saturday in the southern city of Port Harcourt, killing 107 people, most of them schoolchildren heading home for the holidays. The plane's previous owner, Serbia's JAT Airways, said it did not meet European standards.

The second grounded airline, Chanchangi Airlines, operated a plane that skidded off the runway in the main city of Lagos earlier this year and another craft that developed problems shortly after taking off from Abuja earlier this month and had to return to the capital.

On Oct. 22, a passenger jet crashed shortly after taking off from the main city of Lagos, killing all 117 people on board. There has been little indication of what could have caused the crash. That plane's carrier, privately owned Bellview Airlines, was not grounded.

"People are asking when will this stop? How will this stop? We have to answer these questions," Obasanjo said as Tuesday's meeting began, speaking to representatives of local and international airlines and government and emergency officials in the capital, Abuja.

Obasanjo on Monday ousted two senior officials in Nigeria's aviation ministry.

Aviation Minister Babalola Borishade told meeting participants on Tuesday that flight facilities in the country have long been in decay.

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