Interview with Grp. Capt. Engr. John Obakpolor on Air Safety

The Nigerian Society of Engineers PORT HARCOURT BRANCH media had interview with Group Captain Engr. Obakpolor John FNSE, (Retired) on Air Safety. Group Captain Engr. Obakpolor John FNSE, (Retired) is an Aviation Consultant with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. He is a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Fellow of British Institute of Management, member of US Astrologic Society and a Chartered Engineer.

What can you tell us about air safety in the aviation industry?
Engr. Obakpolor: Well before now, Africa has been a suspect in air safety compliance. The rate of lost of aircrafts has been quite high. The accidents has been quite high, but to be specific, in 2005 and 2006, Nigeria lost three big aircrafts, 737 own by Belview at Ilasa in Lagos/Ogun State, Sosoliso at Port Harcourt airport and ADC 737 at Abuja airport. These losses were in quick succession because we never had equipment on ground to detect the phenomenon through which they flew and which consumed them. But now we have the equipment. When you have a wind shear, the best way for a pilot to get out of it is to avoid it. Do not go into it; once you are in it will take a very good pilot to come out of it. These things happen when it is raining or when it just rained or when it is about to rain. It could still happened outside the raining season and it happens around the airport. About 75% of air crashes that happens near the airport the world over are caused by this phenomenon known as wind shear.

There are other equipment that are now been brought in to help navigation and flying. Before now, an aircraft can take off from Port Harcourt going to Lagos and that will be the last view of it. You do not know where it is, you cannot track it, but now with Total Radar Coverage which is called “TRACON” everything is ok, it is safe now.

That is why flights moving from Port Harcourt to Lagos can be monitored all the way to Lagos. If it is leaving Lagos for Abuja, it can be monitored all the way to Abuja. There is no more blank space for any aircraft in our airspace because it is completely covered by TRACON.

If an aircraft is due for Port Harcourt from Lagos at a certain time and you do not hear from it again, you can track it to where you last communicated with it to know what is happening. Is it still there?

Is it still in the air or it has gone down? If it has gone down, it will be completely out of radar scope. There is no more cowboy like fights in the air any more. Before an aircraft takes off, it issues its own fight plan for approval. The plan is taken to the controller, who approves it and it is circulated. So everybody knows how the aircraft wants to fly
at a particular time and at any point of the journey where he is, we can follow him.

Safety still comes down to terrorism in the air. That is why passengers are frisked and luggages are screened at the airport in search of offensive weapons. Passengers are not expected to carry offensive weapons. Some people who want to be mischievous can come, load a suit case with explosive(s) and check it in and then they go home and wait for sometime then they trigger the explosive with a remote control. They are not there but all they want to do is to destroy as many people as possible.

What advice do you have for air travelers that are not knowledgeable in the technicalities of flying? Because they have a role to play, like when the aircraft is taking off and making its descend to land, they are told to open their windows and if you observe anything they should let the cabin crew know.

Engr. Obakpolor: That is true. Everybody flying on an aircraft is part of the crew because only one man is up there who takes responsibility on everyone’s behalf and that is the captain (pilot). If there is external fire which is not detected by the pilot and a passenger sees it, such passenger should alert the cabin crew. When the pilot is informed of such development he knows the sequence of immediate actions to take. When you see somebody acting abnormally, you can secretly call the attention of the cabin crew and tell them this guy is not stable. If there is an emergency, do not add to what caused the emergency, just remain calm. Sometimes you find that your anxiety may kill you before any other thing happens. So you just remain calm until the man has gone through all his emergency procedures. So you just have to be a part. If you want to sleep, you can sleep that is if you have 100% confidence in the air crew and the pilot, sleep and enjoy your flight. If the weather is tossing you up and down, the
pilot is a part of the aircraft; the cabin crew are part of the aircraft, the aircraft is tossing everybody, you are passing through turbulence, you will come out of it.

Thank you very much sir.

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