Nigeria plane crash: Was age of aircraft an issue?

Nigeria plane crash: Nigerian law bans aircraft older than 20 years, but the average age of Dana Air's planes is 21.4 years. Sunday's Nigeria plane crash killed all 153 passengers and unknown numbers on the ground.

Sunday Alamba/AP
Rescue workers search for bodies at the site of a plane crash in Lagos, Nigeria, Monday, June 4. A passenger plane carrying more than 150 people crashed in Nigeria's largest city on Sunday, government officials said.

A commercial airliner crashed into a crowded suburb of Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, Sunday, killing all 153 people on board and an unknown number of residents on the ground.

The crash is the country's worst since September 1992, when a military transport plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Lagos, kill all 163 Army soldiers and crew aboard.

The cause of the crash of the Dana Air flight – carrying passengers from Nigeria’s capital of Abuja to Lagos – is still unknown, but questions have been raised about the age of Dana’s planes. In 2010, Nigeria banned all aircraft over the age of 20 years. According to, the average age of Dana’s fleet of five planes is 21.4 years. Its youngest plane is 20.9 years old.

A spokesman for President Goodluck Jonathan said that “every possible effort will be made to ensure that the right lessons are learnt ... and that further measures will be put in place to boost aviation safety in the country.”

"The president joins all Nigerians in mourning all those who lost their lives in the plane crash which has sadly plunged the nation into ... sorrow," Reuters news agency quoted from a statement from President Jonathan's office.

Nigeria’s government has made a number of improvements to its air-safety systems, introducing modern passenger-scanning equipment and improvements in its airport radar systems. In 2010, the United States gave Nigeria the Federal Aviation Administration’s highest rating, a Category 1, allowing Nigeria’s commercial carriers to land at US airports. Yet, despite these improvements on paper, Nigeria’s upgrades still fail to meet standards when it comes to implementation. Frequent power outages – an odd occurrence in a country that is Africa’s largest oil producer -- and failure of its backup generator systems often shut down air-traffic control systems for hours at a time, and delay the takeoff and arrival of flights.

Nigeria’s aviation Minister, Princess Stella Odua expressed her condolences to the families of those on board the plane, but she was quoted by Vanguard newspaper as saying, “I assure the nation that investigations are under way.”

Nigeria has also struggled with insurgencies in the past couple of years, both in the oil-rich Niger Delta region and among the impoverished citizens of the Muslim-majority north, where a Islamist militant group named Boko Haram has carried out a terror campaign that has killed more than 1,000 people in the past two years.

No terror group has taken responsibility for Sunday’s crash, however.

Instead, speculation has turned toward the age of the aircraft. The plane that crashed on Sunday belonged to Dana Air, which uses older Boeing MD-83 jets. Many commercial airlines in Nigeria – and indeed throughout the continent -- purchase cheaper second-hand aircraft, often those that are no longer serviceable in richer countries.

Such planes are safe only if they are rigorously maintained by the airline’s ground crew. Unfortunately, there is a history of air crashes involving older planes.

The Lagos-based Bellview Airlines Flight 210, which crashed shortly after takeoff on Oct. 22, 2005 at Lagos, was 24 years old. The Sosoliso DC-9 aircraft that crashed on Dec. 10, 2005 near Port Harcourt was 32 years old. It had been sold to Sosoliso by JAT airways because it no longer met European noise standards.

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