• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Dirty aviation fuel puts air travel at risk

air travel

There are indications that in the last 30 years, airline operators in Nigeria may have been buying contaminated aviation fuel from tanker operators because the pipeline used in the distribution of aviation fuel have been ruptured since 1992. The pipeline is from Mosimi Depot in Ogun State to Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.

Aviation experts say the use of rusted fuel tankers, most of which are used by marketers to supply other related products, such as diesel, kerosene and other petroleum products, may have been responsible for the contamination of JET A1, which poses threat to air safety.

The experts also alleged that the refusal of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to fix the pipeline and the negligence of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to set up labs close to the airport to certify the quality of the supplied aviation fuel could lead to damage of aircraft parts, which could lead to air incidents or accidents.

But an official of NNPC that spoke with BusinessDay on the condition of anonymity said the information of the ruptured pipeline was new to him because the corporation had not been dealing with JET A1 fuel for some time now. He however stated that “the information you passed to me is new and I would have to investigate it.”

John Ojikutu, aviation security consultant and secretary general of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), told BusinessDay that the pipeline ruptured way back in 1992, when he was the military airport commandant.

Ojikutu explained that the pumping of aviation fuel got to the hydrants on the airport apron, as marketers only needed a mobile pumping machine or engine on the apron to pump from the apron hydrants into the aircraft.

The rupture pipeline was estimated to cost $9.2 million then to be fixed, but sadly nothing was done. Instead, tankers have been bridging the supply chain from the different marketers’ depots. This cost airlines millions of naira in transportation and demurrage charges in days and sometimes weeks when waiting to discharge at the airport storage facilities.

“Contaminated fuel is gotten by using tankers that are used uncontrolled or unsupervised for transporting other petroleum products like diesel to carry JET A-1. That is common now unlike in the 60s and early 90s. Vehicles used for aviation fuel were branded in blue colour lines round their bodies. That is not what you see today; lifting fuel today is for all comers as long as you have the right connections.

“There are many Nigerians in high places that are connected to fuel marketing and transportation that only care about their earnings than safety. The NCAA and DPR have the responsibilities to shut down the airport depots of the marketers if they would not comply with the DPR recommendations to establish testing laboratories for ensuring the quality of the products they sell to commercial airlines, and the safety of air travelling passengers,” Ojikutu said.

He argued that the Dana accident of 2012 was connected to fuel contamination, adding that Noggie Megison, the former president of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) said at one of the Aviation Round Table a couple of years ago that some marketers were selling untreated kerosene to the operators as aviation fuel.

“I have made a proposal to the NNPC to partner the marketers; I have suggested in the proposal that the marketers and airlines should partner to repair the pipeline or the NNPC should concession the repairs to a private company; none has been addressed since 2008.

“I have called the attention of the National Security Adviser (NSA) to the safety and security implications of bridging fuel supply with tankers and parking them around the airport security controlled areas, yet no serious considerations were given. Who will save us from ourselves?” Ojikutu asked.

An official of the petroleum ministry that spoke with BusinessDay said the jobs of DPR mostly end up at the depots where the products imported are inspected and certified as okay for aviation industry. But beyond that point, anything can happen, he said, especially if the product is conveyed to the airports by trucks, which are also used to convey some other products.

The DPR, it was learnt, had once advised the NCCA to put in an internationally accepted laboratory for further testing of the product when it arrives at the airport but the agency has been reluctant to do that.

BusinessDay checks also show that airlines operating in Nigeria pay high for aviation fuel as a result of the cost of demurrage and other logistics to fuel tankers.

The product takes over 30 percent of the airlines’ operation cost. The operators say if the product is directly supplied through the pipelines, it would become cheaper and available and this would help them project their cost and plan ahead in their operations.

The unit price of aviation fuel is between N220 and N240 per litre. A B737 aircraft burns between 3000 litres and 3500 litres per hour on flight. This varies per aircraft type, but it is safe to say that the same principle can be applied in accordance with the aircraft type. This means all other components share 55 percent to 60 percent of the cost of operations.