An aviation expert has spotted flaws in the federal government’s recent deregulation of the petroleum sector, saying, giving marketers open cheque to import fuel especially Jet A1 may compromise safety in flight operations if adequate checks are not put in place.

“This is the time the regulatory agency, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) should put in place adequate checks and balances to prevent flooding the market with substandard and contaminated fuel that can either damage engines of aircraft or lead to fatal accidents,” Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) said in his reaction to government’s decision to allow oil marketers to source foreign exchange to import petroleum products into the country from whatever source.

The retired Nigerian Air Force chief who once served as Airport Commandant, Murtala Muhammed Airport, (MMA) said the federal government’s recent decision to withdraw subsidy on petroleum products including aviation fuel should be implemented with caution as unscrupulous marketers may import substandard or contaminated fuel in their bid to make maximum profits at the expense of safety which is the major concern of aviation operations.

His fears, according to him, are real following the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) reports of accidents in recent times indicating that aviation fuel found in some aircraft are actually either substandard or contaminated.

Besides, there had been instances whereby marketers sold kerosene in place of aviation fuel, a development which portends danger to aviation safety.

He therefore cautioned that the NCAA and the airline operators, for the sake of safety, should be wary while issuing licences to importers of petroleum products especially, Jet A1 to avoid unnecessary incidents in our airspace.

“The removal of subsidy and the increase in the pump price of fuel announced by government should not necessarily be the concern of Nigerians but the open cheque given to whoever wants to import fuel into the country for the aviation industry could be an invitation to disaster. The NCAA and the airlines operators should be very concerned about this development in fuel importation that could have serious consequence on flight safety,”he said.

 Continuing, he noted, “there had been reported cases in the recent past that some marketers were selling kerosene as jet-A1 to airlines. These were marketers who were importing kerosene and collecting subsidies on it from the government and yet were selling it as jet-A1.”

He called on the NCAA to establish standards, if none is in place yet, for Jet A1 quality assurance

“With the latest development, the NCAA should draw up standards for Jet-A1 quality assurance, starting with the transportation vehicles type or profile; supply and trucking systems; storage and dispensing systems, etc.

He explained that at the moment the vehicles supplying Jet-A1 are not sufficiently distinct from those supplying other petroleum products, pointing out that, the consequence of all these could result in fuel contamination as some of the AIB Reports of some aircraft accidents have shown.

Going down memory lane, he expressed disappointment that 24 years after the pipelines that supplied Jet A1 from Ejigbo have not been repaired since they were ruptured, stating that back then there was quality assurance to the product supplied.

“Up till about 1992, Jet-A1 supply to MMA was through pipelines from Ejigbo or NNPC depot. The supply from the MMA depot too, to the hydrants on the apron where fuel is dispensed to aircraft, were done also through the pipelines. The method then was quality assurance in practice.Unfortunately, since the pipelines got ruptured in 1992, nobody in NNPC, NCAA, FAAN and even the airlines the end users, raised serious concern on why there had been no repairs of the pipelines in 24 years,” he added.

In addition, he attributed the current high cost of the product to the neglect of the repair of the pipelines and invariably the airlines’ operating cost due to the huge costs of transportation and demurrage on the tankers now in use.

“These costs are huge and are substantial earnings for the owners of the tankers used for bridging the fuel supply between the NNPC depot and the airport depot. These tanker owners are those who would not want to see the pipelines fixed.