By Kelvin Osa-Okunbor


The integrity of the MD 83 aircraft has been questioned in many countries, which has seen it off their airspace, writes KELVIN OSA-OKUNBOR

The Dana MD 83 aircraft before the crash

Last Sunday’s crash of a McDonnel Douglas 83 aircraft belonging to DANA Air into a residential building in the densely populated suburb of Iju-Ishaga, Lagos has raised questions over the safety integrity of this type of aircraft, which has been phased out by airlines in the developed world.

The MD 83 which crashed, according to DANA, was 22 years old. Experts are divided on whether or not the age of a plane matters.

Some believe that it is cheaper and safer to fly newer airplanes because of access to latest technology. Others believe what matters is adherence to the maintenance schedule.

The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority ( NCAA), in the last few years, has encouraged Nigerian carriers to take advantage of the domestication of the Cape Town Convention to use older aircraft as collateral to acquire newer airplanes.

But, only a few carriers  have brand new airplanes in their fleet. Many  still use  aircraft that have either been banned in the developed world or phased out by other operators because of high cost of maintenance.

As a fallout of some past air crashes, the Federal Government set a 22-year age limit for aircraft operating in this country.The BAC-11 and Boeing 727 were banned for scheduled passenger operations.

When EAS Airlines crashed on May 4, 2002, the Federal Government banned the BAC-11. When Bellview Airline crashed on October 22, 2005, the government phased out the  Boeing 727.

MD 83 was not included in the ban in Nigeria, but many other countries have either banned it or phased it out.

The MD-80 and its variants are among the last extant reminders that there once was another American manufacturer, McDonnell Douglas, to compete with Boeing and Airbus for jet orders from the airlines.

Measured by accident data alone, the MD-80 is considered to be one of the safest planes in the sky. According to Boeing Commercial Airplanes, the plane has a fatal hull loss rate — meaning a crash involving fatalities — of 0.34 per one million departures, and an overall hull-loss, or crash, rate of 0.52 per million departures.

By comparison, the average record for all commercial jets is 0.89 fatal hull losses per million departures, and an overall rate of 1.64 hull losses per million departures, Boeing said.

The MD-80 has its roots in the 1960s, when it was developed as a descendant of the DC-9, which in turn was a companion to the DC-8 jet, one of the first airliners of the jet era. The DC-9, still in use by Northwest Airlines, was designed to be used on shorter flights; the Douglas Aircraft developed the MD-80 as a second generation of the DC-9. It was originally called the Super 80.

It has been a workhorse for a wide variety of airlines. SwissAir and Austrian Airlines were the first to fly it. American, Delta, Alitalia and Scandinavian airlines later flew it.   Nearly 1,200 were built in various configurations between 1980 and 1999, the year when Boeing, which had merged with McDonnell-Douglas two years earlier, decided to discontinue production and focus instead on its own short-range jet, the Boeing 737.

During its lifetime, the MD-80 family has had some high-profile problems.

In 1987, an MD-82 crashed just outside the airport in Detroit, killing 156 people, including two on the ground. The only survivor was a four-year-old girl, who was found strapped into her seat in the crash debris. The National Transportation Stabilisation Board concluded that the pilots of the plane had incorrectly deployed the plane’s wing flaps, meaning the jet was not in the proper position to fly. A faulty warning system failed to alert the pilots to the problem.

The left engine on a Delta Air Lines MD-88 failed on take-off in Pensacola, Fla, in 1996, causing pieces of the engine to pierce the fuselage and penetrate the cabin, killing two of the plane’s 137 passengers.

In January 2000, an Alaska Airlines MD-83 crashed into the Pacific Ocean off Point Magu, Calif., killing 88 people. The pilot had declared an emergency and was trying to get to Los Angeles International Airport when the accident took place. The safety board said improper maintenance was to blame for the crash.

The most recent attention paid to the plane was not crash related. Last spring, American canceled thousands of flights and grounded its 300 MD-80s to check that wiring bundles were properly secured inside the planes’ wheel wells. The groundings prompted a sparring match between the airline and the FAA, which American contended had unfairly changed the rules for how carriers should respond to safety directives.

At a point, the FAA  proposed civil penalties of $7.1 million against American airline for flying two MD-80s in December when it knew they were not airworthy. The airline said it disagreed with the finding and called the penalties “excessive.”

In 2005, due to the greater efficiency of the Boeing 737 Next Generation and rising costs for maintenance, fuel, and crew training, Alaska Airlines decided to phase out its remaining 26 MD-80s and trained its pilots to fly the newer Boeing 737–800s that were being ordered to replace them. According to the airline, the MD-80 burned 1,100 gallons of fuel per hour, while the 737–800 burns 850 gallons per hour. The last MD-80 flights flew on August 25, 2008, one from San Jose, California to Seattle, Washington, and another from Sacramento, California to Seattle, Washington.

The airline unveiled a 737–800 painted in Boeing’s house colours with the airline’s Eskimo on the tail fin. The aircraft, called Spirit of Seattle, shows Alaska’s commitment to Boeing and the fact that the airline now has an all-Boeing fleet.

In February 2007, Alaska Airlines introduced its first two Boeing 737–400 Combi’s to their fleet in an effort to replace their aging Boeing 737–200 Combi aircraft. The -400 Combi’s have 20 per cent more passenger and cargo capacity than the aircraft they replaced. They can carry a combination of four cargo pallets and 72 passengers. The aircraft were originally introduced as passenger aircraft in 1992, but have now been converted by Pemco Air Services. Pemco Air Services also converted the Boeing 737-400F. The airline planned to introduce more combi aircraft towards the end of the year.

Alaska continued to take delivery of new MD-83s during the 1990s, both to meet the demands of a growing route system, and to replace its aging and fuel inefficient 727 fleet. Meanwhile, the airline phased out its 727s, retiring their last 727 in March 1994. The airline’s MD-80 fleet peaked at approximately 45 aircraft in 1996.

Meridiana has replaced its McDonnell Douglas MD-82 fleet with Airbus A320-200s.

Meridiana fly is an airline with its head office on the grounds of Olbia – Costa Smeralda Airport in Olbia, Sardinia, Italy.It is the  second  largest Italian airline operating domestic and European services, as well as intercontinental flights. The airline mainly operates out of Cagliari-Elmas Airport, Milan Malpensa Airport and Rome Fiumicino Airport. Meridiana fly also holds numerous operations at Catania-Fontanarossa Airport, Florence Airport, Olbia – Costa Smeralda Airport, Palermo International Airport and Verona Airport.


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