“Flying coffins” make their way to Cameroon
from NGALA KILLIAN CHIMTOM in Yaounde, Cameroon
YAOUNDE – AS the aircraft Cameroon purchased from China amid a series of controversy finally arrived in the central African country, it remained to be seen whether the gamble would boost regional trade or present the region with a time bomb.
The two MA60 aircraft made their inaugural flights last weekend with trips between the two major Cameroonian cities of Yaoundé and Douala.
“It is a new dawn for Cameroon air travel,” the Director General of the Cameroon Airlines Corporation (CamAir), Jean Paul Nana Sandjo, said.
The two aircraft will take CamAir fleet to five and enable the country expand the scope of its internal flights to include towns like Ngaoundere and Bafoussam.
There are possibilities of extending flights to the towns of Bamenda, Bertoua and Koutaba.
Sandjo explained the idea behind naming the aircraft Logone and Mantung.
“These are Rivers in Cameroon and we wanted to give the aircraft a local colour,” he said.
Transport Minister, Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o, added the aircraft would foster Economic Community of Central African States sub-regional integration.
“We are going to see CamAir to Bangui (Central African Republic), Malabo (Equatorial Guinea) and Libreville (Gabon),” Ngo’o explained.
Business has also lauded the introduction of the aircraft hoping the move would boost trade in Cameroon and the sub-region.
“We expect to see an uptick in trade within the CEMAC Zone. Intra-CEMAC trade currently represents only 3 percent of trade that takes place in this region and initiatives like these will definitely ensure that people move faster and trade faster too,” Andre Fotso, President of the Cameroon Association of Businesspersons.
But the safety record of the Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation-manufactured MA60 aircraft suggests the executives must guard against complacency.
These have been linked to several safety concerns across the globe.
In 2013, the Xian MA60 turboprop aircraft was involved in two separate accidents in Indonesia and Myanmar leaving some passengers injured.
In May 2011 an MA60 crashed into the ocean off the coast of Kaimana in West Papua, killing all 25 people on board.
The MA60 features on the blacklist of the American Federal Aviation Administration.
In 2013, New Zealand suspended its programme of development aid to Tonga’s tourism industry after an MA60 donated by the Chinese Government was delivered to the airline, Real Tonga, and advised tourists to not travel on the planes on the grounds that “this aircraft has been involved in a significant number of accidents in the last few years”, and “is not certified to fly in New Zealand or other comparable jurisdictions.”
Such concerns around safety have been echoed in Cameroon where a prominent journalist described the MA60 aircraft as “flying coffins.”
Director of the Cameroon Civil Aviation Authority, Pierre Tankam, lost his job in December after raising concern about the safety of the MA60 Aircraft.
His criticism did not sit well with authorities.
Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation Xu Bo has however assured passengers about safety.
“It is world class in terms of manufacturing quality. The aircraft engine is from Canada. It is the best engine in the world,” Bo told reporters at the launch of the aircraft’s operations in Yaoundé.
In Cameroon, the controversy around the aircraft dates back to 2011 when government commenced the procedure to purchase the aircraft.
Cameroon Civil Aviation Authority decided to delay the process, and went as far as denying MA60 the necessary certification for it to operate in the country.
Government then put in place an inter-ministerial investigation which came up with the findings that the aircraft are safe.
Under pressure, Takam issued the certification in November, but proved too late as the delay had already the government of Paul Biya, culminating in his sack.
Controversy was not far from the procurement process, putting the debt-ridden CamAir under public scrutiny.
The leading opposition, Social Democratic Front, expressed unease with the amounts of money involved.
It questioned how Cameroon could spend CFA 34,4 billion ($56,6 million) to buy the two aircraft whereas in neighboring Congo, the same number, size and type of aircraft were bought for an equivalent of $23 million.
Bo justified the price.
“The price that we have given is that of the overall package of the project. This means that it is not only the plane. We also provide staff training and a large amount of spare parts including a spare engine that is very expensive.
“We will also send a team of experts who will work with Camair-Co. We are willing to accompany Camair-Co for regular maintenance and technical visits,” he said.
On the occasion of the inaugural flights Bo reiterated these commitments, noting that his company has already trained some 70 CamAir personnel.
Only time will tell whether this Cameroon-Sino transaction was a disastrous or beneficial move.
– CAJ News
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