Last weekend, an airline landed 197 miles from its intended destination in Nigeria, on what was supposed to be a routine domestic flight. This flight was marketed by United Nigeria Airlines, but was operated by Fly2Sky on a wet lease basis.
This is getting quite a bit of regulatory scrutiny, as United Nigeria Airlines lied about the cause of what happened. Fly2Sky has just issued a statement regarding this incident. If the details are true, then this was United Nigeria Airlines’ fault. Let’s take a look at all the details…
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United Nigeria Airlines plane lands at different airport
This incident happened on Sunday, November 26, 2023, and involves a domestic United Nigeria Airlines flight that was scheduled to fly from Lagos (LOS) to Abuja (ABV), covering a distance of 318 miles. The flight was operated by a wet leased 13-year-old Airbus A320 with the registration code LZ-FSA.
For those not familiar with a wet lease agreement, this is when one airline is contracted to use its aircraft and crew on behalf of another airline. In this case it was United Nigeria Airlines marketing the flight and leasing the plane, while it was Fly2Sky actually operating the flight.
Instead of flying the intended route, the plane took off from Lagos and flew to Asaba (ABB), located 231 miles from Lagos, and 197 miles from the intended destination of Abuja.
Once in a while airplanes land at the wrong airport, which is kind of concerning. However, usually it’s an airport near the intended destination, and there’s just confusion, for whatever reason.
What exactly happened here? Well, it depends which party you ask, which is what makes this story so unusual. According to passengers onboard, upon landing, the crew announced that they were in Abuja, as was scheduled. However, when the door opened, some passengers noticed that they were at the wrong airport. Passengers also stated that the pilot later claimed that he had been given the wrong flight plan.
In a post on Twitter/X shortly after the incident, the airline denied that reasoning, and stated that the diversion was due to poor weather at the destination. The airline claimed that the pilot was aware of the diversion the entire time, and that the flight attendants just accidentally announced the wrong airport after landing. However, that bulletin was deleted once authorities starting investigating this incident, which tells you a lot…
Airlines love to blame any sort of issues on weather, but this sure is taking it to the next level. 😉
Aviation authority takes action against lying airline
On Monday, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) announced that it’s investigating this incident, and that “it will leave no stone unturned as it has always done in the past to ensure continued safety of the aviation industry.”
Authorities have already revealed that they’ve listened to the communication between the air traffic controllers and the pilots. The air traffic controllers kept asking the pilots to confirm that the plane was headed to Abuja and not Asaba, but the pilots insisted that the flight was headed to Asaba.
Festus Keyamo, Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation, states that “it was clear that when the pilot was taking off from Lagos, he was headed to Asaba, not Abuja,” and that this was due to an administrative issue at the airline.
As a temporary measure, the NCAA has suspended wet-lease flights at United Nigeria Airlines. For what it’s worth, United Nigeria Airlines’ fleet currently consists of four Embraer ERJ-145s, plus one wet leased Airbus A320, so that jet is now out of service.
Keyamo states that going forward, all wet lease agreements must at least have a Nigerian pilot onboard. As he explains, “you must have a Nigerian pilot seated at least on the jump seat, with the foreign pilot.” He also tries to score some political points by talking about how innocent Nigerian lives are at stake (this was of course very inconvenient, but there was nothing unsafe about it):
“I have also directed NCAA that within the next 72 hours, they should summon all pilots and crew who are operating wet leases in Nigeria for further briefing because the lives of Nigerians were at stake. They are flying Nigerians and our sacred duty is to protect Nigerians. On that plane were innocent souls that they took to another destination that they do not have plans to go. There was no weather problem.”
Fly2Sky defends itself, blames United Nigeria Airlines
Bulgarian airline Fly2Sky, which was contracted to operate the flight, has now issued a statement regarding the incident. The airline explains in no uncertain terms that United Nigeria Airlines is responsible for providing flight schedules, and the airline requested this flight to operate to Asaba:
The flight schedule within Nigeria, operated by Fly2Sky since the inception of the project, is determined exclusively by United Nigeria Airlines. Specifically, the flight on November 26, 2023, which was conducted in strict adherence to the schedule provided by United Nigeria Airlines on November 25, 2023.
On November 25, United Nigeria Airlines designated flight NUA 0504, from Lagos (DNMM/LOS) to Asaba (DNAS/ABB), with an initial booking for 124 passengers. Our Integrated Operational Control Center prepared the ATC flight plan in accordance with ICAO standards, and the crew received their briefing via the electronic flight bag (EFB) system. On November 26, 2023, at 14:05 UTC (15:05 local time), NUA 0504 departed on schedule with 150 passengers. There were no requests from United Nigeria Airlines to alter the flight plan during the crew’s pre-flight briefing.
Following the highest industry safety standards, Fly2Sky has conducted a thorough internal investigation in response to inquiries regarding the flight operations of November 26. The findings confirm that Fly2Sky Airlines operated within the full scope of regulatory and safety standards.
I’m inclined to believe that this is true, since:
- The pilots wouldn’t have any incentive to just randomly fly to the wrong destination
- We already know for a fact that United Nigeria Airlines just outright lied, as has been confirmed by the authorities, not to mention the airline deleted its statement
Now, were there some red flags for the Fly2Sky pilots, and should they have maybe double checked with the marketing airline to confirm the destination? Maybe, but we don’t have enough details there.
Based on what we know, it seems kind of ridiculous how Nigerian regulators are trying to address this by banning wet lease operators. Properly trained foreign pilots are capable of operating flights anywhere in the world (within certain limitations). Obviously this was a major screw up, but if you ask me, the worst part of this is that United Nigeria Airlines blatantly lied in a written statement about what happened, claiming this was due to weather.
Foreign pilots land at new airports in new countries every single day without issue. Similarly, we see some pilots accidentally land at the wrong airport in their home country. So this really shouldn’t be about nationality.
But I get that it’s also probably more popular for regulators to point the fingers at “dumb foreigners” trying to undermine Nigeria’s pristine aviation ecosystem, rather than hold a domestic airline accountable. Let’s see how this goes…
A United Nigeria Airlines flight that was scheduled to operate from Lagos to Abuja landed at the totally wrong airport, in Asaba. United Nigeria Airlines initially claimed that this was a planned diversion due to bad weather, though regulators have determined that this wasn’t the case.
Fly2Sky, which actually operated the flight, has made it clear that the schedule is determined by United Nigeria Airlines, and the airline was given orders to fly to Asaba. That seems to be the most logical explanation, especially since we already know that United Nigeria Airlines has lied about this.
What do you make of this story?