Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has decided to ground two airlines, including Sosoliso Airlines, which operated the plane that crashed Saturday, killing more than 100 people. The other suspended carrier is Chanchangi Airlines. Nigeria has suffered two major airline disasters in less than two months.
President Olusegun Obasanjo said only an irresponsible government would ignore two crashes without waking up to its obligations.
His move comes just a day after his office announced that the aviation ministry's second in charge had been put on indefinite leave.
In the statement announcing the suspension of Tommy Oyelade and another senior aviation official, a spokeswoman said the president had ordered an assessment of the commercial airline sector, stating urgent reforms would follow.
On Saturday, a Sosoliso Airlines flight bound for the southern city of Port Harcourt crashed attempting to land in bad weather. Among the more than 100 dead were dozens of schoolchildren returning home from the capital, Abuja, for the Christmas holidays.
Less than two months earlier, a Bellview Airlines plane went down shortly after taking off from the commercial capital Lagos, 117 passengers and crewmembers perished.
The two disasters have fueled widespread fears in Nigeria that the country's commercial airline sector is no longer safe.
Some experts say an aging fleet of largely second-hand aircraft and poor airport infrastructure contribute to Nigeria's poor safety record.
But an industry expert and editor with the British-based publication Janes Aircraft Components, Philip Butterworth-Hayes says the problem may be one of increasing air traffic and not necessarily old planes.
"If you go to China just a few years ago, there was a sudden spate of accidents, even though there were new airports, new aircraft," he said. "It was the proliferation, just the sheer weight of traffic that suddenly became too much for people to handle safety. So, the government put a stop on the number of new created airlines."
While Bellview began operations 13 years ago, Sosoliso is a relatively new company which opened domestic routes in 2000 to meet increased demand for air travel in West Africa. Mr. Butterworth-Hayes says Nigeria must now take a cue from the safety successes of other nations.
"What they have to do is look at countries that have actually tackled exactly the same problem, done it successfully, and import that practice from other countries, like South Africa for example, which has made the safety authorities independent, given them a lot of money, and said these are the international standards," he said.
He says the problem is not only Nigeria's, but the region's as a whole.
Sub-Saharan African countries, though comprising just four percent of total air traffic, accounted for a full quarter of all commercial air accidents in 2004.