Nigerian President Signs New Aviation Safety Law after String of Air Disasters

Nigeria's president signed a new law Thursday to improve aviation standards, after a string of three air crashes in less than a year killed hundreds of people.

The new law signed by President Olusegun Obasanjo defines offenses that endanger safety, enacts penalties for violations, introduces new licensing regulations and sets up a compensation scheme for travelers involved in crashes.

The law also limits ministerial powers during emergencies - part of efforts to enhance the power of regulatory bodies such as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.

"This is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. We need professionals in charge, and not politicians," said Efanga Offiong, the acting head of the Nigerian Aviation Safety Initiative, an industry pressure group pushing for higher safety standards.

The law was first mooted after two major crashes last year in which over 220 people died. It has been on the legislative books since March, but was fast-tracked after the latest disaster, when 96 people died after a Boeing 737 owned by the Aviation Development Co. crashed a minute after taking off in stormy weather earlier this month.

Offiong said that political interference and corruption meant that some airlines that skimped on safety had retained their licenses, while political enemies of the state had theirs revoked.

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