How N2.59b calibration aircraft failed, forced airlines to divert
• Airlines Lost Over N3b To Diversion • Minister Blames Weather
• Sirika Bought Wrong Equipment, Should Face The Music – Ajaguna
• Minister Runs Ministry, Agencies Unilaterally – Source
Even though flight services have since resumed in the nation’s airspace, the last has not been heard of penultimate week’s widespread flights’ disruptions and attendant losses to airlines.
While many have continued to blame bad weather for the disruptions, investigation has shown that the primary cause of the chaos was the faulty calibration aircraft deployed.
The Beechcraft Super King, Air 350 (B350) calibration aircraft was recently purchased by the Federal Government, at the cost of N2.59b ($8.5m).
The justification was that it would end the era of hiring such a plane twice a year at the cost of N152.5m ($500, 000) to do routine calibration of navigational aids, at airports nationwide. But the new purchase failed when it mattered most, The Guardian found out.
It would be recalled that flight services across international and local operations late in December and early January assumed a worrisome dimension over poor visibility, and inadequate technology to support safe operations at some of the nation’s airports.
The development, which amounts to revenue loss for the industry, and an inconvenience to air travellers, was at odd with the Federal Government’s recent investment in Category III Instrument Landing System (ILS) for the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja in excess of $6m, as well as the purchase of the calibration aircraft to okay the equipment.
In November 2019, the Managing Director of Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Captain Fola Akinkuotu, confirmed the installation of the critical equipment at the two busiest airports in the country.
He also assured that their calibrations would be done before the third week of December to get both the MMIA, Lagos and the NAIA, Abuja ready for harmattan haze.
However, lack of effective cooperation among the agencies, it was gathered, delayed release of the calibration aircraft till the harmattan haze got intense late December.
A senior official of the agency, who would not want to be mentioned, told The Guardian that the installed instruments were not yet in use because they have still not been calibrated for precision.
“The fault is not from our side, but other sister agencies. I can tell you for a fact that NAMA has since been ready for the calibration, but as we speak, the calibration aircraft has not been made available to us by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). Nigeria recently bought one (calibration aircraft) and it is in care of NCAA. If they make the aircraft available, NAMA engineers will calibrate the equipment for use,” he had said.
The aircraft was, however, released mid January, as NAMA begun calibration of the Category III ILS at the MMIA, in Lagos. The exercise was to last for about three weeks, and conducted by certified flight instructors and pilots from the United Kingdom (UK).
A member of the team confirmed to The Guardian that “the exercise did not go as planned.
“The aircraft that we relied on failed. The ILS reading was very bad. It seemeds some components on the new aircraft are not compliant with the new Category III ILS on the Runway 18 Right. So, the exercise could not be completed for the MMIA as planned. They were in search of a solution when the weather got bad and exposed the whole thing. That was what happened,” the official said.
The calibration has, however, been done this week with the help of a leased aircraft from Omni-blue Aviation Services.
Calibration is a process that ensures the safety of air navigation by conducting regular flight inspection, calibration of test equipment/avionics systems, surveillance of airspace systems, and certification of navigation aids/associated facility in accordance with the stipulated procedures as recommended in ICAO document 8071, annexes 10 (vol. I & II) and 14, as well as NCAA regulations.
Calibration of ILS are done twice a year-February and November, every six months because of the level of accuracy required, while Very High Frequency (VHF) Omni-Directional Range (VOR) is calibrated once in a year, and the radar system is once every three years. If there is repair work on any of the navigational equipment, or total replacement, it has to be calibrated.
With the ILS at the two busiest and international airports not ready to support operation during recent harmattan haze, a lot of Lagos bound flights were diverted to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, and neighbouring African countries citing safety reasons.
Besides the inconveniences to the passengers, the airlines have put the loss in excess of N3b.
The Ministry of Aviation, when asked about the development, blamed “unforeseen weather conditions” amid replacement of ILS II with ILS III at the airport for the flight diversions.
The Minister of Aviation, Hdi Sirika in a statement said: “The procurement of the Category III ILS is in pursuance of the desire of the Federal Government to ensure the safety of air passengers by ensuring that airplanes can land with almost zero visibility.”
Aviation consultant, Tunde Ajaguna, said it was most unfortunate that the country was brought to ridicule by the people that hold it in trust.
Ajaguna said in a sane clime, some key officers, including the minister “would have been made to resign or fired for letting the country down.”
“I am most embarrassed and ashamed as a Nigerian. But this is supposed to be an aviator turned-minister. What did he mean by unforeseen weather conditions? Spare me the trash. He didn’t know that there would be harmattan haze in November to March or what? He should have resigned honourably. He failed the country by buying the wrong equipment and he should be made to face the music. Period.”
Harmattan haze late 2017 and early 2018 also led to shutdown of local flight operations for some days when horizontal visibility dropped below the stipulated minimum of 800 metres.
While local airlines were forced to reschedule or refund fares to restive passengers with attendant losses, their foreign counterparts with advanced onboard technology operated unhindered by weather.
A member of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) also blamed the minister for the rot in the system. He observed that the minister in the last five years has been presiding over aviation affairs and the agencies unilaterally.
“This is contrary to the rules. The law provides for a board of directors to oversee the affairs of these key agencies. If there is a board of directors at NAMA and NCAA, for instance, it is most unlikely that Nigeria would have bought an $8.5m calibration aircraft that cannot work with other equipment procured by the same government. Our minister is just comfortable running aviation all by himself because he is untouchable. Now that we have a big mess, he should carry the can and not push it to NAMA.”
Secretary General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), a think-tank group of the sector, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said the issue was more of negligence of duty by regulatory bodies.
Ojikutu said: “I just read the AIB report on the Max Air serious incident at Minna in September 2019. It seems to me that the signs of what cumulated to all these started from thence. The question I would ask the pilot and the operator of the airline is, did any of them make the mandatory occurrence report to the NCAA on the failure of the ILS at Minna Airport? If they did, what did the NCAA do to correct the failure at Minna and to check on the others with NAMA?
“Again, as I asked at another platform, when did the NCAA conduct, or check on the mandatory periodic maintenance of the navigational, approach and landing aids at all the nation’s airports with NAMA? These are not the responsibilities of the ministry, but the operator or service provider and the responsible authority on oversight and enforcement of regulations on operations and maintenance. Remove the masquerade cloak of government or ministry away from these agencies and speak to them,” he said.
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