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Poor equipment, visibility stoke safety concern in aviation sector

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Murtala Airport Lagos

• Airlines delay, divert flights as $6m tools remain inactive
Flight services across international and local operations are fast being marred by poor visibility and inadequate technology that impede safe operations at some of the airports nationwide.

While local operators continue to battle flight delays over weather vicissitudes due to the harmattan haze, some of their foreign counterparts are diverting flights to neighbouring countries.

The development, which causes revenue loss for the industry and inconvenience the air travellers, runs contrary to the Federal Government’s recent investment in CAT III Instrument Landing System (ILSs) for Lagos and Abuja airports in the excess of $6 million.

The Guardian learnt that at least two carriers from Europe, one from North Africa and another from East Africa diverted Lagos-bound flights to the Kotoka International Airport, Ghana, on Monday and Tuesday.

The visibility, which had dropped below 1200 metres, forced the airlines to settle for alternative, especially in the absence of support through already installed category III ILS at the nation’s busiest gateway.

The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) test-ran the newly installed ILS at Runway 18 Right, Murtala Muhammed International Airport in November. The exercise, according to NAMA, indicated that the equipment was fully operational on test basis, as all the ILS components, including Localiser, Glide Slope and Distance Measuring Equipment propagated signalled optimally.

The Managing Director of NAMA, Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, had said that its calibrations would be done in a couple of weeks to get the instrument available at both Lagos and Abuja airports by the third week of December 2019.

A category IIIA approach is a precision instrument approach and landing with no decision height or a decision height lower than 100ft (30 metres) and a runway visual range not less than 700ft (200 metres).

A senior official of the agency, who would not want his name to be mentioned, said the installed instruments were not yet in use because they had not been calibrated for precision, coupled with other limitations.

“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 the care of NCAA. If they make the aircraft available, NAMA engineers will calibrate the equipment for use,” he said.

The source, however, added that the Lagos airport was not so bad for foreign airlines not to use it even during poor visibility.

“The one that diverted, which is the British Airways, did so because of their own policy not to land when visibility is below 1800 metres and the weather in Lagos was at 1200 metres on Monday.”

The harmattan haze late 2017 and early 2018 also led to the 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.

Besides the ILS calibration gap this time, the Lagos airport is also in need of runway and approach lights, which are the responsibilities of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to provide.

But for airports in the eastern parts of the country, other aerodromes in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Kano were functional with minimal flight disruptions

The Calabar airport, for instance, consistently has poor visibility and almost closed as its flights were diverted to the Uyo airport, which has a functioning ILS for operations.

The Spokesperson of Dana Air airlines, Kingsley Ezenwa, confirmed the series of flights disruptions occasioned by the inclement weather, though with assurance that they came with minimal inconvenience for the travelling public.

Ezenwa said airports across the east were all affected, especially since they are all sunset airports.

“It means flight hours are restricted. Things would have been a lot better if these airports are open to night operations. But in the interim, we are managing the situation though with some flight delays,” he said.

Indeed, the frequency of flight delays has lately worsened. The Consumer Protection Directorate (CPD) of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) recently reported that at least 3,049 flights were delayed in October 2019, with the bulk of the delays coming from domestic operations.

A total of 16,426 flights were delayed in the first half of 2019, out the 30,043 flights executed by the airlines.

The Acting Director General of the NCAA, Capt. Abdullahi Sidi, said the trend was unacceptable, and the domestic carriers especially, must begin to take proactive and realistic measures to tackle the delays.

Aviation Security consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), said it was the duty of the NCAA to do “operation down assessments” at some of the airports in this period of inclement weather, to know where really the faults are.

“It makes no sense that within a year of the certification of some of these airports, we are having these undesirable and avoidable problems. Do these airports have periodic maintenance programmes for their critical safety infrastructure and facilities approved by the NCAA?

“If not, the NCAA needs to begin the process of ensuring that each airport has the programmes that would help its inspectors for the periodic audits of these airports,” Ojikutu said.


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