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Harmattan haze cripples air travel as airlines delay, cancel flights


• Foreign carriers divert over faulty landing aid at Lagos airport

Harmattan haze yesterday crippled flight services nationwide, as all domestic flights were either delayed or cancelled.With the hazy atmosphere more intensive and unsafe for aircraft takeoff or landing, scheduled services across all routes were delayed for several hours.

More sophisticate foreign carriers were also not spared as inclement weather forced some Lagos-bound airlines to divert flights to neighbouring countries.The development, which inconvenient both passengers and operating carriers, was not helped by the suboptimal performance of instrument landing aids at the nation’s busiest airport.  
The concerned service provider, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), yesterday expressed concern over the diversions, though with reassurance that the Instrument Landing Systems (ILSs) would soon be optimised.

The harmattan haze has lately intensified nationwide with disruptions in flight takeoff and landing across local and international operations. While the local airlines either delay or cancel scheduled flights, some of their foreign counterparts are diverting to Accra and Lome airports.

The Guardian observed that all morning and afternoon-belt flights from airports in Lagos, and Abuja were delayed till evening. Others into sunset airports, Kano and Kaduna were cancelled and rescheduled till the following day. At least, two European carriers were also diverted to Kotoka International Airport, Accra, Ghana, this week.General Manager, Public Affairs, NAMA, Khalid Emele, said the diversion was largely due to bad weather, and airlines’ in-house policies on low minimas at the destination airport.
Emele said: “Our position is that such diversions are in the interest of safety.” On the landing aids supporting the two runways, he explained that the Doppler Very High Omni-Directional Radio Range (DVOR) and the Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) at the airport had successfully been calibrated and passed 100 per cent.
“The localiser, a component of the ILS that is responsible for horizontal guidance at runway 18 Left has also passed 100 per cent calibration, while the glide slope, which is another component of the ILS that provides vertical guidance, is undergoing routine maintenance and by tomorrow (Thursday), the maintenance will be concluded and the equipment shall be fully on air.

“On Runway 18 Right, there is Category III ILS which is still undergoing installation. Presently, Selex Systems, the contractors are working on the realignment of its parameters, preparatory to the calibration and commissioning of the equipment in the shortest possible time,” he said. He reassured the airspace users and the general public that the Nigerian Airspace remains safe “for seamless, economic air travel and regret any inconveniences caused at this time.”
Recall that poor visibility, which had dropped below 1200 metres forced airlines to settle for alternative airport early January, especially in the absence of support from installed category III ILS at the Lagos airport. 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.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had earlier told the travelling public to bear with the airlines as multiple flight delays and cancellations were unavoidable.The Director of Consumer Protection Directorate (CPD), NCAA, Adamu Abdullahi, said all disruptions were permissible when safety is at stake.
Indeed, the frequency of flight delays has lately worsened. The Consumer Protection Directorate (CPD) of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) last year 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.


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