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Passengers stranded as harmattan haze disrupts domestic flights


Operators blame FAAN, NAMA for poor navigational aids

Domestic flights were yesterday disrupted at airports nationwide over poor visibility on account of the harmattan haze across the country.For several hours, at airports in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, Kaduna and Owerri, among others, none of the domestic flights could take off or land.

Consequently, passengers were stranded at the airport terminals. Some simply opted to use the roads.The operators blamed the airports’ authorities for the “poor and obsolete navigational facilities” still being used at the airports, which they said were not helping them, especially in bad weather.

Although the harmattan haze is a natural occurrence, the inability of the authorities to mitigate its effects on the aviation sector may reinforce the perception that the nation’s airspace is still very unsafe, some years after air tragedies were regular. It also shows the poor management of the aviation sector despite the allocations to it by the Federal Government, and the revenue generated by aviation agencies. This poor management has made some airlines to relocate from Nigeria to neighbouring countries.

The Guardian yesterday learnt that pilots had been having difficult times operating aircraft in the last two days. The situation worsened yesterday with visibility reducing to 10 metres and far below the acceptable minimum level of 100 metres.

For instance, a Dana Airlines’ flight from Abuja to Lagos, which departed the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport at 11:00 a.m., was aborted about 15 minutes from landing at the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal Two, Ikeja, Lagos and was ordered to return to Abuja on Tuesday. A Med-View Airlines’ flight from Abuja to Lagos was said to have suffered a similar fate.

The situation also affected flights to most airports across the country, as all flights to the South-South and South-East from Abuja were either cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

A scheduled flight to Yola, which passengers had earlier boarded, eventually failed to leave Abuja two hours after its departure time. The passengers were eventually disembarked.

While most of the foreign airlines at the international airport in Lagos took off on schedule due to fitted advanced technology, others had to be diverted to neighbouring countries like Benin Republic yesterday.

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had earlier in the month urged airlines operators and pilots to be wary of imminent harmattan haze, cautioning pilots against avoidable risks.

The Chairman of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Nogie Meggison lamented the deplorable state of the navigational aids at airports around the country. “It makes flying in the Nigerian airspace virtually impossible during the harmattan season thereby increasing the sufferings of passengers and disrupting their plans for the yuletide season due to flight cancellations,” he said.

Meggison described the situation as appalling and unbefitting of Nigeria’s status. He recalled that exactly 48 years, the first aircraft operated at Category (CAT) lll landed in zero visibility at Heathrow Airport, Nigeria is unable to land aircraft with visibility of about 800metres.

“The issue of the harmattan haze is a yearly seasonal occurrence as Nigeria has mainly Raining (Thunderstorms) and Dry Seasons (Harmattan).“If the world has been landing in zero or virtually no visibility since December 28, 1968, today 48 years later on December 28, 2016 on the anniversary of the first CAT III landing at Heathrow Airport, Nigeria still can’t land with 800 meters of visibility?

“Why are the navigation aids not working or upgraded over the years? Why is there no solution to this issue after 40 years of the airlines crying out? It is rather shameful that today in the 21st century, we are still talking of operating at CAT l and unable to land at 800m at our airports.

“This is very unfair to operators who cannot charge passengers for the extra cost the airline has to bear on return or cancelled flights and we have to feed and lodge them in a hotel. The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) need to be more responsible to ensure that our airports are equipped with the right landing aids to allow 24hours operations in any weather condition,” he said.

The chief executive officer of one of the airlines, who would not want to be mentioned, added that the operators had been screaming about this situation for a long time now, without the authorities feeling bothered.

“The economic impact is too heavy on us. Fifty per cent of scheduled flights are delayed due to weather, shortage of jet fuel, inadequate screening machines at the terminal boarding exit points, insufficient parking for airplanes on the tarmac, as well as VIP movement.

“How then can we make money to pay the high taxes and levies being imposed by the agencies and parastatals or contribute our quota to the National Gross Domestic Product (GDP)?

“It is also instructive to note that the overstaffed agencies have over 18,000 staff servicing 3000 airline staff. FAAN alone has about 11,000 staff and NAMA has 4000 with only 250 air traffic controllers.

“According to the Minister of State for Aviation, a particular agency has about 48 general managers. The huge funds made from passengers’ five per cent taxes on Ticket Sales Charge (TSC); Passenger Service Charge (PSC), Over Flight Charges, Enroute Navigational Charges and Terminal Charge, landing fee and parking charges are being used wrongly to pay salaries and for the lavish lifestyle of the over-bloated workforce at the expense of improving the navigation and airport infrastructure,” he said.

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