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Overhauling Nigeria’s airspace architecture 

By Wole Shadare
15 November 2022   |   2:52 am
There was a time the Nigerian airspace was categorised as one of the worst in Africa, when compared with others that are put in its bracket. This was a horrible period in the history of aviation in the country.

An air traffic controller at work in Nigeria. Photo: NCAA

There was a time the Nigerian airspace was categorised as one of the worst in Africa, when compared with others that are put in its bracket. This was a horrible period in the history of aviation in the country. The year between 1999 and 2005 was horrendous for the country as aircraft were falling off the sky. Air travel became nightmarish. Many had their hearts in their mouths any time they were billed to travel.

The ADC, Sosoliso, and Bellview accidents in quick succession called for the declaration of emergency in the sector. These accidents and many others showed that Nigeria had lacked behind horribly in aviation safety. At that time, Nigeria had remained in the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Category 2 status for a long time.

The appointment of Dr. Harold Olusegun Demuren led to a significant improvement in the country’s aviation industry with the help of various Ministers of Aviation who gave the backing of autonomy through regulations to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

The NCAA was overhauled to meet the challenges of modern aviation regulations in tandem with global standards. Nigeria through efforts of the Demuren-led NCAA restored the country to its pride of place as the gaps to getting aviation category one status, which puts Nigeria in the league of big players in the global aviation industry.

The efforts of Arik Air, which was Nigeria’s biggest airline at that time must be highlighted. Arik served as the Guinea pig to get category one status for Nigeria; a situation that prompted its designation to New York and other destinations across the world.

One agency that has continued to drag down the industry or one that has not matched the fast pace of other agencies like the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) is the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

Although the agency has recorded some feats, it is very slow to meet some of the challenges of aviation in terms of security. One of the drawbacks of the agency is that it has a lot of airports it is handling amid depleting revenue. Only four airports generate the bulk of revenue for the maintenance of over 30 aerodromes.

But NAMA stands out. The remarkable work of past Chief Executive Officers particularly, the immediate past Managing Director, Capt. Folayele Akinkuotu, is worth mentioning. The incumbent NAMA MD, Mr. Lawrence Pwajok, has carried on seamless and breaking new ground with the provision of modern and seamless navigation safety tools.

For several years, most of the navigational facilities were not only obsolete but grossly inadequate and posed serious danger to air travellers. Pilots were visibly angry over poor Navaids at most of the airports. Aerodromes suffered from long periods of neglect, poor planning, and wanton corruption that left the sector in a precarious situation.

Pilots recalled their experiences any time they flew within the country’s airspace. They found it very difficult at a point to establish communication with the control tower because of the lack of effective radio communication coverage.
The poor state of the controller/pilot VHF communication coverage of the country’s airspace was glaring. Users were piqued that if navigational aids could work in such places as Togo, Ghana, and Sao Tome, they wondered why the same equipment couldn’t work in Nigeria.

The careful planning by the Ministry of Aviation and NAMA to change the narrative of bad news as it affects the country’s airspace safety has seen a massive investment of over N32 billion and another $12.9 million to overhaul the airspace architecture.

While NAMA took note of the complaints of the umbrella body of air traffic controllers, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), itemised several ongoing and completed projects across the country’s airports aimed at safety, efficiency, capacity, and environment.

The agency has also deployed a traffic sequencing manager – arrival manager and departure manager with an automated clearance delivery system at Lagos and Abuja scheduled to be completed in December 2021, and the deployment of Wide Area Multilateration Surveillance System for low-flying helicopters in the Gulf of Guinea completed in February 2022. This project cost over N3 billion.

Others are the procurement of two new mobile control towers delivered for Lagos and Abuja and commissioned in June 2021, worth over N1.7 billion, procurement of two additional mobile control towers for Kano and Port Harcourt delivered December 2021, also worth over N1.7 billion for contingency use.

Equally provided are the automation of the Katsina control tower completed in September 2020, automation of the Zaria Control Tower completed in October 2020, procurement of new flight calibration aircraft delivered in August 2019, upgrade of the Safe Tower Project at Lagos, Abuja, Kano, and Port Harcourt worth over N13 billion, that would provide software and hardware upgrades including new voice communication and control systems and furniture, is in progress.

Forty air traffic control cadets recruited in two batches are currently undergoing ATC training at the Nigerian College of Technology (NCAT), Zaria. There is ongoing reconditioning and rehabilitation of the Total Radar Coverage (TRACON) expected to be completed this year. The ongoing AIS Automation Project was scheduled for completion in December 2021 with the VSATs installed in 24 airports and the ATS Message Handling System (AMHS) fully installed at Lagos and Kano to replace the old AFTN.

Performance-Based Navigation(PBN)  had been successfully implemented in 32 airports with RNAV approach flight procedures just as PBN Standard Instrument Departure Routes and Standard Arrival Routes (SIDs and STARs) have been implemented at Lagos, Abuja, Kano, and Port Harcourt.
Shadare wrote from Lagos.

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