Domestic airlines and the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) are blaming one another over the incessant cancellation of flights at the nation’s airports.
While the airlines are blaming NAMA for its failure in upgrading the navigation aids at major airports across the country, NAMA on the other hand has slammed the airlines, stating that they do not have aircraft fitted with facilities to align with equipment on ground to aid landing and take-off during the harmattan period.
But sources in the aviation industry say the poor state of the airport landing systems, night lighting aids, runway lighting and other radio signals to aid 24 hours aviation at all Nigerian airports have made flying in the Nigerian airspace virtually impossible during this harmattan season.
Nogie Meggison, the chairman of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), explained that in 1968, exactly forty eight years ago, the first aircraft operated at CAT lll and landed in zero (0) visibility at Heathrow airport, yet Nigeria is unable to land aircraft with visibility of about 800m.
“Why are the navigation aids not working or upgraded over the years? Why is there no solution to this issue after forty 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,” Meggison noted.
“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 The Federal Airports Authority 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 stressed.
John Ojikutu, Secretary-General, Aviation Round Table and Former Commandant at Lagos Airport said that NAMA needs to ensure that its approach and landing aids are calibrated on time to meet the challenges of the inclement weather that often characterises the harmattan.
“The Instrument Landing System, (ILS) installed at most of the airports, to the best of my knowledge are category ll, adequate enough for landing aircraft in visibility of 500m to 3000n; but the question to ask the responsible agencies of NAMA and NCAA is, when last were the ILS that were meant to be calibrated every 6 months, calibrated last?”
Ojikutu explained that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA) on the other hand, is not efficient and effective in enforcing the economic regulations on the operators and therefore the safety standards suffer.
NAMA in response said that the implementation of Performance Base Navigational (PBN) approaches in 20 airports is also a system meant to aid approach in a season like this but that it was left for airlines to get the required equipment fitted into their aircraft and train their crew to take advantage of this.
Emmanuel Anasi, acting managing director of NAMA said that it would have been easy to get some other facilities to improve air navigation if not for the gargantuan indebtedness of airlines to the agency to the tune of N6b and $27m dollars respectively.
Anasi disclosed that all the Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) were working, while the agency has implemented the Performance Base Navigation, (PBN) approaches in 20 airports.
According to him, the PBN has been implemented in four major airports of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano in 2012 adding, that the agency has standard arrival route, standards instrument departure route for the four airports, making it the first in Africa to develop it.
Anasi said these procedures were designed to take advantage of advanced system to handle aircraft fitted with the capability of flying PBN.
“Onus lies on our domestic operators to get the required equipment on board to be able to fly PBN and also to train flight crew to also fly these procedures and also get NCAA approval to fly these procedures, the rules in NCAA requires flight crew training, aircraft equipment and then a flight manual.
“In poor visibility operation like this, airlines that are equipped with this capacity can take advantage of that. NAMA is also aware that our ILS need to be upgraded to the category that will be able to allow aircraft to operate at very low visibility like what we are experiencing. The category of ILS that NAMA has is capable of that upgrade,” he added.
BusinessDay’s findings show that from 25th till 27th of December 2016, MMA in Lagos operated skeletal flights as a result of the weather. During the period the weather was hazy, no airline could fly and passengers were delayed with colossal loss of revenue to the operators.
A Dana air flight that departed Abuja at 10am on 27th of December could not land in Lagos and had to return to Abuja until 6pm before flying back again still leaving about 500 to 600 passengers to various destinations stranded at the airport.
Most international and local flights had to be diverted to Cotounu on 27th of December. The issue of the harmattan haze is a yearly seasonal occurrence as Nigeria has mainly Raining (Thunderstorms) and Dry Seasons (Harmattan).
Few weeks ago, Bala Ibn Na Allah, vice chairman of the Senate committee on aviation expressed disappointment with the poor state of projects in the services of NAMA stating that some landing aids like localizers and glide scope are not functioning to the required level forcing pilots to rely on procedural rules.
He said the cost of procurement of navigation equipment in Nigeria was five times the cost in other countries across Africa, warning that the Senate will ensure that funds budgeted for these equipment must be accounted for.