Travel News

Nigeria struggles to evacuate students in Sudan - DW

APRIL 28, 2023

BY Shehu Salmanu | Wendy Bashi

April 25, 2023

Several African countries are evacuating their citizens from Sudan, but Nigerian authorities say they are finding it difficult to get their 5,500 nationals — mostly students — out of the country and into safety.

Rukayya Muhammad is a Nigerian student living in Sudan who needs to be evacuated as a matter of urgency. 

Thousands of students like Muhammad have been stranded in Sudan since fighting erupted between forces loyal to two rival generals struggling for power.

The conflict — now in its second week — has led to tens of thousands of people fleeing to neighboring countries.

Following a public plea for help by students like Muhammad, the Nigerian government plans to start evacuating nearly 3,000 of its nationals — mostly students — by a convoy to Egypt later this week.

"I am speaking on behalf of every student, we need help, it's very traumatizing ... we need the Nigerian government to do something, we appeal to the Nigerian government," Muhammad told DW.

'No response' from Nigerian embassy

Foreign countries like Germany, the UK, and the United States have all been rushing to get their nationals out of Sudan.

Nigerian authorities say they have now requested a safe corridor to evacuate 5,500 nationals, mostly students.

Muhammad said not much has been revealed about the so-called evacuation plans.

"I have contacted a few of the students' association bodies here about the situation, whether they have heard something from the embassy, but still they said there wasn't any response from the Nigerian embassy," she said, adding "I have sent them a mail, there also wasn't any response, we haven't heard anything from them."

When speaking to DW, Abdulkadir Mamman Tsagem, another Nigeran national in Sudan, stressed that he and his compatriots deserved to be treated with dignity.

"Considering the situation in Sudan that has forced many countries to evacuate their nationals, our people also deserve to be evacuated, because we cannot predict when the fighting is going to stop," he said.

Challenging evacuation plans

Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama said that the process of evacuation was quite challenging considering the sheer number of stranded Nigerians.

There is currently a 72-hour truce  in place, which seems to be holding. Onyeama hopes that talks with Sudanese authorities to allow for the safe passage of Nigerians out of the country to neighboring Egypt will be a success.

"We have been working round the clock for the last two days to try and get the Nigerians out," he said. "The only viable way out is by road, but of course, it's not totally safe, so we are going to require the government to provide some security and a safe corridor out."

South AfricaGhanaKenya and Uganda are among the African nations which have announced the evacuation of their citizens.

On Monday, Chad also announced that it would evacuate 438 of its nationals from Sudan, including students.

This puts extra pressure on the Nigerian government to treat the repatriation issue as urgent. But Onyeama said Nigeria's situation is unique because of the number of people involved.

"Our situation is particularly challenging, because the numbers are so great. So, essentially, where we are at the moment is trying to get authorization from the Sudanese government for them to provide some security," he said.

Fighting between the army of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane, Sudan's de facto ruler, and his deputy-turned-rival, General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), has plunged Sudan into a humanitarian crisis.

Sudan: Civilians suffer as evacuation efforts continue


Civilians caught up in the fighting

It is not only Nigerian students that are crying for help. Hundreds of other African students say they are unable to contact their countries' consular authorities.

Zenab Abdul Amine Issa, a student from Niger currently living in Al-Jazirah province, south of Khartoum, told DW she was concerned.

"We're so scared, we can't do anything. I am waiting to see if there will be a Nigerien evacuation. I don't have the number of the Nigerien authorities so I cannot leave. I have no one to tell the Nigerien authorities to evacuate me from here," she said.

Power cuts and destruction to infrastructure means is difficult for African foreign nationals stranded to seek help.

"There is no internet, there is nothing! We don't even have call credit to call people who are outside," Issa said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that violence in Khartoum and Darfur in the west has left more than 420 people dead and 3,700 injured — most of whom are civilians.

Health services interrupted

Many humanitarian organizations have suspended their activities, which means the plights of those stranded could worsen even further.

Five aid workers have been killed and, according to the national doctors' union, nearly three-fourths of hospitals are out of service.

Abdullahi Hassan, a Sudan and Somalia researcher for Amnesty International , told DW that the situation on the ground for health workers and aid workers is very troubling.

"Most hospitals in major cities, including Khartoum, have been closed. People have not been able to access them and no services are provided in these health centers," Hassan said.

"Doctors, nurses and other health care workers are targeted, and fear for their own safety. Doctors Without Borders reported that its own center had been looted and targeted. So, people who provide essential health services are not safe right now."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed concern that the violence in Sudan could spread throughout the region.

Edited by: Keith Walker#

Fear Grips Nigeria's Abuja Region After Mass Abduction of Villagers, Children - VOA

APRIL 28, 2023


Nigerian police are investigating the abduction this week of at least 29 people from a village in the territory of the federal capital, Abuja. Officials say gunmen raided Yewuti village, taking victims on foot into the bush, including children.

The attack has raised concerns about Nigeria's worsening insecurity just ahead of next month's swearing-in of Bola Tinubu as the new president.

Abuja police public relations officer Josephine Adeh said officials are looking into the matter and would make their findings public soon.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the abductions.

But a local council head in Kwali where the village is located said the gunmen invaded after midnight Tuesday and shot sporadically before herding residents, including children, into the nearby bush on foot.

The attack has raised concerns of growing insecurity in the Nigerian capital nearly one year after the terror group Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP, claimed responsibility for a jail break that freed hundreds of inmates, including high profile terrorism suspects held at a medium security facility in Abuja.

"You know abduction is a very sensitive issue," Adeh told VOA. "We're on it. … Whatever we're doing we can't put it out there because of the sensitivity of the issue."

Abuja has maintained relative peace for years despite Nigeria struggling to stem a range of insecurity problems, especially in the central, northwestern and northeastern regions.

But since last year, the capital has been reporting incidents more often.

Last month, local media reported gunmen invaded an Abuja estate and kidnapped nine people.

Security expert Senator Iroegbu said the trend is worrying.

"It's an unfortunate incident, the people we're talking about are Nigerians,” Iroegbu said. "No Nigerian deserves to be kidnapped and it still shows that government still has a lot to do; even within the city center there are a lot of crimes."

Despite this, Nigerian authorities say security officials are making substantial progress.

FILE - Bola Ahmed Tinubu reacts after he was declared winner in Nigeria's presidential election at his party's campaign headquarters, in Abuja, March 1, 2023.
FILE - Bola Ahmed Tinubu reacts after he was declared winner in Nigeria's presidential election at his party's campaign headquarters, in Abuja, March 1, 2023.

Insecurity was a major topic at the February polls in which Bola Ahmed Tinubu was declared winner. Tinubu will be sworn in on May 29. Iroegbu said Tinubu must take security matters seriously.

"Any incoming administration should know that the challenge is still very prevalent … so they have their work well cut out," Iroegbu said. "It should be a shift from the way the current administration are doing their things, improve where they failed and one of the areas where they really failed is the issue of security."

In 2015, outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari promised to address insecurity if elected president.

After years of being widely criticized for security failures, Buhari last week said, "Those that think that I have hurt them so much, please pardon me."

No Pilot, No Problem? Here’s How Soon Self-Flying Planes Will Take Off - FORBES

APRIL 29, 2023

The aircraft are already here. Pilot unions are preparing for battle. And the FAA is playing it cool. Autonomous flight is coming to civil aviation sooner than anyone thinks, and it may prove to be a surprising boon for flyover country.

InJanuary, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun revealed an open secret in the world of aviation. “I think the future of autonomy is real for civil,” he told Bloomberg TV, before quickly offering some qualifiers. “It’s going to take time. Everyone’s got to build confidence. We need a certification process that we all have faith and believe in.”

The U.S. military has been flying autonomous planes for decades, of course, but always in a segregated airspace. Now it’s becoming increasingly clear that self-flying planes are coming to commercial aviation, and not in some distant Jetsons future world. Aircraft manufacturers are working toward it. Airlines are eager for it. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is preparing for it. And pilot unions acknowledge the threat is looming on the horizon.

A decade ago, the conversation was largely speculative. But today, many in the aviation industry believe that small, self-flying planes could be carrying passengers by the end of this decade. Then, barring no major safety incidents, it could take as little as another decade before larger passenger jets operate without a pilot on the flight deck.

“It’s all about money,” says Dennis Tajer, a pilot for 35 years and the spokesman for Allied Pilots Association, which represents 15,000 American Airlines pilots. “Manufacturers are looking for the next innovative technology to deploy so that they can sell it and make money, and airlines are looking at how they can do this more cheaply.”

It’s a charge that’s difficult to rebut. Six years ago, a report from the Swiss bank UBS estimated that autonomous planes could save the air transportation industry more than $35 billion per year. Still, the same report flagged a bright red public perception problem. A 2017 global survey found that a majority of people would be unwilling to fly in a plane without a pilot, even if the airfare were cheaper. The next year, a public survey from Ipsos found that 81% of Americans would not be comfortable traveling on a self-flying plane. Notably, that survey was sponsored by the Air Lines Pilots Association (ALPA), whose 65,000 members make up the largest pilot union in the country.

Winging It: Small self-flying planes, like this one by Xwing, are expected to carry passengers by the end of the decade.COURTESY OF XWING

The introduction of autonomous aircraft into the civil aviation mix will begin with small cargo planes, led by companies like Xwing, a Northern California-based startup. “We took an existing Cessna airframe,” says Xwing CEO Marc Piette, “which is the most widely used express cargo airframe, and we’ve been modifying that vehicle to convert it to a remotely-supervised vehicle. We think the cargo market is the best first place to deploy this. And we’ve been very deliberate.”

For the past few years, Xwing has been running automated test missions, mainly in California. A flight plan is submitted, just as if there were a human pilot, and the flight’s parameters are pre-programmed before takeoff. “It’s really a one-click thing,” Piette says. “You engage the system and it runs its mission.”

Until the technology is certified by the FAA, however, there will need to be a safety pilot on board. This allows Xwing to fly without jumping through regulatory hoops. “The safety pilot can disconnect a system and revert the aircraft to manual flying, but otherwise doesn’t do anything but monitor the system. It’s a very boring job,” Piette explains. Meanwhile, the Cessna is operated from the ground, with one human controller watching a moving map on a screen and interfacing with air traffic control.

“All of these companies are really looking forward to the day where there will not be a pilot on board.”

Once the technology is certified, Xwing plans to introduce and operate these vehicles by late 2025 and then make it available to other operators. “To give you an example, FedEx has about 240 Cessna 208s for its U.S. network,” Piette says, alluding to the scalability of the venture. He expects his autonomous aircraft to be transporting human passengers by the end of this decade.

Xwing is certainly not the only manufacturer working on autonomous cargo aircraft, but it has a secret weapon in its chief compliance and quality officer. Earl Lawrence knows a thing or two about FAA regulations, having recently left the agency, where he was the head of aircraft certification. Prior to that, Lawrence had started the FAA’s unmanned office. “One of the key things of bringing this category of aircraft to the cargo market is that we are not changing the rules. We are following the regulations,” he says, noting that some companies in the space have made proposals that do not comply with FAA regulations. “That’s what significantly slows things down.”

Few people know more about autonomous aircraft than Stephane Fymat, who heads up Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) at Honeywell, which has a long history producing autopilot systems for Boeing Dreamliners, Gulfstream and Embraer jets as well as other aircraft.

autonomous plane Pipistrel and Textron

No Flying Zone: Pipistrel's autonomous plane has plenty of room for cargo, but no cockpit for a pilot.


Fymat shared with Forbes a PowerPoint deck for a speech he has given at invitation-only industry conferences. After a brief introduction, a slide appears with six images laid out in a grid. Each shows an aircraft produced by one of Honeywell’s clients. Some are designed for cargo and others for passengers. In one photo, men are loading boxes into a cargo plane made by Slovenian light aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel, which Rhode Island-based Textron acquired last year. The plane does not even have a cockpit.

“Basically, most of them will start with a pilot now and move to having no pilot on board,” Fymat says of Honeywell’s partners. “A few of them want to do it within four or five years and some think it’s more like a 10-year range.”

One immediate advantage of pilot-free small planes is the increased capacity. Autonomy can immediately turn a six-passenger plane into seven-seater. “All of these companies are really looking forward to the day where there will not be a pilot on board,” Fymat says. “They’re all planning for it, in fact, and we’re helping them get there.”

“Cargo is an entryway drug for them,” Tajer says. “The script is to start with something that doesn’t sound like it’s going to hurt people. But the reality is that it’s still the same sky, and it’s still a metal tube in the air and passenger jets will be sharing the sky with them.”

Readying for Take Off

How self-flying passenger jets will be airborne by the 2040s.

Various aircraft manufacturers are working with the FAA on certifying autonomous aircraft.
The first self-flying cargo planes will enter civil aviation, sharing the skies with piloted airplanes.
Small, self-flying planes will begin carrying passengers on short, regional flights.
Larger passenger jets will begin operating without a pilot on the flight.

For manufacturers, bringing new aircraft into the mix requires navigating the regulations of the FAA and the world’s other aviation authorities. “We have an application on an all-electric autonomous airplane that we refer to as Wisk,” Boeing’s Calhoun told Bloomberg. “That application is in and the FAA will begin working with us today on building out a certification program for autonomy and for Wisk. There’s so much to learn, so much to do, but it is being done.”

Some worry that the FAA may be too accommodating. “The FAA ebbs and flows between being a monolithic oversight authority to slowly, over time, becoming too cozy with the manufacturers and the airlines,” Tajer notes. “That’s a funding issue, it’s experience, and then it also can become a culture issue, which you don’t have to look too far back [to the 737 Max crashes], to see what happens when there’s too cozy a relationship. The FAA just needs to stand firm on delivering the safest possible system out there.”

During the pandemic, some airlines quietly lobbied the agency to amend what’s known as Part 121 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, which requires scheduled carriers to have at least two qualified pilots on the flight deck, arguing that a single-pilot approach would help alleviate the pilot shortage. The FAA’s European counterpart recently ruled against making such a change until 2030 at the earliest.

It’s a rationale echoed by manufacturers. “Look at the airliners that we fly in every day,” Fymat says. “They don’t yet take off by themselves. They don’t taxi by themselves. But once they’ve taken off, they’ll do the entire flight by themselves, and they will land by themselves if you wanted them to. Airplanes have been doing this for years.” He adds that it’s just a matter of time before jets can do it all. “Adding in the ability to divert and redo a flight plan because of an emergency or whatever, communicating with air traffic control, those are the next pieces. But the basics already there.”

Naturally, the idea of single-pilot flight decks doesn’t sit well with pilots. “They’re talking about taking out that backup human system,” Tajer says. “Having that second pilot can be the difference between people getting hurt or them getting through an incident safely. And that’s because no matter how much technology you have, the importance of having another human being who has as much at risk and is committed to protecting those passengers in the back is what makes our safety system so successful here in the U.S.”

Meanwhile, automation is advancing. “AI technology is a big opportunity to establish the next generation of products in the industry, the epicenter of really, really powerful core technologies,” says Arne Stoschek, the head of machine learning and autonomy at Acubed, an Airbus innovation center. At Toulouse Airport, near Airbus headquarters in southwestern France, the manufacturer is testing a suite of pilot-assistance technologies in a demonstrator it calls DragonFly. Much like how actual dragonflies can recognize landmarks while in flight, the aircraft’s systems use artificial intelligence and sensors on the outside of the plane to “see” features in the landscape and safely maneuver autonomously within its surroundings. To date, the capabilities include automated emergency diversion in cruise, automatic landing and taxi assistance.

In the near term, the greatest challenge for self-flying planes may be getting the public to accept them. Xwing’s Lawrence expects public perceptions to evolve with time. “As the technology gets rolled out, people will understand it better and trust it more,” he says.

Advocates point out that among the first beneficiaries will be people who live in rural locales far from major airports. “This isn’t just about getting somebody from downtown Wall Street to JFK in eight minutes flat, which is very valuable by the way,” Honeywell’s Fymat says. “It’s also about the rural community, who right now has no air service. Or the essential air service that they have is, like, once a week.”

Xwing’s Piette agrees. “The impact is going to be dramatic,” he says. “Among the reasons [regional airports] are losing commercial traffic today is that there’s a significant pilot shortage, which makes it very challenging to staff some of these routes. If you’re in places like Wichita or Louisville, good luck trying to find direct routes to wherever you want to go.” With a large volume of smaller aircraft, there can be a higher frequency of flights between any small-city destination pair, according to Piette. “And we can reinstate access to flights to small localities.”

Ultimately, Tajer argues, “it’s going to come down to whether people eventually get used to the idea. And I don’t know, but when you’re in the sky, and it’s noisy, and the aircraft is doing things you’ve never felt before, and nobody’s in the cockpit, you might be thinking, ‘I sure hope that kid down on the ground at the computer has got this stuff figured out, because my family’s lives depend on it.’ That’s a big hump to get over.”


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