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Furore over Lagos Airport’s navigational facilities - THE NATION

JANUARY 14, 2020

Are navigational facilities at the Lagos Airport degraded? Yes, says National Association of Air Traffic Controllers (NATCA). But, industry regulators hold contrary views. However, the recent diversion of some foreign airline’s flight billed for Lagos to Accra has pit air traffic controllers against the airspace agency, calling to question claims of facilities’ un-serviceability, writes KELVIN OSA OKUNBOR.

 

Navigation in the nation’s airspace is becoming a huge challenge. This development has led to some foreign carriers finding it difficult to land their aircraft at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.

Their decision is hinged on claims that air navigation and landing facilities described as ‘degrading’ by the indigenous body of air traffic controllers, are of safety concerns.

Recently, the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers (NATCA) said some foreign carriers were engaging in flight diversion to neighbouring countries, including Ghana and Benin Republic, because of the poor state of navigational aids installed at the Lagos Airport.

Its National President, Abayomi Agoro, said the degraded state of navigation and landing facilities needed to be calibrated. Calibration connotes flight checking of facilities to ascertain their efficiency and accuracy.

Agoro said the unpleasant development where some foreign carriers were diverting their aircraft to neighbouring countries is tantamount to passing a vote of no confidence on the existing facilities that adorn the nation’s aviation sector, especially as related to flight safety.

In an interview at the weekend in Lagos, Agoro urged the government and its relevant agencies to immediately take steps to restore the serviceability of navigation and landing aids.

Fixing such facilities, according to him, would end the recent hitches with landing facilities at the Lagos Airport.

Agoro urged the government to stop shifting blames for the lingering challenges.

He said: “We note with displeasure the unwholesome event unfolding at the Lagos Airport among which was the diversion of British Airways and Air France flights to Accra and Cotonou.

“The sad event was occasioned by poor visibility and haze, but more worryingly accentuated by the degraded state of navigation and landing facilities due to lack of calibration. NATCA

“We are equally concerned with the untold hardship the situation has visited on our members working in Lagos Terminal Approach position whose statutory responsibility is to ensure a round the clock safety in taking off and landing.”

The NATCA boss observed that though the government could have made huge investment in the upgrade of aviation infrastructure, there was need to address perennial degradation of essential facilities and work tools.

He said: “The government needs to address the attendant increased stress and work load, which in practical terms translate to serious safety implications for the flying public.

“This is not the time to apportion blames but it must be emphasised that the time has come for all hands to be on deck to ensure seamless safety regime and prompt navigation services.’’

But, the Managing Director of NAMA, Captain Fola Akinkuotu in a telephone interview, faulted the position of air traffic controllers.

Akinkuotu said the scenario painted by air traffic controllers does not aptly reflect the state of air navigation facilities at the Lagos Airport. Lending support to Akinkuotu’s submissions, NAMA’s General Manager, Public Affairs, Khalid Emele, accused NATCA of misleading the public on the state of navigation facilities.

Emele said navigation and landing facilities are serviceable and operating optimally as the airspace agency was awaiting flight calibration in line with the standards prescribed by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and global best practices required by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

He revealed that the agency recently installed Category Three instrument landing systems at the Lagos Airport to forestall adverse weather conditions.

Emele said the agency has concluded arrangements to begin flight calibration of navigational facilities at airports nationwide effective January 16, 2020.

The NAMA spokesman said: ”While we recognise and appreciate the right of workers to clamour for better work tools and operational environment, the reality is that our navigational infrastructure nationwide is not in any state of degradation.

“ The idea behind the installation of category three instrument landing system in strategic airports in the country was borne out of the need to enhance safety, efficiency, access and seamless flight operations in our airspace, especially during harmattan season.

“The prevailing weather condition in Lagos of 1,500 metres is within the approved minimum state weather conditions for performance based navigation approach and landing on Runway 18 Right as well as instrument landing system approach and landing on Runway 18 Left which is 400 meters.’’

Emele explained that British Airways flight diversion to Accra thus: “British Airways requirement for approach and landing on runway 18 Right using performance based navigation is 1800 metres as against the prevailing visibility of 1500 metres.

According to him, despite the airline’s flight diversion, British Airways has continued to operate into Lagos Airport daily using the instrument landing system category three Runway 18 Left with same prevailing weather conditions.

“This diversions was avoidable based on existing facilities.The newly installed category three instrument landing system was implemented to forestall situations like this.

“The airspace remains safe as the agency is working assiduously towards continuously upgrading its navigational infrastructure in line with the standards and recommended practices of International Civil Aviation Organisation.’’

He contended that other foreign operators, including Emirates, Delta Airlines, KLM and Lufthansa, landed on the same runway in similar weather condition.

Managing Director, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Captain Rabiu Yadudu, said Lagos Airport has requisite landing facilities, wondering why British Airways diverted their aircraft to Accra.

He faulted claims making the round that the Lagos Airport does not have a functional ILS.

Yadudu said the impression created by British Airways as if something was wrong with the Lagos Airport was erroneous.

He said: ”British Airways diverted on its own accord, not because they could not land but because they felt their own standard operating procedure demanded that they divert the aircraft

“But the conditions were right for the aircraft to land. It was about 5.30 pm, it was not sunset and the runway visual range was about 1800 metres but their company’s runway visual range was a bit higher and nothing says they cannot have a higher one.

“But the runway visual range in Lagos Airport at that time met that condition. All over the world different airlines have a standard that is higher than the threshold but nothing says you are not allowed to go below.

“So, British Airways decided to divert its aircraft to Accra because it considered it the nearest suitable airport . If Abuja Airport was closer British Airways would have diverted its aircraft there. If Ibadan Airport was well equipped, British Airways would have diverted suitably there because of handling facilities, accommodation and other considerations.

“But, the next day British Airways came back to land at Lagos Airport under same conditions. Aviation authorities asked British Airways why its aircraft was diverted to Accra on January 6, 2020 and the rationale for subjecting passengers to discomfort by flying them overnight to other stations .

“It is not as if everything is perfect, but at times there is no need to declare war when there is no war.”

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