Jul 30 2012
By Wole Shadare
THERE seems to be no respite yet for operators and patrons of the Nigerian aviation sector as more problems have continued to dog the industry.
From tarmac challenges due to poor infrastructure, high cost of aviation fuel to huge expenditure on aircraft acquisition and maintenance, the safety of the country’s airspace is now a subject of controversy between the Federal Government and foreign airlines.
The situation is so bad that often times airplanes enter the Nigerian airspace without the knowledge of air traffic controllers. At other times, they only get to know of such flights through telephone calls from their counterparts in Nigeria’s friendly nations.
Apparently to avoid running into trouble with the aviation authorities over an open declaration that the country’s airspace was no longer safe for them to overfly, all the major foreign airlines have quietly refrained themselves from using the nation’s airspace.
According to them, the country’s airspace is dotted with moribund communications gadgets (visual and voice) such that air traffic controllers and pilots now have extreme difficulty in reaching one another.
Before the foreign airlines took the action, some key officials in the aviation agencies and workers’ unions had inundated the Minister of Aviation, Stella Uduah-Ogiemwonyi with letters on the deplorable state of the communications equipment.
At the last count, 10 foreign airlines had stopped flying over the Nigerian airspace and prefer to use longer routes to get to their destination.
For instance, Air France no longer flies through the Nigeria’s airspace as Air France 889 goes from Kinshasa to Paris, Air France 995 from Johannesburg to Paris, Air France 900 from Yaoundé to Paris, Air France 928 from Luanda to Paris, Air France 896 from Brazzzaville to Paris.
The same goes for British Airways as its flight 55K goes from London to Johannesburg, Air Namibia 286 from Frankfurt to Windhoek and Belgian Airline 357 from Brussels to Kinshasa.
South African Airways 237 moves from London to Johannesburg, SAA 260 from Johannesburg to Frankfurt, SAA 261 from Frankfurt to Johannesburg, SAA 264 from Johannesburg to Munich, SAA 265 from Munich to Johannesburg.
Emirates 261 runs from Dubai to Sao Paulo, Emirates 246 from Dubai to Rio De Janeiro and Qatar 922 from Sao Paulo to Doha. Prior to this development, the airlines used the Nigerian airspace for most of their flights.
All this means loss of revenue to the country.
The situation is not helped by the censorship on the information to be released to the media by the Ministry of Aviation.
When The Guardian contacted some officials of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and other regulatory agencies in the sector, they refused to comment on the matter, citing a directive from the minister that all information meant for the media should be routed through her office.
The only official, who volunteered to speak on condition of anonymity, stated that NAMA was synchronising all the radio communication tools to ensure safety in the airspace.
In the circular, which she personally signed last May, Oduah-Ogiemwonyi directed all agencies to route all statements to the media through her ministry.
The minister’s spokesman, Mr. Joe Obi, promised to call back when The Guardian sought his view on the development.
Air traffic controllers and the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) in a presentation to the Minister of Aviation on July 18, 2012 on the status of the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) facilities, safety of the Nigerian airspace said: “It is worrisome that the nation’s airspace is increasingly but gradually being avoided by the international over flyers due to poor communications between air traffic controllers and pilots.”
The economic implication is that the Federal Government is losing revenue, which would have accrued to the country if the airlines that now fly from South Africa to London had used the Nigerian airspace.
What NAMA charges airlines overflying Nigeria’s airspace is not made public, so the revenue loss could not be obtained by The Guardian but in the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) charges over-flight fees to aircraft operators that fly its airspace but neither take off nor land in its airports.
For en-route over flier, the FAA charges $38.44 per 100 nautical miles for Great Circle Distance (GCD), from point of entry to point of exit from U.S. airspace while Oceanic goes for $17.22 per 100 nautical miles
The document signed by the NUATE President, D.M. Safiyanu, which was received by the minister on July 20, 2012, stated that the provision of Controller-Pilot-Data-Link Communication (CPDLC) would have been a remedy to this “unfortunate situation,” regretting that, “all our neighbouring airspaces have such facilities.’’
He said this might probably account for the over flyers’ preference for nation’s neighbour’s airspace even though they make their trips longer.
Before NUATE’s action, the Airspace Manager of NAMA, J.I. Ekweonwa had on July 9, 2012 written a letter to the agency’s managing director, where he stated: “Please, I am compelled to inform you that Kano Area Control Centre (ACC) radio communication frequencies – 124.1MHz and 128.5 MHz sectorised East and West respectively have deteriorated in quality and reception thereby making pilots/controllers communication terribly bad. In short, pilots and controllers hardly receive or communicate to each other within the Flight Information Region (Kano FIR). Sir, it would be pertinent to suggest that an expert, who will carry our members of staff along be sent to configure these TVHF into the system within these sectors -East and West for eventual quality and lasting services to our stakeholders.”
Also, on July 10, 2012, the Deputy General Manager for NAMA, Okwor .I. in a letter to the Airspace Manager of Malam Aminu Kano Airport, alleged that Kano’s Very High Frequency radios on frequencies 128.5MHz (Kano West) and 124.1mhZ (Kano East) were “not only poor but deplorable,” adding that, “ communication based on these radios in their present state has not only become very difficult and ineffective in the provision of Air Traffic Management (ATM) but has also impeded the growth of air traffic in our FIR.”
Safiyanu urged the minister to call for global, African and Nigerian navigational chart routes for details, just as he tasked her to consult the carriers for more details on the appalling danger of the nation’s airspace.
He said more often than not, air traffic controllers through NAMA do receive Air Safety Reports (ASRs) from airlines flying Nigerian airspace.
The ASR is an avenue in which pilot, crew-members in a data form, report or lay complaint to NAMA and copy to International Air Transport Association (IATA) on relevant safety matters or issues observed in the course of their flight.
According to him, “there are several cases where aircraft enter into Nigerian airspace unnoticed until neighbouring airspace notifies us through telephone, for example, Ndjamena, Chad. As a matter of fact, air traffic controllers on duty are facing operational hazards daily as they sometimes watch helplessly whenever aircraft are near collision and cannot provide air traffic control due to inability to communicate.’’
He said for the minister to get a clearer picture of the deplorable condition of the country’s airspace, she should contact IATA, the clearing-house for global airlines and call all the air traffic control closed logbooks for Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and Abuja from January 2012.
“The pilots of the presidential fleet can attest to these communication problems. Urgent remedies to these problems are very necessary because of its negative impact on safety, revenue and national security. Generally, history has shown that chief executives in the past misled former ministers, because they will never expose their deficiencies for you to help. We shall never allow that to happen again if you desire to hear regularly from workers who are the direct operators or end users of all aviation and airport facilities,” he said.
Viewed 744 times by 237 viewers0 Latest Posts
- We ‘re cause of our problems in the North – Sultan
- Tukur dares govs, replaces Oyinlola
- First Lady Off to Germany for Medical Check-up
- Court Remands Kaduna Deputy Speaker in EFCC Custody
- Recruitment: Labour Faults Power Ministry’s Move to Engage HR Consultants
- Police Foil Attempt to Defraud Kano of N300m
- Missing key stalls Ikuforiji’s trial
- Ogun recruits 725 into state public service
- Govs demand role in helicopter crash probe
- How Ajimobi won 2011 Oyo gov poll – Tokyo