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Discordant tunes over flight diversions

Safety concerns over weather to blame — Airlines

Airlines should have diverted to Abuja — Minister

Installation of Category 3 Instrument Landing System in progress — Ministry

Discordant tunes over flight diversions

By Lawani Mikairu

That Muritala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos has been experiencing low visibility due to the prevailing harmattan haze is no longer news. This is because the inclement weather is an annual occurrence and predictable. Indeed, most countries in the sub-Sahara region are plagued by annual harmattan haze which affects clear visibility for flight operations.

But presently in contention is the dust raised by foreign airlines diverting their flights to Accra, Ghana and leaving 1500 of their Nigerian passengers stranded there. The concerned airlines said safety concerns over adverse weather informed their decision.

For instance, in their advisory sent to the affected passengers, British Airways said: “We would like to sincerely apologise for the disruption to your journey to Lagos. Due to adverse weather at the airport, we were unable to safely land into Lagos Airport. We regret to inform you that due to the operational constraints, we have had to cancel this flight. We recommend you make your own travel arrangements to Lagos as we are unable to operate safely in the coming days.”

Flight delays and cancellations

READ ALSO: British Airways, others dump Nigerian passengers in Ghana Airport

Given the safety concerns over inclement weather, question is what efforts are the aviation authorities and other agencies making to remedy the situation and make sure that flights can land at even zero visibility.

Recall the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, had earlier cautioned pilots, airline operators, and other stakeholders to exercise restraints as the harmattan season approaches with its dust haze and were asked to adopt safety measures.

The Regulatory Agency issued an Advisory Circular: NCAA-AEROMET-28 on November 12, 2019, alerting pilots of the hazards associated with dust haze.

Talking about the dust haze, the circular said: “It is a dry and dusty wind that blows south from the Sahara across Nigeria which is expected to persist till March 2020.”

The regulator also sent out an appeal to passengers for their understanding of the prevailing flight delays and cancellations experienced in airports across the country due to the adverse weather situation.

The appeal was contained in a release issued by NCAA on February 13, 2020. The release read: “As issued by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency in its Seasonal Rainfall Prediction Bulletin-2019, the cessation of the rainy season was predicted from mid-October (in the Northern part) to early December 2019 (in the Southern part).With the issuance of this circular, Advisory Circular: NCAA – AEROMET 27 dated March 26, 2019, is accordingly cancelled.

“Pilots and operators are, therefore, directed to note the following hazards and operational problems forthwith in the interest of safety: Air-to-ground visibility may be considerably reduced due to dust haze; Aerodrome visibility may fall below the prescribed operating minima and in severe conditions, dust haze can blot out runways, markers and airfield lightings over wide areas making visual navigation extremely difficult or impossible”.

READ ALSO: NDLEA arrest NAMA staff over drug trafficking at Lagos Airport

It further said: “All pilots shall obtain adequate departure, en-route, destination and alternate aerodromes weather information and briefing from the aerodrome meteorological office prior to flight operations; and operators shall ensure that necessary measures are put in place to cushion the effects of flight delays or cancellations on their passengers. While passengers must be informed of any development concerning their flights well ahead of time by the Airlines”.

The Aviation Minister, Senator Hadi Sirika, had earlier outlined plans by the Federal Government to mitigate any adverse effect the expected dust haze will have on flight operations.

Last month, a calibration aircraft was received by the minister to commence the calibration and upgrade of the Cat11 instrument at the Lagos airport.   Unfortunately, the inclement weather started while the process of replacing the old Category 2 Instrument Landing Systems with the newly procured Category 3 system that allows for the lowest visibility landing was ongoing.

A statement by Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu said: “While these developments, (flight diversions) are greatly regretted, we wish to let the public know that the authorities at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos were in the process of replacing the old Category 2 Instrument Landing Systems with the newly procured Category 3 system that allows for the lowest visibility landing.

“The procurement of the Category 3 Instrument landing System is in pursuance of the desire of the Federal Government to ensure the safety of air passengers by ensuring that airplanes can land with almost zero visibility.
We wish to assure the public and the airlines, that efforts are on to return the system to full working condition and that normalcy of operations will be re-established in due course”.

The good news is that Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, has restarted the calibration of Category 2 and category 3 of Instrument Landing System, ILS, of both 18R and 18L of the Murtala Muhammed Airport Lagos on Tuesday. To be calibrated is the glide slope as every other component is said to be working perfectly.

The Managing Director, NAMA, Captain Fola Akinkuotu has reportedly been working with the installation engineers sometimes leaving the site as late as 2.00 a.m. Asked why he is working so late in the night, Captain Akinkuotu replied: “This job has to be done well, quickly and efficiently. Time is no longer on our side.

“The calibration will be done with the newly acquired calibration $8.5 million calibration airplane which would help to bring down the cost of hiring foreign firms to assist the country in calibrating her navigational aids.”

The crew to operate the aircraft were said to have arrived the country on British Airways, Tuesday, to begin the calibration of equipment on the two Lagos airport runways.

The Federal Government hired experts in calibration with the newly acquired plane. Aviation stakeholders condemned the diversion of flights to another country by foreign airlines stating that the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja could have conveniently handled those flights as Qatar Airways diverted its own Lagos bound flights to Abuja.

Speaking about the diversion, Senator Hadi Sirika said: “On the diversion of incoming international flights to neighbouring countries, we wish to reiterate that the decisions are purely those of the airlines which we have no control over.

However, it should be noted that those flights could and should have been rerouted to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja which is shorter or equidistant from Lagos to the foreign airports to which some of the flights have been diverted.

“In recognition of Abuja as an alternate airport, Qatar airlines have applied to divert its flights to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International airport, to which the minister granted immediate approval. It is left to be seen why some others decided to divert to another country.”

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