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Flight disruption looms over obsolete navigation equipment

By Wole Oyebade on 04/12/2018

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•Plane on the runway for takeoff
•Plane on the runway for takeoff

Massive flight delays and cancellations await local travels later this month due to near obsolete navigational facilities at airports nationwide. The facilities, including Instrument Landing Systems (ILSs), VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR) and Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) are at sub-optimal working condition and unable to ensure safe operations during harmattan.

The concerned body, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), had disclosed efforts to upgrade equipment in readiness for the season, “but nothing significant has changed in the last 12 months,” said operators. The implication is that several routes, excluding the Lagos-Abuja-Lagos stretch, could be closed down again later this month and in January, to forestall weather-induced accidents. Also, the revenue of airlines, already struggling to survive, could plummet further.

Harmattan haze, late 2017 and early 2018, led to the shutdown of local flight operations for some days, with horizontal visibility dropping below the stipulated minimum of 800 metres. While local airlines were forced to reschedule or refund fares to restive passengers amid attendant losses, their foreign counterparts with advanced onboard technology operated unhindered by the weather.

In August this year, NAMA disclosed that CAT III equipment were being installed to replace CAT II at Lagos and Abuja airports, to boost operations and safety at the two busiest airports in the country. Similarly, in May 2017, the Federal Government reportedly deployed new sets of Instrument Landing Systems (ILSs) to 18 airports nationwide.

An ILS enables aircraft to land even if the pilots are unable to establish visual contact with the runway due to haze, fog and snow. It does this via transmitted radio signals. The Managing Director of NAMA, Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, recently explained that seamless operations during harmattan depend on the equipment on ground and on the operating aircraft.

Findings however showed that NAMA is struggling with keeping the equipment functional at all airports, including Lagos, where regular power supply is not a guarantee. An operator and a former director at NAMA, who did not want to be mentioned, confirmed the sub-optimal situation. He told The Guardian that ILS is clunky, very expensive and difficult to maintain, especially with its need for regular calibration and power supply.

“The reason we cannot go beyond CAT l in most of our ILS systems in Nigeria is not because of the equipment itself but because we cannot guarantee power supply. So, we are all CAT II capable but all of these have been downgraded to CAT I.”He recalled that this type of “amazingly expensive” terrestrial equipment emerged after the Second World War. He said the world has since moved on to better and more advanced options that are cheaper to purchase and easier to maintain.

“But whenever you want to change, you will come against vested interests. For a complete ILS, we would probably buy ours for $2 million. But that is about $1 million elsewhere. Everything bought by government in Nigeria tends to cost more. So, tell them about a technological leap that will do more for a few hundred dollars and nobody – those selling and those buying – will seem to be interested.”

A former managing director of NAMA, Capt. Roland Iyayi, said a CAT III ILS would ensure an aircraft could land blind at zero visibility, granted that the aircraft is equipped and the pilot is trained.

Excerpted from The Guardian report

Source News Express

Posted 04/12/2018 11:46:15 AM

 

 

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