• Monday, June 17, 2024
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Air traffic controllers threaten strike action over safety equipment, welfare

Air traffic controllers threaten strike action over safety equipment, welfare

For the umpteenth time, the air traffic controllers association under the employ of Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) has raised issues bordering on safety of passengers and aircraft as it was again waved aside through promises from the authorities.

Before the threat to down tool was issued on Sunday, the workers had on three several occasions given NAMA ultimatums to resolve issues such as welfare, trainings and incessant breakdown of navigational equipment to no avail.

Some of the facilities being referred to include the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria known as TRACON, Instrument Landing System (ILS), VOR, VHF radios and other communications equipment.

It is pertinent to note here that the TRACON was commissioned in December 2010 after it was purchased for 65 million euro from Thales of France.

The first issued that was raised by some stakeholders was that some vital components were not purchased along with the radar, alleging that about N13bn worth of equipment might have been removed, which might hamper the efficiency of the multi-billion naira facility.

NAMA had promptly denied these saying all components both primary and secondary arrived with and no money was ever embezzled.

Read also: Flights cancelled as French air traffic controllers strike

Now that primary operators of the equipment are having issues with it, especially claiming that the TRACON had broken down several times in two days, it behooves on NAMA to explain to air transport services users that the equipment was complete and why it should pack up three years after such money gulping facility was installed.

According to a statement signed by Victor Eyaru on behalf of the controllers, “We wish to inform the public that incessant air traffic delays and cancellations during this season were not only due to reduction in visibility, but reasonably due to non-serviceability of navigational aids such as Instrument Landing Systems (ILS), VOR at destination aerodromes.

“The TRACON in Lagos has also witnessed frequent total collapse in recent times. In the past four days, it has collapsed totally twice. When any of the equipment fails; the workloads of Air Traffic Controllers and pilots increases and increasing the levels of fatigue thereby encouraging infringement on air safety.

“The Nigeria’s 30 airports and airstrips are being manned by about 300 Air Traffic Controllers as against optimum number of 600 required! This high deficiency in ATC manpower needs to be addressed urgently and patriotically in the interest of air safety.

“NAMA being an Air Navigation Service Provider, has only 11 percent of its workforce as Air Traffic Controllers as against 45 percent to 75 percent for other more efficiently run ANSPs.

“This current over-bloated staff strength and the past multiplication of its directorates from the original three to seven is an aberration, against the best practice world over and overkill to the survival of the Agency. We hereby call for the immediate and sincere restructuring of NAMA for better performance to enhance air safety,” they claimed.

Some stakeholders who spoke on the issue asked government to correct all anomalies raised by the controllers immediately to avoid a sudden breakdown that could jeopardise air safety.

“This is not the first time the controllers and engineers will raise vital issues like this. This is the same problem they have complained about and NAMA has not been able to solve it. Air transport issues are not politics that should be toyed with because once an incident happens, there is no parking space on air, therefore, NAMA should not give any excuse for non-functionality of such navigational facilities,” a stakeholder said.

A hidden issue in this whole scenario is that airlines lose money while passengers are unable to meet up with appointments when their operations are restricted due to unserviceable ILS at airports where visibility are reduced during Harmattan.

“Yet, they (airlines), who are at the receiving end, are expected to pay navigational charges to NAMA from same operations,” Kola Adetola, a stakeholder said.

Sade Williams