Airlines and the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos have lost over N170 million as a result of continued flight diversions to Accra (Ghana) and Cotonou (Benin Republic) as a result of low visibility.
For the past four days, British Airways, Air France, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Delta Airlines and several others have been diverting their Lagos-bound flights to neighbouring countries because of the inability of pilots to view clearly to land.
Experts say the absence of functional Instrument Landing Aids (ILS) at the Lagos airport has made it impossible for pilots to land and take off from the airport.
A source at the Air Traffic Controllers Unit of the airport told BusinessDay that since the low visibility issue started arising from bad weather, international airlines have diverted 18 aircraft and local airlines have diverted six aircraft. This implies that nothing less than 24 aircraft have been diverted to neigbouring countries and states within Nigeria.
Data gathered from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) show that for an average aircraft, international airlines pay N82,190 for maximum take-off weight. For night landing, international airlines pay N386,074.64 and for day landing, they pay N257,288.74.
This implies that Lagos airport has lost about N7,031,522 for the 18 diverted flights by international airlines.
On the other hand, airlines operating domestic flights pay N55,455 as maximum take-off weight. For night landing, domestic airlines pay N260,491 and for day landing they pay N173,597.
For the six diverted local flights, therefore, the airport has lost N1,097,037.
For each aircraft diverted, international airlines have had to pay an average of $100 (N36,000) in hotel accommodation for the stranded passengers. With an average of 250 passengers on each flight, these airlines have had to pay N162 million for the 18 diverted flights.
This means that the airlines and the Lagos airport have lost about N170,128,559 as a result of four days of flight diversions.
Meanwhile, Accra airport is currently congested and can no longer take diverted flights, BusinessDay gathered.
“The situation is getting worse now. British Airways has a 747 aircraft stuck in Abuja. We have another aircraft stuck in Ghana for two days now. Accra is so full that they say they can no longer take diversion anymore. Even AirPeace could not land this morning (Thursday). We just hope things get better,” Kola Olayinka, BA’s country general manager, Nigeria, said.
Emirates, which comes in at 8.45am, had to cancel its flight on Thursday.
“Due to poor weather and low visibility – Emirates flight EK783 and EK781 from Dubai to Lagos on 11th and 12th February, respectively diverted to Accra; Emirates flight EK783 from Dubai to Lagos on 12th February diverted to Abuja. The return flights scheduled for 11th and 12th February will be delayed indefinitely. Affected passengers have been provided with hotel accommodation,” Emirates said.
“Emirates flights EK 781/EK782 and EK783/EK784 (Dubai-Lagos-Dubai) on 13th February have been cancelled. We’re monitoring the situation closely and will update our customers as the situation develops. Passengers are requested to contact their booking agent or Emirates reservations to rebook their flights or make alternative travel arrangements,” the airline said.
Henrietta Yakubu, FAAN corporate communications manager, said the situation was not getting better as domestic airlines have also continued to cancel and delay flights.
“With category 3 ILS, you can be brought down to landing in near zero visibility with precision approach plan indicator (PAPI). Foreign airlines divert because there is no assurance or Notice to Airmen (NOTAMS) to indicate the installed cat 3 ILS are calibrated at an airport that is glorified as certified by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA),” John Ojikutu, member of aviation industry think tank group, Aviation Round Table (ART), said.
Ojikutu, who is also chief executive of Centurion Securities, wondered what makes MMIA certified if it has no functional ILS and one of the major runways has no lighting, adding that thousands of dollars was spent on the installation of CAT3 ILS at Lagos airport but sadly, the ILS has not been calibrated.
An air traffic controller who craved anonymity told BusinessDay that once the visibility is poor, there is nothing anyone can do about it.
“We just installed CAT III ILS but it has not been calibrated. There are three types of CAT III ILS: 1A, 1B and 1C. The ILS used in Europe and other continents can operate in zero visibility level,” the air traffic controller said.
“Once our ILS is calibrated, we will not be experiencing what we are experiencing now. The aircraft that would be used for the calibration is on ground and hopefully by next week, it will be calibrated,” he said.
The air traffic controller said Abuja and Kano airports have been calibrated but Lagos ILS was yet to be calibrated.
Hadi Sirika, the minister of aviation, said the authorities at the MMIA 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 but unfortunately, there was a malfunctioning of certain components, which, coupled with the unforeseen weather conditions, made landing at the airport difficult.
Sirika, in a statement, said 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.
He disclosed that in recognition of Abuja as an alternate airport, Qatar Airlines has applied to divert its flights to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, to which he granted immediate approval.