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Communication blackout looms as NCAA threatens shutdown of 7,000 telecom masts

If the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) goes on to carry out its threat of shutting down 7,000 telecommunications masts in the country over Aviation Height Clearance, it may lead to communication blackout, according to stakeholders who spoke to BusinessDay on the matter.

NCAA alleges that the telecommunications masts it plans to decommission were erected without Aviation Height Clearance (AHC) and therefore constitute a danger to safety of air navigation. It adds that it is, therefore, compelled to shut down those critical telecom infrastructures within 30 days after its letters to operators were ignored.

The regulator said the maximum height of any mast erected is dependent on the topography of the area, which will be approved by it. It said this applies to all parts of the country, adding that an operator may not know the flying zone or hovering area and so have to follow due process.
“A 30-day ultimatum has therefore been given to defaulting GSM providers in Nigeria to regularise their operations with NCAA forthwith. NCAA assures that if there is similarly no response, NCAA will immediately embark on mass decommissioning and demolition of all their masts and towers in Nigeria,” it said in a statement.

But stakeholders say they are hoping that the NCAA does not take laws into its hands by going to decommission telecom infrastructure near the airport because if it does so, it is going to jeopardise communication around the airport.

“Travellers can’t make calls. A lot of the aviation companies need communication for their ticketing, check-in and other controls. If they do so, there will be total communication blackout across the country and I think we need to forewarn that they should not do anything to jeopardise security and safety,” said Gbenga Adebayo, chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON).

The telcos also say they had no prior issues with the authority pertaining to violation of air space laws.

Responding to the NCAA ultimatum, Adebayo told BusinessDay that it came as news to operators as there was no way a mast would stand without approval from relevant authorities.
“There is no way we could have erected a mast around flying spaces without permission or approval. Those infrastructures don’t grow overnight. Our understanding very clearly is that we would need AHC for masts and towers on the flight path,” Adebayo said.

“We had a meeting where we were made to understand that the NCAA Act demands them to approve any height of masts because of low-flying aircraft but we argued that approval is to be done once because the masts don’t grow higher, so once it is cleared for erection, it is done, you don’t have to go every year again to renew because the height doesn’t change and this was part of the issues that we discussed with NCAA.

“We didn’t have any case of dispute at all; no case of infraction was reported to us. There was issue of annual renewal that we spoke about and it ends at that,” he said.

The ALTON chairman further stated that both parties agreed to set up a joint industry committee comprising members of ALTON and relevant officials of NCAA.

“We are just waiting for the inauguration of that committee, so I don’t know how they came to this conclusion. We are at a loss as to NCAA’s decision on this matter because this was completely against the spirit of our meeting with them,” he told BusinessDay.

Section 30(3)(1) of the Civil Aviation Act, 2006 empowers the NCAA to prohibit and regulate the installation of any structure which by virtue of its height or position is considered to endanger the safety of air navigation.

Furthermore, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig.CARs) Part 12.1.7.1.3.1 stipulates that no person or organisation shall put up a structure (permanent or temporary) within the navigable airspace of Nigeria unless such a person or organisation is a holder of Aviation Height Clearance Certificate granted under this regulation.

Sam Adurogboye, general manager, public relations, NCAA, said in a statement that contrary to the above regulations, the defaulters failed to obtain the mandatory AHC from the NCAA, which is considered a violation of safety regulations.

“Several letters and entreaties sent to mobile network operators from the Authority were not responded to despite the fact that they were duly received by the relevant executives and duly acknowledged. In addition, Letters of Investigation (LOI) were written and delivered to them with no response recorded till date,” Adurogboye added.

According to Nig.CARs Part 12.1.7.1.6, the Authority shall use all legal means of ensuring the removal of any structure which is erected or constructed without compliance with the provisions of these regulations.

 

 

JUMOKE AKIYODE-LAWANSON & IFEOMA OKEKE

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