Passengers travelling through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos have been stranded as domestic airlines cancel flights and foreign airlines continue to divert their Lagos-bound flights to Ghana and Cotonou as a result of low visibility at the airport.
For the past three days, British Airways, Air France, Delta Airlines and Emirates have been diverting their Lagos-bound flights to neighbouring countries because of the inability of pilots to view clearly to land.
Experts say the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) has failed the country in its inability to provide functional Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) at the country’s airports.
“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.
BusinessDay’s checks show that apart from money paid by the airlines on a monthly basis to NAMA, the agency gets 23 percent of the 5 percent collection on air tickets paid per passenger.
In 2018, airlines made N505 billion in ticket sales. This implies that the agency made over N5.8 billion on ticket sales alone in 2018. Experts say this amount is enough to fix the epileptic ILS at the airport.
However, the situation is going worse by the day as Accra airport authorities have begun to complain of congestion at the airport as a result of the diversion.
As at Wednesday evening, BusinessDay learnt that two of Emirates diverted aircraft were parked in Ghana. British Airways also had a diverted aircraft parked in Accra. Air France and Delta are also facing similar situation.
“Delta Airlines flight from New York that was scheduled to land in Lagos on Tuesday could not land because of bad weather. The airline was told that the ILS is not working. So, it had to land in Accra. Delta’s Atlanta flight scheduled to land at MMIA on Wednesday was diverted to Dakar,” a source at Delta told BusinessDay.
“Delta Airline is currently contemplating taking the affected passengers back to New York because the airline cannot continue to pay for hotel accommodations for the several affected passengers,” the source said.
One of the affected passengers on the Delta flight said he was not going back to New York but would look for a way to get to Lagos because he had an important meeting he needed to attend on Thursday.
Kola Olayinka, British Airways’ country manager, Nigeria, told BusinessDay that since the foggy weather started, BA has diverted three flights to Ghana.
Olayinka said the development is costing the airlines so much as they have to book hotels for the passengers.
“If passengers’ flights are diverted and not cancelled, we put people in hotels. For few who opt to go to their homes, they do. It is very expensive for us. We put people in hotels both in Lagos and in Ghana,” Olayinka said.
“There are Nigerians on the plane coming home; we put them in the hotel until the fog clears. The flight is scheduled to leave Accra on Wednesday evening. Once they can confirm that the weather is okay, then they will leave Accra. It is more stressful for customers because people who come from as far as America just want to get home. It is better to be safe than compromise safety,” he said.
Domestic airlines are also not left out of the sad development as they have had to delay, cancel and reschedule flights for passengers.
However, NAMA in a reaction to the trend noted the inability of some international flights to land at the Lagos airport is largely due to issues of inclement weather and company minimas of affected airlines.
Khalid Emele, general manager public affairs, NAMA, in a statement said the ILS on the two runways of the Lagos airport are serviceable.
“The facts on record, however, are as follows: Lagos has two runways – 18 Right and 18 Left. The Doppler Very High Omni-Directional Radio Range (DVOR) and the Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) at the airport have successfully been calibrated and passed 100 percent.
“The localiser (a component of the Instrument Landing System) responsible for horizontal guidance at runway 18 Left has also passed 100 percent calibration while the glide slope (which is another component of the Instrument Landing System that provides vertical guidance) is undergoing routine maintenance and by tomorrow (12/02/2020), the maintenance will be concluded and the equipment shall be fully on air.
“On Runway 18 Right, there is Category 3 ILS which is still undergoing installation. Presently, Selex Systems, the contractors are working on the realignment of its parameters, preparatory to the calibration and commissioning of the equipment in the shortest possible time,” Emele stated.
He reassured airspace users and the general public that the Nigerian airspace remains safe for seamless and economic air travel and regretted any inconveniences caused.
Airlines have continued to apologise and seek passengers’ understanding on the development.