• Monday, May 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Travellers at risk as Nigeria’s airport infrastructure creaks

Nigerian airports: How not to arrive in any nation

Nigerian travellers are at risk whenever they fly as critical airport infrastructure meant to ensure their safety creaks on the back of poor maintenance.

Safety infrastructures such as runways, communication aids, navigational aids, airfield lights, aircraft evacuation equipment among others are poorly maintained, increasingly threatening air safety, BusinessDay’s findings show.

Concerns have been raised on how poor maintenance of key safety infrastructures across airports in the country may have led to recent serious air incidents, raising questions about Nigeria in the global aviation space.

Read also: Why more air travellers are shunning first class

BusinessDay’s findings show that Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt airport runways are not regularly rubberised to avoid airlines from skidding off the runway during rainy season because of the slippery ground.

Horace Miller-Jaja, a captain with over 40 years of experience in Nigeria told BusinessDay that runway 18L at the Lagos airport has had a history of being slippery when it rains.

“The Lagos airport has asphalt runway, no grooves. Drainage has often been an issue. One would want to ask when the runway was rubberised last in preparation for the coming raining seasoning,” Miller-Jaja said.

Over the years, aircraft have continued to skid off runways across Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt airports, which has made the need to rubberise these runways urgent.

The captain said airport infrastructure has to be maintained and improved upon to enhance the safety.

“Poor non-calibrated navigational aids affect the accuracy of aircrafts using these aids such as Very High frequency (VHF) omni-directional range (VORs) and Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) at airports,” Miller-Jaja said.

He said the ripple effect of having poor safety infrastructures is that the airspace will be downgraded and classed as unsafe by world bodies such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and Pilot associations around the globe.

He also said airlines could stop flying into the country, because their assessments and audits do not meet acceptable standards to fly into the airport.

Umar Ahmed Farouk, the managing director of Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) disclosed recently that some airlines avoided the Nigerian airspace because they found it extremely difficult to communicate with air traffic controllers; because the communication system was weak and over-saturated due to demand.

Farouk hinted that as the industry is growing, it is expected that more routes will open but there was no corresponding facility to match the emerging air traffic.

He said this is the reason NAMA decided it was going to invest in infrastructure.

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“The funding is not there. We are approaching it systematically to make sure that communication is good,” Farouk said.

“Recently, the minister approached the presidency for intervention and N40 billion was budgeted but we are yet to access the money.

“As soon as it is done, we will be able to tackle safety critical challenges that are before us as far as communication is concerned. If you go to Navaids, we are also having obsolete facilities. For an average electronic system, the lifespan is about ten years. Most of these electronics have been working for the past 15-20 years.

“You will expect the performance to be below the standard. We are replacing them. If not for funding, we would have finished replacing all of them,” Farouk said.

“The TRACON we are having has been having challenges. I will categorically tell you that since 2014, we have not had enough spare parts. The cost of spares is the issue and the obsolete state of the equipment.

“The Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved the modernization of the TRACON system. 15 percent of the fund has been paid and we are hopeful when the presentation from Thales, they will commence installation as soon as other things are put in place,” he said.

BusinessDay findings show that when there incidents with aircraft at the Lagos airport, the busiest airport in Nigeria, there are no towing equipment on ground to tow the aircrafts from the airside and this is the reason why the runway is closed for almost a whole day and airlines have to divert flights each time there is an air incident at the airport.

The recent Dana incident led to the temporary closure of the Lagos runway for over 18 hours.

“That runway was closed for the whole day during the Dana incident. The equipment for evacuating aircraft from the runway has been taken away from the Lagos runway and taken to Kano. Lagos that has more aircraft and traffic do not have that equipment at the moment. This is the issue the ministry should address urgently,” Olamide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst said.

Read also: NCAA warns air travellers of riskier weather during rainy season

Ohunayo hinted that the recent runway occurrence is a bit worrying but there is a need to look beyond the airlines.

He said as we await investigation of Dana Air by the Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB), there is a need to look at the infrastructure that could lead to runway incidents especially during the rainy season.

“Some airports have issues with runway lights and all these have roles to play in these serious incidents,” he added.

John Ojikutu, industry expert and the CEO of Centurion Aviation Security and Safety Consult, said there is a lot wrong with the airport safety management system.

“If runways are regularly rubberised, are they done by qualified persons and certified by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA)?,” Ojikutu said.

“Did NAMA do the relevant inspection on the runway before it was open to flight operations. The way an aircraft that has gone for Periodic Maintenance cannot be put into operations without the NCAA certification or approval, so should the runways not be put into use without the approval of the responsible authority, the NCAA,” Ojikutu said.

Apart from the runways, he said several other airport infrastructure that can affect air safety include poor runway lightings and the approach lightings, the Visual Approach Slope Indicators, approach plane that is below minimum safe level where there is no ILS or where the ILS safe level has exceeded the tolerance safety levels.

“Others include Acqua plant on the runways if not inspected and reported to the pilot. There are regulations for the periodic maintenance and auditing of all safety infrastructure, services and the skills of responsible manpower management. It is the responsibility of the NCAA to oversee that these are regularly done and where there is doubt, the NCAA must enforce the rules and regulations,” he added.