The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) recently issued a weather alert to all airline operators highlighting the hazards associated with the harmattan season.
Harmattan typically occurs between end of November and middle of March each year. Characterised by dry and dusty wind, the heavy amount of dust in the air, known as harmattan haze, can severely impair visibility, disrupting regular flight operations as it leads to flight delays or outright cancellation of scheduled flights. Airlines lose millions of dollars in cancelled and diverted flights each year due to harmattan haze.
While the NCAA’s warning is timely, it once again brings into focus the poor instrumentation of the country’s airports, more so as this warning has become an annual ritual without much being done to change the narrative.
Of Nigeria’s 26 airports, only five – Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, Kano and Port Harcourt – have navigational aids which allow flights to land at night. The rest do not have, meaning that aircraft cannot fly in and out of them at night.
Similarly, most of Nigeria’s airports still operate with CAT I certification. As such, flights are unable to land or take off at the airports with visibility below 800 metres.
These are challenges that airports across the world have long overcome. For instance, Heathrow airport, London, UK, recorded the first aircraft landing at zero visibility on December 28, 1968, with CAT III certification.
Airlines have pointed accusing fingers at the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) for not providing CAT III or CAT II instruments at the airports to enable flights land at low visibility. On its part, NAMA has also alleged that the airlines have neither the right instruments that are compatible with CAT III and CAT II instruments nor pilots trained on the new air navigation technology.
Fola Akinkuotu, managing director/chief executive of NAMA, says the agency has begun to invest in modern air navigation technology in line with global standards, whereas domestic carriers are yet to train their pilots on performance-based navigation systems despite the huge investment of funds into the project.
But trading blames will not resolve the matter. NAMA and the airline operators need to synergise, agree on what needs to be done, and do it urgently to ensure that the same story will not be repeated during the next harmattan cycle.
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