Air traffic controllers in the country are currently finding it difficult using some of the outdated navigational aids at airports nationwide.
The equipment, some of which were installed in the 1980s, have either completely gone bad or are malfunctioning at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja and others.
The Guardian learnt that the country is constantly at the risk of air disasters due to poor communication between air traffic controllers and pilots flying both domestic and international aircraft into the airports.
A navigational aid (navaid) or Aid to Navigation (ATON) is any device external to a vessel or aircraft specifically intended to assist navigators in determining their position or safe course, or to warn them of dangers or obstructions to navigation.
The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) says the situation persists, not for lack of new navigational aids to replace the old ones, but lack of funds to install modern tools purchased more than one year ago.
A peep into NAMA’s warehouse at its headquarters in Lagos showed there were in stock new equipment, including Instrument Landing System (ILS), for the four major airports that were acquired over a year ago and were already downgrading for lack of use. An ILS enables aircraft to land if the pilots are unable to establish visual contact with the runway. It does this by way of transmitted radio signals.
The Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, Capt. Bala Na’allah, recently complained about the poor navigational aids and challenges the pilots are facing trying to establish effective communication with the control towers, especially for landing.
Na’allah, who flew his colleagues in the Senate to Lagos for a crucial meeting with the aviation regulators, lamented the poor radio network and the fact that it had dragged on for too long.
The lawmaker, who noted that so much money had been invested in radio network in the last couple of years, said it was unacceptable that communications were still ineffective, compared to similar services in Lome, Niamey, Accra and other African airports.
The President of the Nigeria Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), Victor Eyaru, said his members had lately been creating awareness on the bad state of infrastructure, but were yet to get the attention of the authorities concerned.
According to him, the poor communication has remained a nightmare to both pilots and air controllers, and its resolution will save the country the embarrassment the current epileptic system is causing.
Eyaru said that though the nation was passing through recession, the provision of certain critical infrastructure that would aid the delivery of compact services must not be treated with levity.
The Acting Managing Director of NAMA, Emma Anasi, explained that the radio network in question was designed in 1980s. It was actually a donation by the European Union to Nigeria commissioned in eight locations in 1994. It was to help establish Very High Frequency (VHF) coverage on the routes that were operational in the 1980s and 1990s.
Anasi said: “The Abuja and Port Harcourt routes were not in operation at that time. Since then, we have not been able to establish new routes, except one. With the increasing number of flights and the new routes, the VHF system is not able to give us the kind of coverage we should have.
“Subsequently, during the airport remodeling (by the last administration) the remote station in Jos was decommissioned and still remains so till date. So, when we say we have problems, there are reasons.”
He added that NAMA, in 2002, developed a project to take care of these gaps. It planned to have the network expanded in 2006 to accommodate more airports but the contract was not approved until 2009. When it was approved, it was not funded until last year.
Anasi said the agency was not unaware of the problems with navaids, and had already taken the delivery of new tools for the international airports, with extended coverage of Minna and Jos routes.
“If we are able to deploy the equipment, we will withdraw the current ones for use in other airports where we either have issues or don’t have any at all.
“The (65 million Euros worth of) Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria system (TRACON) is working well. Our engineers have been maintaining it so effectively in the last two years. But the issue we are having is that it is a technology that is changing with time and we still have to lean on the manufacturers to get the spares.”