The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) has commissioned its newly installed Category 3 Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Runway 18 Right, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos as well as Runway 22 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
In the same vein, it revealed that a flight commissioning of the newly installed Doppler Very High-Frequency Omni-Directional Radio Range (DVOR) in Lagos has successfully been carried out, just as routine flight calibration has also been carried out on Runway 18 Left in Lagos.
The Managing Director of NAMA, Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, was quoted to have said in a statement by the Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu, recently that a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) has been disseminated accordingly while calibration of navigational aids in other locations across the country is in progress to ensure all navigational aids in Nigeria that are due for calibration are covered.
According to Akinkuotu, in spite of initial hitches, it is gratifying to note that Runway 18R in Lagos has been certified for CAT 3 just as Runway 22 in Abuja with the newly acquired calibration aircraft by the Aviation Ministry. Both facilities are now fully operational.
While pledging a timely calibration of navigational facilities going forward, Akinkuotu said: “The availability of flight calibration aircraft will ensure that NAMA is able to carry out calibration as and when due.”
It could be recalled that from early February, inclement weather occasioned by the harmattan haze had exposed the poor navigational infrastructure at Nigeria’s busiest airport in Lagos and made Nigeria a laughing stock in the aviation world.
Lagos is one of the busiest airports in Africa. In 2019 rating it was the 11th busiest airport in the continent and also in 2019 it recorded over 7 million passenger movement. Those international carriers could not land in Lagos was huge damage to the image of Nigeria.
This year’s harmattan haze had reduced visibility to below the standard 800 meters minimum to about 600 or less. In this case, airlines needed an Instrument Landing System (ILS) to land at such low visibility. But the ILS in Lagos was not functional. The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) in November 2019 removed the existing Category 2 ILS and replaced it with Category 3, which is an advancement on Cat 2. While Cat 2 can take the pilot to 400 meters to the runway, Cat 3 can take the pilot to the runway at zero visibility.
But the problem was that for the cat 3 ILS to work it has to be calibrated and certified. As at the time these incidents of flight diversion happened, NAMA had not finished the calibration and certification of the navigational instruments. Embarrassingly, foreign airlines diverted flights to Accra and Togo due to the poor weather conditions.
Industry observers have reprimanded NAMA for removing the Category 2 ILS when it was not ready with Cat 3 and described such action as lackadaisical and inefficient.
It has been estimated that airlines lost about N5 billion to the bad weather that lasted for about two weeks.
The flight disruptions, cancellations and diversions left many of the passengers frustrated and disorganized. Many of them billed to travel out of Nigeria had to stay back for days, while those whose flights were diverted to Accra had to spend some days there before making their way back to Nigeria.
Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, who had earlier apologised to the airlines and travellers, was miffed by the decision of the international airlines to divert their flights to Accra instead of Abuja. By not providing the needed airport infrastructure, Nigeria had unwittingly made Accra the airport of choice in the West African sub-region and therefore has helped the airport authority to actualise its ambition of being the operational hub in the West Coast.
Industry pundits have noted that it is this kind of hiccups that has kept Nigeria backwards from having one of its airports become the busiest airport in Africa. Many Commentators hope that Nigeria’s aviation managers have learnt hard lessons from these embarrassments.