Airlines and pilots have commended the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) for providing airfield lighting at the domestic runway of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos (MMI), which is known as Runway 18L.
For five years after the rehabilitation of the runway, airfield lighting, which is a critical equipment in safety, was not installed, forcing the domestic carriers to land and take off at the international runway, known as Runway 18R after 6:00 pm.
Commenting on the airfield lighting facility, the Managing Director, Arik Air, Chris Ndulue, said it was good that the lighting was installed. He however decried the delay before installing the lighting, noting that ideally runways are not operated without airfield lighting.
"I commend NAMA for providing the safety critical equipment. But it is unfortunate that we are celebrating what we should have taken for granted because ideally you cannot operate a runway without airfield lighting. Nigeria is too big for this. The equipment should have been installed a long time ago."
A seasoned pilot with major Nigerian airline, Uche Ojadi, said he was happy when he saw the airfield lighting at the Runway 18L, remaking that airlines had lost huge resources on that runway when their flights have to trudge from the international runway to the domestic terminals.
He said that the equipment should have been provided many years before now but expressed happiness that at last NAMA was able to provide it.
He said that an aircraft like Boeing 737, which is the aircraft used by many airlines in the country, consumes about 1000 litres of fuel taxing to the international runway to take off and this translates 10,000 litres for 10 flights, which he said is about N1.5 million.
"This is a lot of loss to the airlines. Because of the way they structure their financial system, airlines don't know when they are losing money; otherwise they would have realised that they have lost so much in the past five years. We welcome this new development. It is good for those who want aviation to survive in this country," Ojadi said.
But he expressed the fear that without efficient security monitoring, people might steal the equipment as it is a mobile equipment.
Another top pilot who also expressed happiness over the installation of the lighting system said that government should take a holistic approach in installing lighting on the runway, saying that it is not only the runway that should be lighted, adding that the runway markings should also be lighted.
"This is extremely important in order to avoid runway incursion," he said.
Talking about what the airlines were losing for the none lighting of Runway 18L, the former Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Akin George, explained to THISDAY in a recent interview that lack of runway lighting in Lagos alone costs the airline N60 million a year and lack of night operations at the other airports in the country also cost the airline $35 million (about N5.454 billion).
"Airport infrastructure needs to be overhauled; lack of runway lights in Lagos alone cost Aero N60 million a year while lack of night operations at the airports is a loss of $35 million and lack of lighting of taxiways means a drastic reduction is safety of passengers. Failure of runway lights in Lagos, Abuja, Enugu and Calabar cost Aero an additional N40 million in 2012 alone."
Also the Chairman of IRS Airlines, Alhaji Isyaku Rabiu, once commented on the effect of the absence of airfield lighting on the domestic runway of Lagos airport.
He said there were many problems of infrastructure at the airports, remarking that in the last five years domestic carriers could not land after 7:00 pm at the domestic airport runway 18L in Lagos.
"We have to land at the international airport. That, you may think is not much but it is a lot of money that we waste in doing that. It cost money on your wear and tear, on tyres, on your brakes, on your airplanes and on your engines and fuel burnt is excessive.
"Sometimes, you get held up at the threshold because there are so many airplanes coming and it is practically almost being done manually. And it takes time waiting there burning fuel and wasting a lot of time. For the airline and for the passengers, it is a negative thing," he said.
NAMA had explained that the airfield lighting that was deployed would be remotely controlled and that it came in rechargeable trailer and it is meant to last for 200 hours before it is recharged again.
For the first time in use, the lights would be recharged for eight hours and four hours afterwards.
The lights received the approval of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Annexe 14 and it is also compliant to the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority.
The official said that the advantages of the mobile airfield lighting include fast delivery, which suits the Nigerian environment; it defies power outage as it is rechargeable and it would hold on in the interim, until permanent airfield lighting is installed in the New Year.
The trailer contains 66 lights which cover the whole length of the runway and two trailers arrived last Monday for deployment in Lagos and at the Enugu airport.
Three trailers of the lights are expected in January and they would be deployed at the Abuja, Kano and Yola airports.
NAMA said that the mobile lighting which is also known as emergency airfield lighting would become an alternative to the permanent lights which would be installed in 2013 and to ensure that runways at all the airports in the country do not suffer hiccups, government also planned to install solar power, which NAMA has already started installing at some airports.