The Director General of the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET), Dr. Anthony Anuforo, spoke to select Journalists in Abuja during the weekend on the current state of Nigeria's airspace. Chinedu Eze was there. Excerpts:
Weather Forecasts for Pilots
We all know that by standard procedure the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) provides the weather information required by the pilot. But the moment the pilot is in the cockpit, we don't interact with him anymore. The pilot now interacts with the air traffic controller. So the questions we want to address today are: what are those things we are doing? How are we doing them? How does it ensure that we have safety? The job we are doing is to ensure that there is safety in Nigeria's airspace.
A few weeks ago we had all sets of the Harmattan season and we made few statements at that time. Safety is an integral part of aviation transformation master plan. Incidentally what people see is the physical things: the tarmac, the buildings, including the terminal buildings. Many Nigerians are asking, what about safety? More, if not much more is happening in the areas of safety than in those physical things that you see. Incidentally those things are not visible.
A lot of technology is going on at NIMET to have correct, verifiable meteorological services and in the area of adequate facilities to operate within the internationally acceptable standards as obtains anywhere in the world. British Airways comes to Nigeria; they don't get the report about Abuja airport weather from British authorities; they get it from Nigeria and when they are departing Nigeria, they do the same thing. They get upper airspace information and such information comes from NIMET but passed to the pilots through the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).
Nigeria has been an attraction in the sub region and even globally. All the foreign airlines want to fly to Abuja: Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air, Lufthansa, Air France. If the airspace is not safe, it is obvious they will not be interested. You can go and cross check it, the premium on insurance of aircraft that operate in Nigeria is going down because the safety net is increasing.
Weather as Factor in Aviation Safety
The issue of meteorological services to be provided by any country's aeronautical sector is well documented in ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) Annex 3; that is Annex 3 to the ICAO Convention. ICAO works in close collaboration with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The WMO is organised in what they call commissions. There is a commission on aeronautical meteorology. They have their manuals which specify what and what you should do.
So the operations we give here in NIMET are in conformity with those international standards. There is no Nigerian aviation in terms of standards. There is no Nigerian meteorology in terms of standards. We operate to the highest known international standards. Nigeria is a member state of World Meteorological Organisation. Nigeria is also a member state of ICAO. For WMO there are 188 member states. Nigeria is one of them. Out of the 188 member states, there are 37 members of the executive council. The Director General, that is me; I am an elected member of the executive council of WMO.
Today we have a lot of equipment and infrastructure. When British Airways lands here every morning, the weather they need for landing; the air traffic services they need for landing are provided by NAMA and NIMET. British Airways operational standards require that the captain (the pilot) of that flight completes a pro forma. We can show you samples. They have a prepared pro forma. They measure and assess the performance of the air traffic services and the meteorological services. Every month we analyse how they rated us and I can tell you with every sense of confidence the our score, which is the quality of meteorological services they get and the quality of air traffic services they get, is usually between 95 and 100 per cent. The documents are there for you to verify. We are talking about verifiable documents. BA assesses the quality of meteorological service they get and the quality of air traffic service they get every morning.
So if British Airways pilots say that we are good, why do we have to think we are bad? I was in BA flight sometime in 2010 and when we got to Sahara Desert we ran into turbulence. Before we got into the turbulence, the captain announced and turned on the fasten seat belt light and said, "We are going into an area of turbulence, but not to worry, we have fair information about this from the Nigeria Meteorological Agency." I can tell you I was very proud. I felt like introducing myself to everybody in that flight. When we landed at Heathrow, I walked up to the captain and introduced myself and he was simply animated.
So, these people rate us highly. The reason we are telling this story is that we must build our system. All of you are aware of the aviation master plan. Many things there, including the perishable cargo terminals are completely new. Nobody has ever thought of that before. So we must build that confidence.
Equipment for Accurate Weather Forecasting
NIMET has whatever equipment we need to make accurate weather forecast and we are doing that. I cannot go through the entire list, but I can tell you that today we have five upper air stations that are functional. Upper air stations observe weather condition at different flight levels. So those of you who are familiar with our operations know that we have our observatories. This is called surface observation. It tells you the weather condition on the surface. There is also the upper air.
What happens there also affects flights. In order to make our forecast accurate, we must monitor the upper air stations. Before this government came on board, there was only one upper air station in a country that is 930,000 square kilometres wide. That is not acceptable by any standard. But today, we actually have seven of them but two are yet to be installed. Within this quarter we hope to increase it to seven upper air stations; so the higher the density, the higher the accuracy. This is what this administration is doing in the spirit of transformation agenda.
The Doppler weather radar in Port Harcourt and Abuja is no longer news. I don't want to talk about that. I can also tell you that before this administration came on board, it was only one station that had low level wind shear alert system and that is Abuja. Today we have wind shear alert systems in Ikeja (Lagos) airport, Port Harcourt airport, Kano airport, that is added to Abuja and work is on-going in others. Benin airport is almost completed and work is on-going at Yola Airport, Sokoto, Owerri airport and Enugu airport.
And we have plans to continue to install in our airports low level wind shear alert system. I don't know anywhere else it could be better than that. The Aviation Minister instructed that we should not concentrate on international airports alone because Nigerian will fly to Yola, to Sokoto, to Enugu, to Kaduna. That got us working and we are installing this equipment in all the airports. So the point we are making is that it is not only airports terminal rehabilitation that is receiving attention from this administration. Earlier this week, Monday, we commissioned the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) here in Abuja. That one can easily be seen by everybody. But the unseen element in the air, our eyes are there. We are watching; we are acquiring equipment.
Effective Delivery of Weather Reports
We have just added the instrument calibration laboratory. You know that we measure weather using instruments. When the pilot is air borne we tell him about the wind speed, wind direction. We don't talk to him, we pass the message through the NAMA. The air traffic people are the people allowed to the pilot while he is in the cockpit. We pass information to them. Some of them are automated. If you go to our forecast office here or in Lagos or elsewhere, the console for the low level wind shear alert system is echoed on the air traffic controllers' desk.
So what the meteorologist and the forecaster in NIMET forecast office are seeing, the air traffic controller is seeing the same thing at the same time. They are communicating. We monitor weather using instruments, barometer for pressure, temperature sensors for temperature and anemometers for winds. We talk about the speed; we talk about the direction. Over time many of these are electronically operated. Over time many of them begin to lose accuracy. As an illustration, in those days when we used to have analogue wristwatches, now and again we used to adjust it. Over time you may see that your wristwatch is running late, then what do you do, you set it again and get it back to accuracy.
This is basically what instrument calibration is about. If you put an instrument out there in the sun; out there in the harsh weather, over time; one year, two years, it begins to lose precision and so you must bring it to the calibration laboratory to recalibrate it and bring it back to precision and accuracy.
Funding of Agency's Programmes
We have been supported by government through the Minister of Aviation. Thanks to her inspiring leadership. Government provides us money to put these facilities in place and operationalise them. NIMET instrument calibration laboratory has become operational and as we speak we have completed the calibration of our instruments in the four major airports, namely Ikeja, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt.
We withdraw the equipment from the field, from the runway or wherever, calibrate it and return it; we redeploy it for service. We have completed that for Abuja airport and work is on-going incrementally for the other airports. We cannot withdraw everything at a time. This is what is happening now and that is the good news about safety.
If we tell the pilots this is the pressure, we can put a bet on it. That is accurate. If it does not land the plane smoothly ask the pilot what happened. We can bet on the accuracy of what we have given. If we tell the pilot that the wind is 25 knots, we mean exactly that word. The significance of that is that the weather information is accurate because it is measured with greater precision.