The safety of Nigeria's airspace has been the subject of many workshops and reports, with stakeholders giving varied opinions on the matter. Recently, the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) and the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), both parastatals under the Ministry of Aviation, teamed up to ensure the safety of Nigeria's airspace. The two said they are now fully equipped with the most modern working equipment and skilled personnel to provide adequate weather information and effective air traffic control capable of ensuring safe air navigation.
Conducting newsmen round some newly installed equipment at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja shortly after addressing a joint press conference, the Director General of NIMET, Dr Anthony Anuforom and Managing Director of NAMA, Engineer Nnamdi Udoh said the two agencies had acquired and installed every equipment necessary for gathering and disseminating weather information to pilot and effect air traffic control.
Dr Anuforom said the services NIMET is providing are in conformity with international standards, adding that "we operate to the known international standards, because Nigeria is a member state of both ICAO and WMO. The WMO has 188 member states and Nigeria is one of them. When British Airways lands here every morning, the weather information and air traffic services they need for landing are provided by these two agencies."
He said NIMET has acquired and installed an instrument calibration laboratory at Abuja airport which he said is one of the only four in Africa, adding that "we measure weather using instruments. When a pilot is airborne, we let him know about the wind speed and direction. We pass the information to the air traffic controllers who tell the pilot. We have completed the calibration of our equipment in Lagos, Kano, Port-Harcourt and Abuja airports. These equipment provides us with accurate information about the weather.
"Bristish Airways operational standard requires that the Captain of a flight completes a pro-former. They have a pro-former prepared by them to measure and assess the performance of the air traffic services and the meteorological services of every airport they are landing. Every month we analyze how they rated us. And I can tell you with every sense of confidence that the score for the meteorological and air traffic services they get is usually between 95 and 98 per cent.
"The documents are there, we are not talking about mere stories. They assess the quality of the meteorological and air traffic they get in Nigeria every morning. I have taken my weather forecasting department to task that I want to know why we did not score the remaining two per cent to make it 100 per cent. When we investigated we discovered it could even be a wrong assessment on their part. The same for the air traffic services. If a British Airways pilot says we are good, why should we think we are bad?
"I was on British Airways flight sometimes in 2010 and when we were crossing the Sahara Desert, we ran into turbulence. Before we got into the turbulence, the Captain turned on the 'fasten seat belt' light and announced that we are going into an area of turbulence, but don't worry we had prior information about this from the Nigeria Meteorological Agency. I can tell you I was very proud and I felt like introducing myself to everybody on that flight. When we landed in Heathrow, I walked up to the pilot and introduced myself to him. This people rate us high," he said.
He said his agency is planning for wider and bigger challenge, because when the perishable cargoes commence operation; there will be more air traffic, assuring that NIMET has the capability to handle the situation effectively. He said his agency has all equipments needed to provide the needed weather information.
"Today, we have five upper air stations that are functioning. Upper air station observes weather condition at different flight levels. This is in addition to the surface observatories. What happens at the two also affect flights. In order to make our forecast more accurate, we must monitor the upper air station. Before now, we had only one upper air station. That was not acceptable by any standard, but today we have six of them that are functional. In the next few months, we shall increase them to seven.
"The Doppler weather radars in Abuja and Port-Harcourt are no longer news. Before now, only one station has low level wind share alert system and that was Abuja. Today, we have wind share alert system in Ikeja, Port-Harcourt and Kano airports in addition to Abuja. Work is ongoing to provide same to Benin, Sokoto, Yola, Owerre and Enugu airports. It is the policy of this administration to equip both domestic and international airports in the country," he said.
On his part, the NAMA boss, Engineer Udoh said his agency is planning to provide all the major airports in the country with an Instrument Landing System (ILS) which assist in effective air traffic, adding that his agency has equipment to monitor the arrival, departure and activities of aircrafts until they land or takeoff.
"With the kind of equipments we have, weather minimal would have to be reduced. So, the magic of going to Lagos or Kano when the weather is 500 feet or more is not magic. It is just that something the eye cannot do but the technology can do, the pilot has the instrument to receive such information. But when there is heavy rain and you have 2 inches water rain on the tar-mark, we have to tell the pilot to keep away until the water dry off.
"We cannot sweep the rain away. The only thing is to advice the pilots that look; there is water on the runway. If you land in a certain manner you may skid off the runway and there is no way for us to remove the water except you go and sweep the rain. Such things could cause delay for 30 minutes or so. Things like lightening and wind share or thunderstorm are things we always get prior information on and it will be displayed for the traffic controller to tell you fly left, descend 50 feet, turn right again and maintain.
"Things like runway lighting system is something FAAN (Federal Airport Authority on Nigeria) could handle. But government felt if runway could work with the ILS, NAMA should take responsibility. But we cannot say we must leave the lights on at an airport where the last scheduled flight is expected by 6 pm. But when a pilot say look I am landing at your airport by 10 pm today, we would on the lights for him to land," he said.