Recently, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) made inroads in the area of proper and efficient management of navigational aids which has helped in no little measure to ease landing of aircraft in all the airports in the country. ANTHONY AWUNOR, in this piece, looks at the performance of the agency in that regard.
Perennial recurrence of flight cancellations and delays owing to the weather abnormalities are major challenges airline operators face in the country.
In aviation, the situation becomes more worrisome due to, either heavy rainfall, thunderstorm, cloud including the harmattan haze phenomenon which usually occur towards the end of every year.
Cautious of the above fact, NAMA recently pledged its readiness in landing aircraft at zero visibility just as the agency also revealed its plan to install Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) in no fewer than 18 airports nationwide to ensure safety in the airspace.
Managing director of NAMA, Captain Fola Akinkuotu, gave the hint recently while taking journalists around the Kaduna airport.
According to Akinkuotu, the country has Category 2 ILS' and had bought 11 new ones which it would be putting in airports including Minna, Benin, Ibadan and some other places while using others recovered on other airports.
He said the Category 2 ILS was effective enough to bring down an aircraft from at least 100feet from elevation and visibility of less than 800metres up to 1000 feet.
"We might also add that quite often we hear our pilots talk about what kind of capabilities we have in the harmattan and this system is a category 2 ILS which will bring us down to at least a 100feet to from elevation and visibility of less than 800 metres up to 1000feet which is quite good.
"Our harmattan can be bad but I am sure that for 95 per cent if not 100 per cent of the time with an operable ILS Category 2 system we should be able to get it every time. So come December there should be no reason or no excuse," he said.
On replication, Akinkuotu added, "Government has tried, we have an order, contracts for 11 ILS, I know there is Lagos, Port Harcourt, Minna, Benin there is Abuja, Kaduna but they are 11 that are going to be installed. They are brand new but don't forget that we are going to recover some items, Lagos has an ILS and I think Ibadan too is going to get from the new ones so whatever we recover, we will put them at some of the other airports. I would expect that over time when all of the assets are in we should be able to do not less than 18 fields."
On the means of installation, the NAMA chief executive hailed the dexterity of the agencies' engineers stating that they have been doing quite a great job over the years even when underappreciated.
"I must say here that it was done by NAMA engineers which sometimes they are not given the kind of recognition they deserve. Contractors tell us that they fixed it but they (NAMA) engineers fixed it and they have done a very good job as we have calibrated it," Akinkuotu said.
In addition, NAMA as an agency demonstrated its technical prowess when it delivered its statutory obligation throughout the period that Kaduna International Airport was used as alternative to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja for the six-week runway repair period.
Despite all these efforts by the agency, there was recent allegation in some quarters claiming poor Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) at the airports.
In their reaction, NAMA maintained that its landing aids were working at optimal level, stressing that the nation's air navigation service provider has always adhered to the cherished rules and regulations of the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) which Nigeria is a party to its charter.
According to a statement debunking the claim signed by NAMA's general manager, Public Affairs, Mrs Olajumoke Adetona, the ILS/DME and VOR/DME in Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt and Bauchi airports were calibrated by South African Flight Calibration Company (FSCL) before the closure of Abuja airport for repairs of the runway recently.
It therefore, stressed that all the facilities presented were certified as operating optimally without restriction and within ICAO specifications.
In the same vein, the airspace manager of Murtala Mohammed International Airport Lagos, Mr Lawrence Ajayi, refuted the claim that ILS at Runway 18L and 18R were unserviceable.
According to Ajayi, Runway 18R has precision approach lighting system which is one of the best in the industry, while 18L has simple approach lighting system because it is not busy at night, saying that both of them are working at optimal levels.
On the radios, he said radio frequency 127.3mhz has an improved range and is working perfectly just as the radio frequency 124.7 mhz is also in good condition and both of them are on presently.
Also refuting the allegation in the said publication, the director of safety electronics and engineering services, Engr. Farouk Umar, said in aviation, there was nothing like epileptic communication.
"It is either you are communicating or you are not communicating. If this were to be true, international flights would not have been coming into the country. Nigerian airspace is safe for both local and international flights," he said.
He stressed further that "it is absolutely not true that some areas in the airspace have no communication at all."
On the issue of ILS, Farouk said all the agency's ILS were on Category Two, lamenting however that "most of the aircraft in the country do not even have the facilities to fly Cat3 because the aircraft need to be equipped with Cat3 facilities to be able to land in zero visibility, just as pilots themselves need to be trained on Cat3."
The truth according to Farouk, is that "the ILS we have, you need other facilities at the airport and in the aircraft to complement them while the runway and the airfield lightings are not within the control of NAMA. Our ILS is Cat2 and the visibility minima is 800 meters which is okay."
While advising journalists to check their facts well before rushing to press,Farouk assured that the Nigerian airspace was as safe as it could be anywhere in the world adding that the relative safety in the nation's airspace over the last few years was indicative of the fact that NAMA is alive to its responsibilities.