Nigeria: Harmattan - Foreign Airlines Divert Lagos-Bound Flights to Accra, Cotonou

10 January 2020

Lagos — There is no immediate end in sight to the massive flights disruptions triggered by inclement weather conditions across the country as some foreign airlines diverted their Lagos-bound flights to neighbouring countries.

The Nigerian Air Traffic Controllers' Association (NATCA) yesterday confirmed the diversion of British Airways and Air France flights to Accra and Cotonou respectively, on Tuesday.

But when contacted yesterday, the Regional Manager, West Africa of British Airways (BA), Mr Kola Olayinka said the diversion was " weather related and about the instrument landing system available at MM Airport."

He however said the BA flight "landed and departed okay last (Wednesday) night."

Similarly, passengers on the domestic routes have continued to experience disruptions in travel plans since the commencement of the harmattan season accompanied by haze and fog which blurred visibility for aircraft landing and take-off in the last few days.

President of NATCA, Abayomi Agoro in a statement lamented the turn of event, urging the appropriate agencies to upgrade navigational aids especially at the MMIA which is the busiest airport in the country.

Daily Trust reports that the weather challenge was being experienced despite the recent installation of Category Three Instrument Landing System (ILS) in Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

With CAT3 ILS, a precision approach facility aircraft would be able to land at zero visibility provided they have the corresponding equipment and facilities to match the ILS system on ground.

The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the government agency in charge of providing navigational aids at the airports had in December last year commenced the trial run of the newly installed Category III ILS at Runway 18 Right, Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) Lagos.

The exercise according to the agency indicated that the equipment is fully operational on test basis, even as all the ILS components - Localizer, Glide Slope and Distance Measuring Equipment are propagating signals optimally.

The Managing Director of NAMA, Capt. Fola Akinkuotu said according to the timelines, CAT III ILS would be available at both Lagos and Abuja airports by the third week of December 2019.

"In a couple of weeks, we will bring a calibration aircraft to fly in and certify that the equipment is good to go," Akinkuotu was quoted as saying.

Akinkuotu said deployment of the improving landing system was in response to the demands and clamour by airlines for better navigational facilities in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, NAMA said the flight diversion on January 6, 2020 by BA and other foreign operators are avoidable based on the existing facilities at the MMIA, Lagos.

The General Manager Public Affairs of NAMA, Khalid Emele said in a statement yesterday that BA had been operating into Lagos daily using the ILS CATII on Runway 18 Left with the same prevailing weather conditions.

Agoro in the statement said: "The Nigerian Air Traffic Controllers' Association (NATCA) notes with displeasure the unwholesome event unfolding at the Murtala International Airport amongst which was the diversion of British Airways and Air France flights to Accra and Cotonou respectively.

"The sad event was occasioned by poor visibility and haze but more worryingly accentuated by the degraded state of navigational and landing facilities due to lack of calibration. We are equally concerned with the untold hardship the situation has visited on our members working in Lagos Terminal Approach position whose statutory responsibility is to ensure a round the clock safety in taking off and landing."

The Ministry of Aviation, on August 29, 2019 took delivery of $8.5 million King Air 350i calibration airplane procured to aid workability of navigational aids and boost aviation safety.

This equipment was expected to be put into use to ensure that the navigational or communication equipment like the Instrument Landing System (ILS), Very-high Omni-directional radio Range (VOR) are calibrated every six months to ensure they work accurately and precisely.

It was learnt that while the equipment had been procured, they were not calibrated to be put into use.

According to NATCA President, while the association recognized "government's huge investment" in the upgrade of aviation infrastructure in the sector, "NATCA is nevertheless concerned about the perennial state of degradation of the essential facilities and working tools with attendant increased stress and workload which in practical terms translate to serious safety implications for the flying public."

NATCA therefore urged the relevant authorities to take immediate steps to restore the full serviceability of the navigational and landing aids to ensure an effective end to the uncalled hitches recently experienced and prevent the re-occurrence of same.

"This is not the time to apportion blames but it must be emphasized that the time has come for all hands to be on deck to ensure seamless safety regime and prompt navigational services.

May we also use this medium to assure the flying public of our competence and preparedness to work with airlines and aviation stakeholders to ensure safety in our airspace," the statement added.

But the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) yesterday reiterated its call on members of the flying public to be patient and bear with the airlines.

In a tweet on its handle @NigerianCAA, the regulatory authority said: "Harmattan occurs between November and mid-March. Cancellation and diversion of flights cost airlines millions each year. In Nigeria, the Aviation Oversight Agency,(NCAA) has already sensitized Stakeholders/Air Travellers about what to expect thereby seeking their understanding."

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