It is steadily becoming clear to the discerning public since the fatal October 3 air mishap in Lagos that such tragedies do not always have to do with a treacherous or so-called unsafe airspace. There may be fair weather to prompt a bad ill-maintained aircraft into the air. There may also be a flight fatigued crew pushed into action by greed. We have also had cases of tipsy or sick cockpit crew who underestimated those physical limitations.
In all these hypothetical instances, disasters resulting in loss of lives and maiming and destruction have been the outcome as in the case of the October 3 crash, where early findings of the Accident Investigation Bureau are suggesting that a combination of human error and aircraft defect caused the crash and not the challenge of airspace.
Still, it is heartwarming to note that in Nigeria the federal authorities are not giving any room to chance on the question of ensuring an all-round and eagle-eye watch over the aviation industry, which has witnessed great improvement lately under the direction of the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah.
She has adroitly deployed the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) with Engineer Nnamdi Udoh as the Managing Director to offer critical intervention in the country’s airspace. The agency’s activities have debunked comments that her tenure is characterised by the aesthetic ambience she has given some of our airports. Critics are wont to claim that there is more to aviation than the beautification of where aircraft take off and land.
I agree; but I disagree that it is only in the resplendent features of our airports that the aviation ministry has excelled. With such operational facilities as NAVAIDS incorporating Instrument Landing System, VOR and Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON), among others, NAMA has succeeded in delivering safe skies to the country.
TRACON is the pivot which President Goodluck Jonathan commissioned on October 18, 2010. It has nine radar locations in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano with each having both primary and secondary co-fixed radar head. There are five other stand-alone stations in Ilorin, Maiduguri, Talata Mafara, Numa and Obubura. The primary has a range of 65 nautical miles while the secondary covers 250. The overlapping range enables the air traffic controllers to monitor flights far beyond the shores of the country.
Recently NAMA took some journalists to the TRACON control room in Lagos where they saw the screens and the controllers at work. They viewed aircraft landing at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana, through the monitoring screens.
Lately, the agency has unveiled a new plan to boost security in the Niger Delta and protect the country’s oil industry using multi-lateration surveillance in the delta creeks. The initiative will cover helicopter activities of the oil companies. NAMA’s MD Nnamdi Udoh says the move will increase the agency’s revenue.
It is reckoned that since there are more than 160 daily flights of such type in the region, the new NAMA drive would attract tremendous patronage to benefit both the agency, oil companies and the nation at large.
NAMA has also been known to be working on the completion of WGS-84 survey of 26 airports to prepare them for performance based navigation system (PBN). Procedures for the four major airports in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano have been completed while trials for PBN were arrived at last year by some airlines. They recorded outstanding results!
Recently, 13 towers of some airports in the country were refurbished to eliminate communication breakdown within the airspace. In this regard, NAMA is planning to install Controller Pilot Data Link Communication (CPDLC), the modern system used globally to sustain uninterrupted reach among airborne and the ground control.
The operations of these highly technical devices, needless to say, are digitalised with skilled and well-trained staff required to man them. Their training, locally and abroad, together with capital investment on critical areas of air safety, is said to have cost the federal government more than $9.5 million.
The picture we have then is of a government and an agency which are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that they create an enabling environment for players in the aviation sector to offer flawless service to the people and the nation. For without safe air corridors, monitored round the clock by well-trained technical crew and modern and regularly maintained tracking systems, the best pilot flying the best aircraft would be a mere accident waiting to happen. Good aircraft and good flight crew operating in unsecured skies are potential tragedies.
–– Bamidele, a writer on aviation issues, lives in Lagos.