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Published On: Thu, Jun 12th, 2014

X-raying the gains of air safety in Nigeria

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By Sulaman Idris

The crash of a Boeing 737-200 aircraft belonging to Bellview Airline on October 22 2005, killing 117 people aboard the ill-fated flight 210 plane was the last straw that break the camel’s back following the rate at which airplane plunge down from the sky between 2000 and 2005.

Government swung into action by injection an intervention fund into the aviation sector to stifle the dangerous trend. Suleiman Idris takes a look at the aftermath effect of the intervention.

When Bellview Airline flight 210 crashed in Lisa in Ogun state, the difficulties in locating the crash site for about two days was indication that all was not well with the country’s airspace. Most

painful was the proximity of the village to the Lagos airport, the aircraft originating aerodrome with many expressing anger why it took more than a day to locate the site, hence government decided to tackle the challenges of surveillance of the Nigeria airspace.

Five years later, after the entire pro and cons by stakeholders and experts opinions, the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) was commissioned in Abuja by President Goodluck Jonathan on October 18th 2010. The project the federal government said provides a total coverage of the Nigerian airspace which will in turn enhance civil and military surveillance of aircraft operating in the country’s airspace.

In recent time, it is Gradually becoming increasingly apparent to discerning Nigerians that recent air mishaps or incidents have no bearing on the safety or otherwise of the airspace.  Reports obtained from the Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau indicated that recent air crashes in the country and elsewhere have been traced to poor pilot judgment, fatigue and technical problem among other human errors and judgments.

In all the hypothetical instances so far projected however, disasters resulting in loss of lives and maiming and destruction have been the outcome of most crashes and  early findings of the Accident Investigation Bureau often suggest  all or a combination of the above causes  of  the crashes  and not the challenge of airspace. It must also be stressed that a good standard of road network in a country does not necessarily denote absence of road accidents. Several other factors such as the health of the vehicle and the driver’s state of mind account for accidents as it were.

The federal agencies heads told our correspondents they are not leaving anything to chance on the question of ensuring an all- round and eagle-eye watch over the aviation industry which has witnessed great improvement lately.

In an interview, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) Managing Director, Engineer Ibrahim Abdulsalam told Peoples Daily that the agency is set to offer critical intervention in the country’s airspace. With such operational facilities as NAVAIDS incorporating Instrument Landing System, Very High Omni Directional Radio Range and Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) among others, it has succeeded in delivering safe skies to the country.

The pivot for all these according to him is the TRACON. It has 9 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, Numan 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.

A visit to some of the facilities At the TRACON control rooms at the major airports in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Kano, one easily see the screens and the controllers at work. At these airports one can view aircraft landing at the neighbouring flight information regions through the monitoring screens.

Lately the agency said it 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. This initiative will definitely increase the agency’s revenue on installation.

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 recently by some airlines. They recorded outstanding results.

Recently 13 towers of some airports of the nation’s facilities 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.

Also worthy of mention is the recent installation of solar powered Airfield Lighting System at Lagos and Port Harcourt International Airports. The installed lighting system is a product of Avlite System Pty Ltd, Australia.

The lighting system is certified by ICAO and FAA and is in currently in use at various airports around the world.

The installation of lighting at these two airports has galvanized the tempo of night and low visibility operations, thereby reducing operational cost to airlines.NAMA is also to benefit from this project in the area of low maintenance cost.

Also as part of efforts to improve safety, the agency is deploying VSAT facilities and systems for installation at 11 designated centres across the country to automate aeronautical information service. These stations include NAMA Hqtrs, NEMA Hqtrs, Lagos, Kano and Abuja. Others are Port Harcourt, Sokoto Ilorin, Jos, Maiduguri and Wukari. The automation of aeronautical information service billed to commence by October 2014 is expected to bring about efficiency and precision in the aeronautical information dissemination.

This would as a consequence, translate into reduction in man hours as most of the paper work would give way to digitalization.   It would also integrate the country’s aeronautical information system into the System Wide Information Management Network.  The benefits of AIS automation are legion.

As a backbone to the above infrastructural acquisition, several categories of technical staff to include Air Traffic controllers and engineers are being trained regularly both at home and abroad to boost capacity and also sustain the drive for technology transfer.

The operations of these highly technical devices, needless to say, are digitalized 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 $9.5m.

Now we have a government and an agency that are collaborating to ensure that an enabling environment for investors in the aviation sector to offer flawless service to the people and the nation is created.

 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.

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