Foreign airlines shun Nigeria’s airspace over safety concerns
Safe travel in Nigeria’s airspace is in jeopardy despite efforts by government at improving navigation infrastructure. Pilots are increasingly getting worried about poor communication between cockpits and control towers, a persistent problem that has now worsened.
Experts also expressed fear over the increased possibility of near misses and collision between two or more operating aircraft.
The Guardian learnt at the weekend that many foreign airlines, perhaps for safety concerns, now bypass the country’s airspace, which is a natural and geographical short cut to global air connectivity.
While the development translates to more operational costs for the foreign carriers, it denies the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) revenue to maintain and upgrade critical facilities.
Air Traffic Control (ATC) is a service provided by ground-based air traffic controllers, who direct aircraft on the ground and through controlled airspace, and provide critical safety advisory services to aircraft in non-controlled airspace.
The primary purpose of ATC worldwide is to prevent collisions, organise and expedite the flow of traffic, and provide information and other support to all aircraft in its airspace.
Though pilots attested to investments in navigational facilities, a captain with one of the local airlines said poor ground-to-air communication remains a major problem.“We (pilots) now fly blind and deaf in some parts of our airspace; no communication whatsoever.
When it rains in Lagos, for instance, you lose radio communications after 200 nautical miles. Yes, the Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) is available, but you always hear them saying, ‘We have problems logging on’. Sadly, that is where we are now.”
The pilot confirmed that the Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) is on ground but noted that many local airlines, unlike their foreign counterparts, are still not Global Positioning System (GPS)-compliant to use the facility.“I have been hearing of CAT II and III Instrument Landing System (ILS) for indigenous airlines for 12 years.
But it is yet to happen. Coming to Lagos and Port Harcourt, we have ATCs that are trainees. Lagos-Abuja flight which should have taken 52 or 53 minutes almost takes 1:10 minutes, because controllers are being trained on the job.
“As a pilot, you will often hear the controller shouting things like, ‘Oga, where is the radar control?’ They (ACTs) were not properly trained before coming to the tower. The extra 10 to 20 minutes of fuel usage, who is going to pay for it? These are the issues.”
Apparently in agreement, Arik Air pilot, Capt. Jide Bakare, said though the navigational service has improved from what it was 20 years ago, it still has a long way to go. He regretted that radio communication is difficult when airborne and pilots have to relay communications through other flying pilots.
“Very few airlines can use the current facilities. The airlines certainly are not getting what they are paying for, even as it is most difficult to approach the service providers and get a good feedback,” said Bakare. A former director at the airspace management agency, Ifeanyi Nwankwo, explained that the communication glitches are not new to the Nigerian airspace, in fact, they date back to 12 years ago.