Airport Disasters On The Horizon Due To Obsolete Air Traffic Control Systems

New equipment wasting away in NAMA store

In Nigeria, air traffic controllers are experiencing difficulties while using most of the obsolete navigational equipment at airports.

The equipment was installed during the 1980s and has either gone completely bad or is experiencing malfunctions at airports including the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos, and in Abuja, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, as well as others.

Currently, Nigeria is at risk of experiencing air disasters because of inadequate communication between pilots and air traffic controllers.

An external device, known as a navigational aid or aid to navigation, which is attached to the outside of an aircraft and specifically designed to help navigators determine their positions or a safe flight path, needs to be installed.

According to the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the situation continues even though the country has new navigational aids on hand. However, lack of funding is the reason why the new equipment has not been installed, even though it was purchased over one year ago.

The NAMA warehouse, headquartered in Lagos, is where the new equipment has been stored. This new equipment also includes new Instrument Landing Systems designated for the four major airports in the country. However, the equipment is currently degrading due to lack of use.

Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation Capt. Bala Na’allah recently confirmed that outdated navigational aids are presenting a challenge to pilots who are trying to effectively communicate with control towers while attempting to land.

Na’allah noted that significant amounts of money had been invested in the country’s radio network over the last several years, and said that continued lack of proper communication was unacceptable. He compared Nigeria’s airports to airportd in Lome, Niamey, Accra, and other airports in Africa.

Nigerian Air Traffic Controllers Association President Victor Eyaru said the organization has been attempting to increase awareness, however they have yet to garner the attention of the proper officials handling this part of the country’s infrastructure.

Eyaru said that even though Nigeria was currently experiencing a recession, it had to provide for critical infrastructure that would bolster fight safety.

NAMA Acting Managing Director Emma Anasi said that the radio network was designed during the 1980s and it was donated to the country by the European Union to help establish very high frequency coverage on flight routes in operation during the 1980s and 1990s.

Anasi sai, “The Abuja and Port Harcourt routes were not in operation at that time. Since then, we have not been able to establish new routes, except one. With the increasing number of flights and the new routes, the VHF system is not able to give us the kind of coverage we should have.

“Subsequently, during the airport remodeling (by the last administration) the remote station in Jos was decommissioned and still remains so till date. So, when we say we have problems, there are reasons.”

He also said that in 2002, NAMA implemented a means of addressing these issues. While it had plans to expand the network in 2006 to handle more airports, it was not until 2009 that the contract was approved. In addition, funding for the project was not approved until 2015.

Anasi said that NAMA was aware of existing issues with naviaids and it had taken steps to address the problem at the country’s international airports as well as the routes from Minna and Jos.

He said, “If we are able to deploy the equipment, we will withdraw the current ones for use in other airports where we either have issues or don’t have any at all.

“The (65 million years worth of) Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria system (TRACON) is working well. Our Engineers have been maintaining it so effectively in the last two years. But the issue we are having is that it is a technology that is changing with time and we still have to lean on the manufacturers to get the spares.”

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