Nigeria’s Airspace Surveillance System At Risk Of Collapse 

Image result for Capt. Folayele AkinkuotuYemisi Izuora 

The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), has issued a warning of impending collapse of the 64 million Euros airspace surveillance system otherwise known as Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON).

The Managing Director of NAMA, Capt. Folayele Akinkuotu, who gave the warning at aviation stakeholders’ interactive forum in Lagos, said lack of spare parts is threatening the facility and this can be averted if government runs to its aid.

He however stated that the radar has remained functional, thanks to the ingenuity of NAMA engineers who have kept it working, stressing that the contractors for the multi billion naira project, Thales, a French firm had reneged in supplying spares for the life-saving equipment.

This is coming as the agency has installed category three Instrument Landing System (ILS) in Lagos and Abuja airports to aid flight operations during harmattan or inclement weather.

The new high power instrument would make aircraft land or take off at zero visibility using instrument rather than visual for flight movement. Akinkuotu disclosed that multi million naira facilities would be installed in 17 airports across the country.

Corroborating Akinkuotu, Director Safety Electronics and Engineering Services (DSEES), Farouk Umar Ahmed said the agency have been having challenges with the equipment since 2014, adding that for over two years, Thales had refused to supply us spare parts.

His words, “Since 2014, we have been managing this (radar) without spares. We are pleading with the Minister of State for Aviation to plead with Thales of France to do the needful”, he added.

Although the equipment has helped to aid airspace surveillance, controversy generated by the equipment installation has remained since it was commissioned in 2012.

The aim of TRACON is to provide total visibility of the Nigerian airspace stretching over 315 nautical miles. When the Nigerian airspace is under full radar coverage, all flights originating, terminating and over-flying the Nigerian airspace, will remain in radio and radar contact with the air traffic controllers every inch of the way.

The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, wants the Federal Government to as a matter of urgency assist the agency to upgrade and modernize the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria TRACON for a safe, efficient and air transport in the country.

The contract for TRACON was awarded in 2003 by President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration at the sum of Euros 67 million to Thales ATM GmbH, a French company. Even though the project was commissioned in 2012 with fanfare, aviation experts familiar with TRACON have described as fraudulent how the project was conceived and executed.

Other facilities, Akinkuotu said were needed by the agency for safe air navigation includes mobile towers as the two currently in used were inadequate to cater the 21 airports managed by government and other private airports requiring their services.

He noted that Benin and Calabar airports were in dare need of Instrument Landing Sysyem (ILS) as the routes into these airports were difficult ones especially during the rainy and harmattan seasons.

The NAMA boss however noted despite these challenges, the agency had been able to address the radio communication system with the optimization of the Very High Frequency VHF, radio for Upper Airways communication between the pilots and air traffic controllers, installation of Distance Measuring Equipment, DME, Instrument Landing System, ILS in 12 locations and a Category III ILS in Lagos and Abuja among others.

According to him, efforts on to ensure that it personnel were given the requisite trainings to improve their knowledge and keep them abreast of new technology  to facilitate seamless air navigation in Nigeria.

He reminded the Minister that early 2017 when they resumed in NAMA as a management team, complaints of short comings in the performance of communication, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management facilities and desire for urgent improvement were the welcome notes dropped for them by their customers.

He also noted that request for staff training and improvement in the welfare of the workforce was in the forefront of welcome address delivered by the labour unions within the agency.

His words, “Our approach was to identify and apply measures in the short term, medium term and long term to respond to these issues. I can report today that some of the measures implemented are already yielding positive results.”

He explained that a notable short term measure implemented to address radio communication challenge was optimization of the VHF Radio for Upper Airways Communication between air traffic controllers and pilots which recorded a significant success.

He added that almost at the same time, new VHF radios were also installed in 17 airports for approach or aerodrome control, describing it as a success.

Achieving effective upper airways radio communication he stated is an old time challenge, reiterating, “We are in a hurry to record it in our list of success stories. To this end, high power standalone VHF radios were recently installed in Lagos and Kano area control centres to back up the main radio system”.

The NAMA boss revealed that the Lagos end has been commissioned and is in operation while installation in Kano has just been completed and will soon be put to use.

“Not satisfied with this yet, a contract called extended range VHF radio system has been signed to modernise the main radio communication network and increase the number of remote sites from the current eight to fourteen. The contractor will move to site in few weeks’ time”, he added.         

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