Local flights disruption looms over harmattan haze
• Ilorin airport may be temporarily shut
• NCAA warns pilots, airlines
• Port Harcourt, Lagos rank among five worst airports
Local airlines and passengers may be in for another difficult period this December and early January due to flight disruptions engendered by bad weather, despite the Federal Government’s huge investment in landing instruments.
While meteorologists are already predicting more intense harmattan haze than was experienced last year, infrastructure, either at most of the airports or deployed by local airlines, are still not adequate to help aeroplanes cope with the natural phenomenon.Consequently, flight disruption in the manner of multiple delays and cancellations will upset plans of many travellers and cost struggling airlines huge revenue.
Harmattan haze late 2016 and early 2017 led to shutdown of local flight operations for some days when horizontal visibility dropped below the stipulated minimum of 800 metres. While local airlines were forced to reschedule or refund fares to restive passengers with attendant losses, their foreign counterparts with advanced onboard technology operated unhindered by weather.
As if to prevent similar a narrative in late 2017, the Federal Government in May deployed new sets of Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) to no fewer than 18 airports nationwide. An ILS enables aircraft to land even if the pilots are unable to establish visual contact with the runway due to harmattan haze, fog and snow. It does this by way of transmitted radio signals.
The new gadgets that cost millions of dollars notwithstanding, the Nigerian Meteorology Agency (NIMET), in its seasonal rainfall prediction and advisory forecast for the season, reported that the prevailing weather condition is likely to herald a long and severe dust haze in the months ahead, with effects on airlines.
The Guardian learnt at the weekend that some airports in the country were beginning to feel the pinch of an impending harmattan season, with some flights either diverted or cancelled.At Ilorin airport, for instance, the air-to-ground visibility has consistently dropped in the last couple of days making it difficult for safe flight operations.
Sources said the airport, which is for diversion from Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos in case of an emergency, has been unable to receive flights as expected due to “changing weather” and poor visibility over the runway since last Monday.
The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) at the weekend confirmed the development, though with assurance that its team of engineers were already on ground to help manage the situation.Managing Director of NAMA, Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, said the efforts were to manage the situation as much as possible but if safety could not be guaranteed, then flight operations might be temporarily suspended at the airport.
Akinkuotu explained that seamless operations during harmattan and success of any airline depended on the equipment on ground and on operational aircraft. He said the government had fulfilled its end of the obligation with the provision of ILSs to the airports. Accordingly, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos has two ILSs; Mallam Aminu International Airport, Kano has three; while Kaduna, Port-Harcourt, Ibadan Airport, Benin Airport, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and Minna Airport, among others, all have one, of Category Two rating.
Akinkuotu, a former MD of Aero Contractors, said most local airlines cannot land during harmattan because most of the 44 operating aircraft are not Category Two and Three ILS compliant.
Harmattan is a dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind, which blows from the Sahara Desert over the West African sub-continent into the Gulf of Guinea, between the end of November and the middle of March. In some West African countries, the heavy amount of dust in the air can severely limit visibility and block the sun for several days. This effect is known as the Harmattan haze. It costs airlines millions of dollars in cancelled and diverted flights each year.
The apex regulatory body of the sector, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), has issued an alert to all airline operators indicating hazards associated with harmattan dust haze in flight operations at this period of the year.
General Manager, Public Affairs, Sam Adurogboye yesterday said the advisory circular was to alert pilots to the hazards associated with dust haze, therefore “pilots should note that air-to-ground visibility may be considerably reduced.”
Meanwhile, Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA) in Rivers State and Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos have been ranked among top five worst airports in the world in the latest report by ‘Guide to Sleeping in Airports’ survey.
In the 2017 report yesterday, PHIA ranked third worst, while MMIA came fifth among 20 worst aerodromes in the world, according to airport users’ experience rating. The PHIA’s latest ranking is an improvement from the 2015 report that placed the Nigeria’s third busiest as the worst in the world.
In the “Sleeping in airports: State of Airports in the world” bulletin released yesterday, the survey ask travellers to rate airports worldwide based on their overall experience. They ranked their overall experience based on factors like comfort (gate seating and availability of rest zones) and services. Others are facilities and things to do, food options, immigration/ security, customer service, cleanliness, navigation and ease of transit and sleepability. The airports on the list of the worst in the world are the ones that have the capacity to truly offend travellers.
The world’s worst is Juba International Airport, South Sudan (JUB), followed by Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, Saudi Arabia (JED); Port Harcourt International Airport (Nigeria), Crete Heraklion International Airport, Greece (HER) and Lagos Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Nigeria (LOS).
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