Monday 17 December 2012

Air traffic: Controllers raise alarm over unsafe airspace.

Sky Watch Nigeria.

…say pilots flying blind in last three months

The Nigerian airspace is gradually becoming a nightmare for pilots flying within the country as indications emerged over the weekend that the radio communications on some routes may have collapsed.

This is contained in a six-page petition written by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, NATCA, an umbrella body of Air Traffic Controllers, ATC, of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, signed by its General Secretary, Mr. Banji Olawode.

The statement, made available to National Mirror, indicated that there were about 114 reports of unreliable radio communications between Lagos and Kano since September till November 24.

Also within the same period, there were 72 reports of “erratic working conditions of 124.1MHZ radio frequencies of Kano-East as reported by pilots flying in the route.

The petition noted that between October 17 and November 24, there were 58 different reports on the frustrations of duty air traffic controllers and pilots on 128.5 MHz (Kano- West radio) with six reports of its total failure.

Olawode had written to the Managing Director, NAMA, Mr. Nnamdi Udoh and copied 13 other persons, including the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah; the Chairmen, Senate Committee and House Committee on Aviation; Senior Special Assistant to the President on Aviation; National Security Adviser; Director-General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority; Commissioner, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB); Director-General, State Security Service, SSS.

Others are the Director of Operations, NAMA; the Director of Safety Electronics and Engineering Services, NAMA; Airline Operators of Nigeria, AON); Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, ATSSSAN and International Air Transport Association, IATA, representatives in Nigeria. The statement warned of impending air accident if the anomaly was not corrected soon.

However, the management of NAMA said that to further improve air traffic services within the nation’s airspace and decongest the existing radio frequency, most especially in Lagos, it would sectorise its Lagos Area Control Centre.

The petition, titled, “Continued worrisome state of communication facilities within the Nigerian airspace,” noted that despite the fact that the airspace was fully covered with radar, lack of functional and reliable communication facilities as prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, had made the airspace unsafe for users.

The petition noted that a reasonable percentage of Air Safety Reports, ASRs, made within Nigerian airspace for the past two years were communication failure related, adding that between January and November 26 this year, 19 of such reports had been received.

NATCA explained that each of these reported air incidents had the potential of resulting in mid-air collisions, adding that the situation was increasingly making Nigeria a laughing stock among the global aviation community.

The petition recalled the memo written by NATCA with reference number NATCA/GS/305/VOL.II Annexure A (2.1) and dated July 5, 2012, expressing the frustration of the association brought about by the terrible state of the radios at the ATC units, thereby considered the option of directing her members to downgrade applicable services.

Also, the Lagos ATCs, in their letter according to the petition, had on October 25, 2010 and November 26, 2012 expressed their frustration concerning the deplorable state of the VHF 127.3MHz radio and continuously being handicapped in providing safe Air Traffic Control Services due to “the poor and substandard communication.”

Lagos ATC had warned of impending “time bomb to the nation and mankind at large,” if the situation was not corrected by the agency.

The petition reads in part: “Between October 17 and November 24, 2012, there were 58 different reports on the frustrations of Duty ATCOs and pilots alike on 128.5MHz (Kano West radio) with six reports on its total failure.

“Between September 29 and November 24, 2012, there were 72 reports on the un-reliable working condition of 124.1MHz (Kano East radio) as reported by pilots and ATCOs with eight reports on its total failure and 114 reports on the unreliability and erratic working condition of 127.3MHz (Lagos ACC’s radio) with four reports on its total failure between September 8 and November 26, 2012.

“Report made by NAMA’s General Manager, Safety Management System/ Quality Assurance to the General Manager, Electronics Communication on terrible working condition of 127.3MHZ at 1305UTC on 15th November, 2012.”

NATCA challenged Udoh to urgently declare national emergency on Air Traffic Services communication facilities within Nigerian airspace to mitigate the communication situation degenerating into distress stage thereby threatening the lives of air travellers and general public at large.

It also charged NAMA to provide reliable VHF radios and backups for the two Area Control Centres (Kano and Lagos) without further delay or in the interim and until effective VHF radios are provided, downgrade the two ACCs to Flight Information Centres equipped with HF radios like 8903KHz for the provision of Flight Information Service (FIS) only.

The General Manager, Public Affairs, NAMA, Mr. Supo Atobatele, agreed that the current radio frequency – 27.3 MHz for the Lagos Area Control Centre – is at present congested following heavy traffic within the southern airspace.

He said the decongestion of the radio frequency would commence by December 17 with the integrity of the system ascertained.

The management said that the best solution was to create additional frequencies to allow for effective radio communication between pilots and air traffic on controllers.

NAMA said to improve the traffic services to pilots, the management had raised another frequency on 120.9MHz, emphasising that this would help to decongest the current one.



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