President Goodluck Jonathan
Jostling for promotions and internal rivalry have given rise to infighting by top officials at the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency and efforts are being made by some workers to discredit the most ambitious project the agency has carried out in recent years, the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria in order to demystify those behind the project. Chinedu Eze reports.
Since the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) was commissioned last year by President Goodluck Jonathan, it has become the butt of criticism by some workers of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA). Why, because its successful completion has raised the profile of the NAMA engineers and others who oversaw its completion and who also supervised the project and this has pitched them against others who are jostling for juicer positions in the organization.
But since the project was completed the profile of Nigeria has been raised by international organisations like the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organsaition (ICAO), which recently described Nigeria as one of the countries in Africa that have very safe airspace.
Before the project became operational, pilots that could cut their flight time by flying over Nigeria’s airspace to other destinations across Africa, shunned Nigeria and would rather fly through Ghana to Southern Africa or to other destinations, thus elongating their flight time.
But that has changed since TRACON was commissioned because the nation’s airspace sits at the center of the flight routes across Africa so pilots fly through the airspace and this generates over flier charges for NAMA, which are in millions of dollars.
But the criticism of the project has not abated, ironically from senior officials of the agency.
That is the sign of the infighting going on in the agency and which many industry observers said if not urgently brought to an end, might jeorpardise the operations of the organisation.
The latest in the cocktail of attacks was that the project was yet to take off since it was completed and that about N13 billion was salted away through the project as fraudulent expenses.
Cost and Completion of the Project
The General Manager, public affairs of NAMA, Supo Atobatele, who dismissed the allegation and explained the TRACON project was awarded to Messrs Thales SA of France on April 7, 2003 at a total cost of 66,500,870 Euros (many industry critics say that the money alleged to have been stolen from the project was even more than the money earmarked and paid for it, considering the exchange rate at that time.)
Atobatele said that the scope of work of the project includes the provision of modern Air Traffic Management Systems, noting that the initial project duration was 36 months and the coverage areas were nine sites in Nigeria out of which four sites in Lagos, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt would provide approach and area radar services while the remaining five sites in Maiduguri, Ilorin, Numan, Talata-Mafara and Obubra were en-route support stations.
“The TRACON project was multi-tasking in view of the several deliverables of the project which includes but not limited to the provision of co-located Primary Surveillance Radar (PSR) and Monopulse Secondary Surveillance Radar (MSSR), EUROCAT C Air Traffic Management System, Voice Communication and Control Switch (VCCS), Emergency VHF, Voice Recording System, Fibre Optics, VSAT network and other ancillaries like UPS, Power systems, AMF etc.”
Integration of Expertise
He said that it was important to note that even though Thales as the lead contractor was responsible for the system design and project coordination, the TRACON project itself was implemented by a consortium of global and market leaders in Air Traffic Management (ATM) technology.
“The Radar and Eurocat Air Traffic Management systems came from Thales Air Systems of France, Voice Switches from Thales and Frequentis AG of Austria, VHF Radios from Park Air Systems of UK, Fibre Optics from SAGEM of France, VSAT equipment from ND SatCom of Germany, Power systems, back-ups and other ancillaries from Chloride and 2H Energy of France. Other components and deliverables of the project as applicable came from the local content (especially civil works for the sites).”
Atobatele also observed that the execution of the co-located PSR/MSSR was a project on its own in some countries, remarking that Nigeria was one of the few countries in the world that had embarked on a project of this nature with several deliverables at once.
“It is instructive to further clarify that projects worldwide have globally defined standards for measurement of performance and completion. The several deliverables of the TRACON project passed through all necessary Factory Acceptance Tests (FATs) at the various factories in France, Germany and Austria to ascertain that all specifications were met. These tests were satisfactorily completed working with an ICAO consultant and other industry experts. The allegation that vital components of the project were not supplied behooves of sheer ignorance.”
The General Manager further stated that the deliverables were further accepted at the nine sites with the successful completion of the mandatory Site Acceptance Tests (SATs) involving NAMA engineers and Air Traffic Controllers.
“Furthermore, projects worldwide at completion never cease to have ‘project issues’ after completion but in the case of the TRACON project, the agency through the support of the Federal Government was proactive to have entered into a Support Services Agreement with the lead manufacturer, Thales S.A. of France. This Agreement covers all deliverables of the project including, unlimited repairs, spares, trainings and technology transfer through regular OJTs.”
The facts above underscore the multi-dimensional aspect of the project and attendant challenges in terms of implementation and subsequent maintenance, Atobatele added, noting that the global trend was to achieve maintenance-on-fastrack devoid of normal bottlenecks encountered in many matrix organizations.
“The level of technology delivered under the TRACON project requires the support of the subsystems’ manufacturers, especially at the level of the software. The system software of the various subsystems of the TRACON project is proprietary and it is practically impossible to run the subsystems without the support of the software developers.”
Training of Personnel
In response to the allegations and criticisms against the project, Atobatele said that the TRACON project was completed and closed-out going by globally defined axioms of project management, adding that there were no missing vital components at any point in course of execution or close-out of the project.
“The agency trained over 250 Engineers and Air Traffic Controllers in the course of the project as against 96 being touted in the media report and the Support Services Agreement has provision for training of additional 66 engineers. the media report was not very informed on what the (RCC) Rescue Co-ordination Centre and (FIC) Flight Information Centre are used for hence the report was unable to distinguish one from the other.”
Atobatele also said that despite the distortion of facts by those who wish to entrench discontent and crisis in NAMA, “the management of the agency wish to make it abundantly clear that the completion of the project has been verified at various times by a Presidential Committee on Project Monitoring and the National Assembly, with the two groups independently endorsing the completion, operations and efficiency of the project.”
He noted that the TRACON project has raised the safety profile of the Nigerian airspace and has led to several global awards including the much-celebrated FAA Category One certification recently given to Nigeria. But in spite of the above explanations, NAMA remains an organization that is fighting itself and discrediting the lofty project that it successfully executing and which has put the Nigeria airspace on the world map.
This growing animosity must be stopped before it would reach the level where NAMA workers would begin to sabotage the agency and risk people’s lives. It has to be noted that since this infighting started last year, nobody has been punished; nobody has been made to lose his job and nobody has been arraigned before the court of law. So those who are perpetrating this evil have come to believe that they are invincible. Government should not keep quiet because in the long run, the country may pay dearly for it.