The Nigeria Airspace Management Agency has deployed new navigational procedure which cuts flight time for airlines, saves fuel and improves safety, writes Chinedu Eze
The high cost of aviation fuel has always been a daily lament by airlines, especially since the late 2000s when the cost of a barrel of crude went beyond $100. For airlines, it has been an endless mathematics on how to cut down fuel consumption and save money and aircraft manufacturers have been striving to produce aircraft that consume less fuel. That is why aircraft type like Boeing 787, the Dreamliner has become a beautiful bride, in spite of the initial hiccups after its manufacture. It saves a lot of fuel and operates more efficiently.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicted on Monday that following the recent softening in oil prices, the average price for Brent crude oil is expected to be $108 per barrel for the rest of this year, describing it as a slight downward trend from the $109.5 per barrel it earlier forecast but laments that “nonetheless, this is nearly twice as high as it was in 2006, when the average price of oil per barrel was $65.1.”
Area Radar Control
So it was great news for Nigerian scheduled airline operators, private aircraft owners and others when the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) introduced navigational procedure, the area radar control that cut off about 10 minutes from one hour flight. For example, after the introduction of Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) flight to Abuja which used to be 1 hour, 20 minutes was cut down to average of 55 minutes, the newly introduced area radar control has cut it further to average of 45 minutes.
This means that a flight will save 10 minutes of fuel on every local destination. Average flight of a Boeing 737 from Lagos to Abuja gulps about N400,000 fuel, which means that on every flight the airline saves about N75,000 of fuel and when you compute this for an airline like Arik Air, which operates about 120 flights daily it would be about N9 million daily. This in a month would amount to N270 million, a huge saving for an airline!
This procedure kicked off on May 29, 2013 and according to NAMA, the agency successfully deployed its surveillance facility for area radar control from its two area control centres in Lagos and Kano to allow for optimal flight operations by pilots within the airspace.
Eighteen flights operated by some foreign airlines like Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, Air Portugal, Turkey Airlines, South African Airways, Egypt Air and Saudi Air took advantage of the new air traffic service that commenced midnight -00hr UTC as they were vectored on radar within the Kano flight information region.
Area radar control is air traffic control service, provided for airplanes flying within the Flight Information Region (FIR). The benefits of this new traffic management include increased airspace capacity, improved safety, reduced fuel consumption, reduced flight time and efficient flow of air traffic within the nation’s airspace.
The Managing Director of NAMA, Nnamdi Udoh, described the migration from procedural to area radar control as part of the dividends of the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan in the aviation sector as being promoted by the Aviation Minister, Ms Stella Oduah.
He praised the initiatives of the previous leaders of the agency over their foresight in conceptualising the idea of Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria for the country, equally applauded the efforts of the regulatory agency, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for ensuring the smooth take off of the new air traffic service.
The launching of the procedure in Lagos attracted dignitaries from within and outside the country among whom were: former managing director of the agency, Mr. Oladunjoye Onasanya; former director of Operations, NAMA, Alhaji Abdulkareem Rahim; former General Manager, NAMA, Sam Olu Akerele; former Air Space Manager, Abuja, Macaulay Oyeneke; Director of Air Traffic Services, Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, Albert Taylor; and his Chief of Facility counterpart, Osei-Bonsu Kwaning.
Taylor said the inauguration of area radar control in Nigeria would improve safety and enhance reduction in emission of carbon, just as Martins Nwafor, who represented the director general of NCAA disclosed that 24 air traffic controllers had been rated on area radar control for effective delivery of service.
The Head of TRACON Operation, Uzoma Fyneboy Felix, remarked that with this deployment, the agency was bound to make more revenue as the service he noted, would attract more flyers within the nation’s
Offshoot of TRACON
The service for now will be available between 7 a.m. and 7 p .m. from Monday to Friday. The agency had since Thursday, May 2, 2013 issued Aeronautical Information Circular (AIC) to all airlines to meet the
mandatory 28 days’ notice required by industry regulation for full trial of the new operation.
NAMA also said that it had equally upgraded the radar maps and harmonized with its data base for accurate co-ordination of traffic when the enroute area radar control is fully deployed.
Udoh explained to the media that this latest project was an offshoot of TRACON and said that the next advancement the agency would accomplish is the full deployment of enroute area radar.
“We will be embarking on a seamless area radar air traffic control. Nigeria airspace is known all over the world as Kano Flight Information Region (Kano FIR) subdivided into Lagos and Kano sub FIRs. So we are going to implement area radar control in Kano and Lagos. It has been a very time taken and hard work period for us. NCAA has given us the waiver. For Nigeria to have area radar controllers you must give one person the authority to licence Nigerians.
“This is how it works. You take off from Lagos to Abuja, we give you as much information as possible to clear you, you take off; they vector you on various geographical coordinates, they descend you to Abuja without changing your squawk code. For example, you take off from Lagos with Squawk 0455. If you are going to Abuja now, you have to change that squawk for Abuja to accept you, but when it is area radar control, as you are taking off Abuja is seeing you; they know your estimate, they know when you are coming; they know you vectoring. It saves time, saves fuel and saves money.”
He said since the introduction of TRACON, the agency had been saving time for airlines. In the past, flying from Lagos to Abuja used to be 1 hour 20 minutes. When radar was introduced it reduced to 55 minutes
“So having saved time for airlines, like going to Abuja, from Lagos from 1 hour 20 minutes; 1 hour 10 minutes in the past to 55 minutes. That will further reduce again to maybe 45 or 40 minutes, as the case maybe. And it is something huge, if you save five minutes per flight in a year. It is huge savings for the industry and for the environment as well, it is a lot of reduction on carbon dioxide emission.”
New Business Initiative
The NAMA chief executive said the area radar control project was part of the new business initiative embarked by the agency to improve flight operations in Nigeria and improve its revenue. He disclosed that there were other similar projects the agency was embarking on so that it would continue to generate its own revenue to sustain its existence and fund some of its future projects without any subvention from government.
“I will also like to announce that our business initiative has taken us to Bonny, NLNG base, where we have deployed air traffic controllers providing services on private airport initiative, just like we are doing in Asaba and Warri and we have oncoming too for Forcados and Taraba state which has developed an airport and we are going to provide air traffic services for them. Those are initiatives that are exciting for us. I said in October 5, 2011 that NAMA was going to grow; that we would start doing things differently to get different results. And when you look at our balance sheet, you can see the impact.”
He said it was due to the crucial role the agency plays that it was difficult for the unions to close the airspace during the recent industrial action, adding that the ultimate goal was to ensure safety in the airspace, provide state of the art equipment for easy operations of flights and also open avenues for the agency to make money.
“On the day of agitation, we were still able to move 420 flights with 19, 200 passengers in Lagos alone. It means that our airspace is robust in the direction we are expecting it to be. We are not there yet because we are 180 million Nigerians, we should be able to have 500,000 Nigerians flying on one or two-day basis.”
For the agency to sustain its development and deploy modern technology to improve the airspace, it must equally ensure manpower development to provide the needed skills that will propel the equipment to action. Udoh said the agency had embarked on massive training of members of its staff.
“Some of us are wondering what we are doing in the area of training. This senior staff member (pointing at one of the officers) is in his 35th year as a director. His next move will be to retire but before he will do that he will give me a programme on how to train the next 40 or 80 people and that is why we are collaborating with the Nigeria College of Aviation and Technology (NCAT), Zaria right now to fast track the training of Air Traffic Controllers so that the ageing workforce replace programme, which I announced at the beginning of my tenure will be on-going.
For the take-off of the new procedure, Udoh said that there was massive and urgent training of air traffic controllers, who would man the additional technology in airspace management.
“In the training of controllers, all of them were brought to Lagos and they went through the simulator and they went through the senior controllers who trained them. We also sent people to Accra for more training.”
He reiterated the gains of the area radar control to the airlines.
“The airlines are going to save money on fuel and time. This is tremendous; it is amazing. If you save five minutes per every flight and add it together in a day, in a month and in a year, you will realise the billions of naira each airline is saving. This is costing NAMA logistics. The infrastructure is already there, TRACON is already there, which cost Nigeria 66.7 million euros.”