Anuforom: Accurate Weather Reports Prevent Air Disasters

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The Director General of the Nigeria Meteorological Agency, Dr. Anthony Anuforom, says improved and accurate weather reports have prevented air crashes in Nigeria, adding that the agro-allied industry and other sectors also depend hugely on weather reports. He spoke to Chinedu Eze. Excerpts

Sometime in February this year after the Harmattan season there was prolonged low visibility that led to the cancellation of flights to many airports in the country. What could have been responsible for this?

Thank you so much. It is the same dust, what really happened is that the source region from where this dust comes is located in Niger, Chad, even the Sahara desert. So it remained active in the sense that dust will still be emitted and of course the direction of the wind remained North-easterly, which means that the same condition that existed at the peak of the Harmatarn still existed.  In other words, dust was still being raised in the source region in the Sahara desert, and then the wind was still blowing it from the North-easterly direction into Nigeria. So much of that dust must have accumulated and remained in our atmosphere for some time. That was exactly why we still had reduced visibility as if it was, of course you can say it is still Hamattarn,  because it is that condition that makes it Harmattan.

During that time was there a warning to the airlines about the bad weather?

Yes, of course. Our duty is to monitor, but actually in particular we use our satellite image receiver because there is usually a time lag between the dust being emitted into the atmosphere at the source region and the time it gets down to us here in Nigeria. This is so  because it started from the north-eastern part of the country, the northern most part of the country though get it first and that is Maiduguri and there it comes down to us here. So using our satellite image receiver we can detect when the source region is active and we are issuing weather alerts for those who are on our mailing list.

There seem to be a lot of collaboration between NIMET and other countries in the West African sub-region. How were you able to do this?

Now the beginning of the story is actually the outbreak of Ebola. You all know what happened during that Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, there were international medical volunteers and other agencies who wanted to come to Sierra Leone to help in containing the Ebola outbreak. But before they came they said they needed weather forecast everyday to enable them plan their relief activities. Now Sierra Leone didn’t have the capacity to do that, so they approached World Maritime Organisation (WMO) and then WMO approached us and wanted to know whether we have the capacity and are willing to help them. We said of course we could help them.  So from that time we started giving them daily whether forecast recorded in our weather studio here till even today.

 The Sierra Leone media showed their daily weather forecast produced by us, so that is how it is. So when there was also flooding it was the same thing. Now coming to whether it is commercial, you know that in WMO, we are all member states of WMO.  Sierra Leone is a member state, Nigeria is a member and of course you know we are about 191members and territories of WMO.

So there is what is calledVoluntary Corporation Programme(VCP), where members bringing their capabilities for the benefit of all, much as they did not pay, at WMO end, we have argued that it should be credited to us. They can evaluate how much it really costs and it will be credited to Nigeria as contribution we are making to the organisation. In  a direct sense of you pay and take the service or I give you the service and you pay me, in that direct sense of making that money, no, but in the sense that it is been credited to us in the world body is a big plus for the country and we are happy it is happening. You know all those things give the country political mileage.

For instance, you know at United Nations even if your country population is 500, 000 your vote is as much as the vote of China even if you are the most backward country, your vote is equal to the vote of United States. So for us to give such assistance, it gives us political mileage. With that there is nowhere Sierra Leone will vote against Nigeria anywhere. So this is how international corporation works. Indeed, it is a lot of gain for us and we are capable. All it takes us is to assemble our forecasters, they stream the TV broadcast everyday via Internet.

Do you charge the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency for the weather report you make available to them?

The answer is no. Why?  The reason is that if you look at the NIMET Act we do get some monies through NAMA and NAMA shares some fees for over flight charges, so NIMET gets 10 per cent of that. What NAMA pays is for cost recovery, because it is not really commercial. I have argued that, that 10 per cent revenue NIMET is getting is not representative of the value we are bringing to the table but the law is the law. So if I have opportunity to amend it, I have told people that look we should  get anything not less than 20 per cent to 25 per cent then it will be bit more nearer to the actual value of the service NIMET is giving to the system.

Is it not possible to amend the Act?

I am aware that there is a process of reviewing the Act of aviation agencies. But again you know how things are, even that one we are getting, I am sorry to say, but if you give some of our sister parastatals, they will say that NIMET shouldn’t get anything because my legal department that participated in it. They came back and said that some people from our sister agencies are kicking. I don’t know what they are kicking for. So we are used to it, it has been like that even right from the creation of NIMET. Once the creation of NIMET during Kema Chikwe (former Aviation Minister), I was her special assistant.

We went to Council three times before it came, at some point when everything was okay, the President then said minister go and tell me how you will fund this your new agency. So she came back and then created a small committee of the heads of NAMA, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) at that time, NIMET was not in existence, it was still a department.

So, she told them that you people should go and work out how this our new agency would work. It took a very long time because there was some level of foot dragging, until she compelled them to give her some figures, so that was how the 10 per cent came about. The director of NIMET then told her that the 10 per cent cannot be the representative of what NIMET is doing, that we should get higher than that. So she said why don’t we start with  10 per cent. That was how it all started.

We have observed that many foreign pilots that operate into the country do not always adhere to weather reports until recently and this has caused major incidents, one involving Air France flight on its way to Port Harcourt from Lagos and KLM flight that wanted to land at Kano Airport to pick passengers. Is there any punishment for not abiding by weather reports?

You know that the system is structured in a particular way. There is division of labour, ours is to give this report, we have no authority whatsoever to control how it is used,  it is not our duty. That is all I will say, it is outside the jurisdiction of NIMET to compel pilot or to punish pilot. Of course if a pilot commits an offence, I think it is the job of the NCAA to deal with them but not NIMET.

But I am happy that they do confess that we gave them the weather report. I am also happy that you started by saying many if they were not respecting or maybe they were not respecting. There is no basis for that for not respecting our weather forecast because NIMET is ISO 9001 certified for aeronautical services and after the certification in 2013. We have done two maintenance audit exercise and we scaled through.

 We are about to start the third one because every year they must come to sort of recertify you. So we are ISO 9001 certified and of course the ISO 9001 certification was initiated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and WMO. In fact, I think it was ICAO that said by November this year,  any country that doesn’t have the ISO 9001 certification the airlines are not obliged to use their weather report. But we have gotten it since three years now. We are about to do the third maintenance audit. In fact, the auditors are expected to arrive by next week. So if you are ISO 9001 certified, there is no other standard to aspire to that is the highest standard. And, of course, at the time we did it we were the 5th African country to get that certification, so it is not an easy thing. Although now more countries in Africa have gotten it, like South Africa, Egypt, Cape Verde and others.

How do you test-run your equipment to ensure they are working and efficient?

We have the instrument calibration laboratory that is ready and functional because we are already using it to calibrate our own equipment. I think we even did one calibration job for Ghana Met agency. We talked  to ourselves and said we must move things ahead, you must aspire to go higher, and higher all the time, so the management said okay this workshop, we want to make sure that we are doing things at international standard and the purpose of that is part of our commercialisation where we render services that can earn us money.  We now brought in a consultant, and they told us that if we want ISO 9001, this your building has to be reconfigured, so we needed to do some design changes, that is what is going on now. So when we finish that, we now invite the auditors to come and audit us, that one is called ISO 17025 calibration.

Don’t you think there should be a legislation that would make it compulsory that there should weather report before some structures are established?

I am not a legislator,  neither am I a lawyer but I believe that. In fact, that is our desire. By the time I had made that move that even in buildings, before you can put up a building of a certain magnitude, there must be some sort of certification, a seal to show that yes this person has obtained authentic weather climate report to enable proper design. In fact, if you listened to the Honourable Minister of Transportation, did you see that he is beginning to work in that direction. That is one success I think we are taking away from this exercise today.

 If something drastic happens, God forbid, say questions should be asked, you all are in aviation, anytime there is incident or accident, the first question people will ask is, how was the weather. If you remember the Sosoliso, Dana, crash the first question people asked was how was the weather? Even all these helicopter crashes we had in recent times, as soon as I hear it, I called my people to give me the weather report in order to arm myself because I know that the powers that be will soon call me to ask what was the weather report?