FAAN needs urgent rehabilitation of its electricity system

Penultimate Saturday night, the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos was thrown into darkness at a period the foreign airlines were boarding their passengers to their various destinations. The power outage paralysed the operations of departing flights and the airlines had to device other means of boarding in the dark by using torchlight and moving the passengers through the ramp. Yet, as unfortunate as that development might have seemed, it was not an isolated incident as flight operations at the international wing of both Lagos and Abuja airports have incessantly been disrupted by power outages which threaten the safety of both passengers and airlines aside compromising security standards in the age of terror.

The list of such occurrences is very long. On July 8, 2016, power outage at the Abuja airport forced airlines to abort flights and delayed aircraft about to take off by over one hour. That outage was critical because it affected airfield lighting and left the runway in darkness at about 8p.m. As such, no aircraft could take off or land, forcing those on ground to delay start up, while the fights about to land had to hover for several minutes before power was restored. The Saturday power outage incident was exacerbated by a heavy downpour which disrupted efforts to restore electricity. Indeed, some parts of the terminal remained in darkness till the following day.

We must note particularly that airfield outage is dangerous, especially at night because aircraft on emergency cannot land at the runway in the dark and it may not be able to fly to alternative or closest airport. It is also wasteful and risky for an aircraft to hover, (burning aviation fuel which is not readily available in Nigeria) while waiting for the restoration of light at the runway. This is aside the fact that airlines lose huge amounts of money on avoidable delays occasioned by frequent power outages at the nation’s airports.

These delays and disruptions are part of the challenges foreign and local airlines encounter and make Nigeria a hostile environment for air travel operations. Late last year, power disruption at the Lagos airport paralysed the Common Use Terminal System (CUTE), forcing airlines to check in passengers manually, which delayed facilitation and forced international carriers to depart from the airport two to three hours later than their scheduled take off time.

The consequences of these problems are the high insurance premium for aircraft operating in our country and the difficulty of international financiers to grant credit facilities or lease aircraft to Nigerian airlines, despite the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to the Cape Town Convention which enables the use of mobile equipment as collateral for aircraft acquisition. There have been efforts made by the federal government through the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to improve power supply at the Lagos airport.

It is noteworthy that the upgrade of electricity at the airport was started in 2009 and while the federal government gave approval for the purchase of two generators, the scope of the project was later reduced. Meanwhile, available reports indicate that the whole underground cables have been damaged and some of them have been melting over the past decades because they are as old as the airport.

FAAN needs to have a comprehensive rehabilitation of its electricity system – the 40-year- old facilities that have been overstretched as well as the cables buried underground which bristle and cut when there is power surge as usage of electricity has surpassed the installed capacity. There must be a lasting solution to the problem to ensure uninterrupted power supply, at least to the nation’s prime and busiest airports.