•Aviation minister promises to upgrade landing systems at airports
Tobi Soniyi in Abuja and Segun Awofadeji in Bauchi
One day after airline operators threatened to suspend fights over the obsolete landing aids at Nigerian airports that had forced them to cancel several flights in the last three days due to the harmattan haze, President Muhammadu Buhari became a victim of the same poor infrastructure yesterday when he was forced to cancel a visit to Bauchi State due to the prevailing weather conditions in the country.
A statement by the president’s media aide, Mr. Garba Shehu blamed the cancellation of the visit on bad weather, which prevented the president’s aircraft from flying.
The statement said: “Uncooperative weather which has been the bane of air travel in the current harmattan season, leading to the delay and cancellation of flights, reared its head in Abuja Airport this morning, preventing the take off of the president’s plane for the trip to Bauchi.
“Technical information received from the weather station showed that visibility as of this morning was 600 meters, 200 metres short of the 800 metres minimally required for safe aircraft take off.”
According to the information available, the visibility was expected to drop to 300 metres before improving to the permissible limit later in the day.
The statement said the commander of the Presidential Air Fleet, Air Commodore Hassan Abubakar, said that the presidential aircraft was in perfect condition, the weather in Bauchi was alright, but that the problem was in Abuja.
In cancelling the visit to the state, Buhari expressed regret over the disruption caused by the bad weather.
In a recorded audio and video message, he said he looked forward to the visit, in the course of which he was to commission an air force medical facility and a number of other projects by the state government.
He said he also intended to thank the people for their relentless support in all his political undertakings.
“We make our plans, God makes His own plans,” said the president.
Buhari thanked the government and people of Bauchi State and the Nigerian Air Force for the studious and elaborate preparations made to receive him, and assured that he would visit the state at a more auspicious time.
Prior to the explanation given by the presidency, Bauch State Government officials had laid siege on the Tafawa Balewa International Airport awaiting the president’s arrival in the scorching sun, only to be disappointed.
Buhari’s first visit to Bauchi billed for Tuesday, December 13, was also cancelled after all the preparations to receive him by Governor Mohammed Abubakar and the people of the state, including the erection of larger than life billboards across strategic locations in the state capital, had been concluded.
The president was said to have cancelled the first visit, which was on the invitation of the Nigeria Air Force, because he had to travel to The Gambia to mediate in the political impasse in that country after its presidential election.
As word got out yesterday that Buhari was not going to turn up for the second time, the governor called his Special Assistant, Social Media, Sha’aban Sharada, at about 10 a.m. to inform him of the president’s inability to fly to Bauchi due to the poor weather.
Ahead of yesterday’s last minute cancellation, Plateau State governor, Solomon Lalong and his Gombe State counterpart, Ibrahim Dankwambo, members of the National Assembly from the three states, the Ministers of Education and Defence, and the defence and air force chiefs, were already in the state ahead of the visit.
Reacting to the no show, Governor Abubakar said: “Though this important visit of Mr. President has been cancelled, I am confident that by the time he comes there will be more projects for him to commission in spite of paucity of resources in government coffers.”
The governor thanked the people of Bauchi State for supporting all the policies, projects and programmes of the Buhari administration and that of the state under his watch.
Some of the projects the president was expected to commission were roads and other infrastructure executed by the administration of Abubakar in addition to the hospital constructed by the Nigerian Air Force.
Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, in his reaction, said yesterday that the federal government was planning to upgrade the Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) at the country’s major airports, to ensure that they are working better.
This is with a view to minimising the sort of flight disruptions that have featured every harmattan season.
Airline operators on Wednesday had threatened to suspend flights pending the provision of modern landing aids that would enable them fly with minimum visibility as obtains in other countries including West African nations.
They berated the federal government over its failure to provide modern landing aids that could facilitate flights during the harmattan season and hazy weather conditions, and lamented the huge losses they incur annually due to inadequate supply of aviation fuel and flight disruptions at the peak of the Christmas holidays.
The airlines said Nigerian airports still use category one visibility rules of 800 metres, which make it impossible for airlines to operate during the harmattan season, but small and less developed countries like Togo and Benin Republic have category two visibility rules because they have the landing aids that allow flights to land even with visibility at less than 200 metres.
The operators also complained that 50 per cent of their flights are cancelled due to lack of aviation fuel, inadequate infrastructure like airfield lighting and bad weather that could be managed with better navigational equipment.
As a result, they complained that they lose money and passengers’ travel arrangements are disrupted.