Pilots Warn of Imminent Disaster over Poor Landing Aids


Chinedu Eze

Nigerian pilots have warned of looming tragic accidents at the nation’s airports due to poor, obsolete or lack of critical landing aids.

Some of the pilots who spoke to THISDAY complained of incessant failure of air navigational facilities at airports, the undulating nature of many runways and lack of or obsolete instrument landing system (ILS).

They warned that if no urgent measures were taken to improve these facilities, flight operations would be impaired and the situation would be exacerbated as the rains set in.

Members of Senate Committee on Aviation, who visited Lagos for facility inspection late last year had confirmed the pilots’ complaints and noted that the pilots have consistently complained of their inability to communicate in the Nigerian airspace due to epileptic network radio frequency.

Over the years, the pilots had complained of poor communications between them and Air Traffic Controllers to the extent that at some sections of the airspace there won’t be any communications at all.

THISDAY learnt that besides that Nigeria does not have Category two and three ILS, which could land aircraft in bad weather; most of the existing ILS are either malfunctioning or are epileptic in performance.

With such landing aids, it is difficult to operate flights in the night, said a pilot who spoke to THISDAY, noting that coupled with lack of airfield lighting at most of the airports, “flying in the Nigerian airspace is simply a nightmare and an accident waiting to happen.”

This was corroborated by the controllers who once said in a joint statement that the Instrument Landing System serving the Lagos Runway 18R has been unserviceable for close to three months while the one serving the Second Runway (18L) have been epileptic for more than one month.

“The distance measuring equipment located with the VOR (voice ominidirectional radio range) in Lagos has been out of service for a long time as well. Equipment in many airports including communication facilities suffers that same fate,” the controllers said.

The pilots who spoke to THISDAY were irked that instead of improving, the landing infrastructure is degenerating “because anyone that breaks down never gets repaired and when air crash happens, government will set up a committee and a task force. We cannot continue like this,” said a pilot who spoke to THISDAY on condition of anonymity.

The pilots complained severely about the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Runway 18L, known as the domestic runway and noted that after the facility was rehabilitated few years ago, it still lacked basic amenities that aircraft no longer arrive at the runway from 6:00 pm due to inadequate airfield lighting and other aids; yet, the runway is one of the busiest in the country.

A former Commandant of the Murtala Muhammed Airport and the Secretary of Aviation Round Table (ART), Group Captain John Ojikutu while reacting to the pilots complaints said: “We don’t need better information than the recent experiences at Abuja and Kaduna. If the runway and airfield approach aids at Abuja the nation’s capital was at the level it was before the airport was closed for its repairs, you can imagine what could be happening to those at other airports. If navigational aids including the ILS for Kaduna an alternate to Abuja were hurriedly bought to prepare it for the Abuja diverted traffic, you can imagine the level of decays in other airports.

“Most airports don’t have night landing facilities. Ilorin for instance is the alternate to Lagos but does not have night landing facilities. Last December, when the harmattan weather was becoming inclement in reduced visibility, domestic airlines were virtually grounded because most ILS have exceeded their tolerant limits and needed calibration. The good news however, is that, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) now has a plan to calibrate the navigational aids in ten airports following the successful calibration of those at Abuja and the installations of new ones at Kaduna”, he said.

Last week the Minister of State, Aviation Senator Hadi Sirika said government has set plans in motion to acquire and install landing aids that could allow aircraft to land in low visibility and NAMA new management has kicked off a programme that aimed to improve landing facilities but the Nigerian government is always full of promises and less action.