While Nigerian airlines were musing about how to beat the Harmattan haze that usually obstruct flight operations in December, they never envisaged that they would face the current flight disruptions occasioned by the ceaseless rains that have lasted for over two weeks.
Industry operatives said that in the past, thunderstorm usually characterise the beginning and end of the rains but three months into the rainy season in 2017, the weather has remained unstable, causing disruptions to flight operations.
Few weeks ago, this writer was in Lagos to Abuja flight, which was scheduled to arrive its destination in 55 minutes, but few minutes into the flight, the pilot announced that there was thunderstorm and heavy downpour in Abuja, so the flight had two choices: either to divert to Kano and wait for the harsh weather to ebb or hover around in the airspace until clement weather condition returned.
The pilot chose the latter and the aircraft hovered for 30 minutes before the pilot announced again that it would take another 30 minutes to manouevre the flight and the pilots started meandering through the gloomy, heavily laden rain clouds, descended and made the initial approach until it landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja amid relief and excitement of the passengers.
It took that flight two hours to fly from Lagos to Abuja. The normal duration of such fight is 55 minutes. So the airline lost more than twice the volume of fuel it normally uses to operate that route. The flight spent extra one hour and five minutes, consequent upon which the next flight was delayed by more than one hour.
Another problem is bad weather, which could lead to accident but so far pilots have said that the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) has effectively been delivering accurate weather reports that have helped airline to operate safely. Airlines also explained that such delays and diversions occur during sudden weather changes when the flight is already airborne; because weather could change suddenly without notice. A major example is the low level wind shear, which is known as very devastating to flights and could occur suddenly within few minutes.
THISDAY spoke with airline officials who relived their experiences about the weather since the inception of the rains and noted that through the dexterity of their pilots and their operational standards; there has not been any threat to flights due to the inclement weather.
Spokesman of Air Peace, Chris Iwarah told THISDAY that the weather this period has been a big issue, disclosing that last Friday, the flight scheduled to Benin from Lagos has to be delayed for about four hours due to bad weather.
â€œAnd you know, delays have chain reaction because the aircraft that is operating that service is already scheduled for another flight, which would now be affected by the delay. Luckily because of the arrival of our new airplanes we have a back up, so we deployed the new plane into operation, but generally weather has been very, very problematic this time,â€ Iwarah said.
In planning to avert the disruptions in December last year where flight operations did not take place for about two days due to Harmattan haze, Iwarah said Air Peace in December 2017 would seize the windows of good whether that may occur to deploy many flights at the same time and for this to happen the airline would need more aircraft, disclosing that the airline would deliver smaller body aircraft, Embraer airplanes that had been ordered.
â€œWe are bringing about six more aircraft, including Embraers, which will increase our fleet to 22. We just tested our latest aircraft with the bad weather and we see that we can take advantage of the window of normal weather during the haze. Our plan is that we wonâ€™t roaster all our aircraft, so that we would have more aircraft to deploy at any point in time,â€ Iwarah said.
Although the federal government promised that it would install sophisticated instrument landing system (ILS) at some airports before December, the airlines are expressing doubt that this would be achieved. They are therefore making their own plans without the government input.
A source at Arik Air told THISDAY that the bad weather has disrupted the airlines flight in the last three to four weeks.
â€œWe have had flight cancelations due to weather and delayed flights, especially in Lagos, Benin, Warri, Port Harcourt and Ibadan. But we have adopted a new strategy because our management is technically grounded; we now keep one aircraft on standby. We could deploy the aircraft to operate one or two flights, then we rest it so that if there is another aircraft that develops technical problem and placed on aircraft on ground (AOG), the one on standby will be deployed,â€ the Arik Air source said.
The Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Medview Airline, Lukman Animaseun told THISDAY: â€œThe weather has been bad, especially in the last one week. We had one diversion and delayed flights, lasting from 45 minutes to one hour; fortunately we always have more than enough fuel, but we plan our flights carefully. Before our flights depart we usually have the reports on minimum weather conditions and if they do not meet our standard we donâ€™t depart,â€ he said.
Weather is a natural phenomenon. It is the responsibility of the airlines to adjust to its whims.