Nigerian pilots are not disciplined, experts allege

Say Benin, Enugu airports death traps

Chinedu Eze

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has stated that Nigerian airlines would benefit hugely from the free movement of the region’s carriers from one country to another, popularly referred to as ‘open sky’.

This is coming as aviation experts have identified lack of discipline among pilots, degraded runway, poor radar coverage and inadequate number of air traffic controllers as threats to safety in Nigeria’s airspace.

IATA yesterday urged Nigerian airlines to take advantage of the treaty, Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) to expand their operations across the continent.

Vice President, IATA, for Africa, Mr. Adefunke Adeyemi, gave the advice while speaking at the just-concluded Akwaaba Travel and Tourism Fair in Lagos.

Adeyemi noted that SAATM was inaugurated by Heads of States of the African Union (AU) in January to deepen bilateral relations among countries and foster cooperation among the airlines.

According to her, Nigerian carriers have right to fly into about 40 African countries and can establish hubs in these countries through negotiations and mutually beneficial air service agreements.

Adeyemi noted that no Nigerian carrier was flying to Chad and Niger Republic despite the presence of a viable trade on the routes.

She said it was unfortunate that the airlines were not taking advantage of the SAATM the way Ethiopian Airlines had done so far including its entering into technical partnership with Asky, based in Lome, Togo.

Adeyemi said African airlines should form alliances among themselves to improve their operations as well as profits, adding that some of them already belonged to international platforms like Star Alliance.

She added that the airlines should also strive to secure the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certificate which would enable them play on the global stage.

Adeyemi however decried the high cost of air fares in Africa which she attributed to excessive aviation charges by African governments and also the notion that air travel was exclusively for the rich.

“It is 45 per cent more expensive to fly across Africa than any other region in the world. That is why we are trying to let African governments know that is not an elitist means of transportation,” she said.

In a related development, aviation experts have identified lack of discipline among pilots, degraded runway, poor radar coverage and inadequate number of air traffic controllers as threats to safety in Nigeria’s airspace.

Speaking yesterday at Stakeholders’ Forum organised by the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) in Lagos, the experts acknowledged significant improvement in the airspace but added that obsolete infrastructure, especially the runways in Enugu and Benin airports and the taxi way at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos needed urgent improvement to avert accidents.

NAMA Director of Electronics and Engineering Services, Farouk Umar, explained that the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) which enables controllers to see image of aircraft in the radar scope for easy separation has broken down due to lack of spares.

This, Umar said, hampers separation of aircraft in the airspace, thus forcing air traffic controllers to resort to the manual system, known as procedural, which is less accurate and causes delays, to separate aircraft flying in the nation’s airspace.

Umar said all efforts to source spare parts for the replacement of some of the bad equipment from the manufacturer had proved abortive and disclosed that that the situation had been like that since 2014.

In his speech, a senior pilot with Arik Air, Captain Chris Najomo, called on the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to urgently rehabilitate the runways of the Benin and Enugu airports and described them as death traps, adding that work should also be done on the taxiway to the domestic runway of Lagos airport.

Najomo also said the 80 per cent of Nigerian pilots are not disciplined and called Chief Pilots to caution pilots under their command to inculcate discipline and adopt better ways to talk on the radio when communicating with air traffic controllers in order not to confuse the controllers.

“The airspace is getting safer and has continued to improve but the Chief Pilots should caution their pilots because there is a lot of indiscipline among pilots. The way they talk on radio to air traffic controllers can cause confusion because everyone talks without allowing the controller to understand what each person is saying.

“I also want to say that the Benin and Enugu airport runways are death traps and that they need to open the taxiway at the Lagos airport which has been closed for some time now,” Najomo added.