Growing Confidence on Safety Boosts Traffic in Nigeria’s Airspace

Fola Akinkuotu

Chinedu Eze

With the growing confidence on the safety of Nigeria’s airspace as a result of the improvement in safety standards, the country has recorded huge traffic in its airspace in the last three years, THISDAY has learnt.

THISDAY gathered that Nigeria’s airspace have increasingly recorded more over fliers that go through the country to other destinations.

These include flights from southern parts of Africa to Cairo, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algiers; north to South Africa, and Rwanda; eastern Africa to Accra, Douala, Congo and from West Africa to Kampala, Nairobi, Lusaka and others.

The Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Captain Fola Akinkuotu, told THISDAY that for many years, international carriers that ought to fly across Nigeria’s airspace had diverted their flights to avoid the country’s airspace due to safety concerns.

Also, the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Association (IFALPA), had also blacklisted Nigeria’s airspace as one of the least safe in the world for over 10 years.

Akinkuotu, however, added that this has changed as NAMA currently generates its major revenues from over flier charges.

THISDAY also gathered that the international pilots association has since acknowledged that the Nigeria’s airspace is safe.

Industry consultant and Chief Executive Officer of Belujane Konsult, Mr. Chris Aligbe, told THISDAY that since IFALPA monitors the safety of airspace in the world, if it finds any airspace unsafe, it would notify its members.

“IFALPA lifted the warning on Nigeria’s airspace when it became satisfied with its safety status,” Aligbe added.

However, Akinkuotu attributed the feat to four elements – on-time weather forecast, improvement in communication, effective radar coverage of the airspace and efficient navigation.

Statistics obtained by THISDAY also indicated that since 2015 Nigeria has increased aircraft movement in the airspace by about 45 per cent.

These include: international carriers that fly into the country, flights that fly across the country and domestic airlines that operate many destinations in the country.

The statistics showed that in 2015 Nigeria recorded a total of 289,017 aircraft movements, 15,836,463 passenger movements, and in 2016, it recorded 222,642 aircraft movement, 15,232,397 passenger movements.

In 2017 had shown, the country recorded 210,693 aircraft movements on domestic flights alone and 40,284 international flights, making it a total of 250,977 flight movements.

Also in 2017, Nigeria recorded 10, 383,452 passenger movement on domestic flights and 4,056,717 international flights, making it a total of 14,440,169..

The NAMA boss noted that most of the over fliers pass through the Kano flight region and that is why the agency deployed controller-pilot-data-link communication (CPDC), thus making it easy for pilots flying across Nigeria to make use of messages instead of radio. He said the efficiency of the radar has enabled NAMA to avert accidents in the airspace, disclosing that recently a flight from Abuja to Lagos lost its on-board navigation equipment and was guided by the Air Traffic Control with the radar to land safely in Lagos.

“With the loss of navigation equipment the aircraft was flying blind because the pilot cannot identify his location, but the Controllers used the radar, which monitored the aircraft in the airspace, its location, its altitude to guide the aircraft, instructing the pilot on speed level, when to descend or turn and this continued until the pilot saw the runway and landed. This shows we have very efficient radar, which covers the whole airspace,” Akinkuotu said.

He also added that new flight routes which were mapped in the last five years have saved domestic airlines aviation fuel, as they spend less time flying from one destination to another.

For example, the Lagos-Abuja flight that used to be one hour is now 50 to 55 minutes for Boeing B737 Classic, which is the major operating aircraft in Nigeria.

Chief Executive Officer of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, also told THISDAY that the shorter time flights take from one airport to another saves the airlines between N800 million to N1 billion annually

Also recently the Airport Manager of Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited, Justin Bell, expressed appreciation to NAMA on behalf of the airline for seamless, smooth and timely movement of aircraft across the Nigerian airspace, adding that the flight control team in the United Kingdom also appreciated the agency for its excellence in air navigation service provision.