Last weekend Air Peace Flight P47291 Abuja-Port Harcourt skid off the runway upon landing at the Port Harcourt International Airport due to heavy downpour. Although the 87 passengers and six crew disembarked from the aircraft unhurt and there was no visible damage done to the aircraft after it was pulled back to the runway, many industry observers have expressed concern over the development because of so many of similar incidents at the airports in recent times.
Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa is one of the five designated international airports in the country and after the last rehabilitation of the runway, it is considered as one of the airports that have the best runways in the country.
The airport has been providing service to both domestic, international airlines and private operators and the airport is strategically located because Port Harcourt is the hub of oil and gas operations in Nigeria.
The runway has been a host to many incidents of overshooting, incursion, excursion, besides the tragic Sosoliso crash, the killing of antelope by aircraft while landing and the landing on cattle at the runway. It has been a long runway history for Port Harcourt airport.
For instance, in April 16, 2008, a Virgin Nigeria 737-300 operating from Lagos to Douala with 172 passengers including the under 20 Nigerian female soccer team diverted to Port Harcourt due to hydraulic problems and overran the runway with minor injuries of three passengers. Also, on 14th of July 2008, a Chanchangi Boeing 737-200 overran the runway in drizzle and gusting winds with only two passengers receiving minor injuries. Similarly, on February 20, 2018, a Dana Air MD83 landed in Port Harcourt in poor weather conditions and overran the runway, ending up on soft ground, no injuries occurred. In the same vein, on 23rd of January 2019, a Dornier Aviation Nigeria Dornier 328-100 veered off the runway during landing and into the grass with no injuries.
Finally on the 22nd of June 2019 an Air Peace Boeing 737-500 overshot the runway during heavy rain with no injuries.
The CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi told THISDAY that the runway at the Port Harcourt Airport is notorious for aquaplaning, which affects aircraft during the rains, when the runway has been flooded.
Sanusi said there should be proper investigation into the runway so that remedial actions could be taken to eliminate the flooding that happens whenever it rains for a prolonged time.
“When they do the investigation they should look at the slopes. Every runway has slopes, which drain the water from the centre. Maybe the runway does not have many slopes and that is why it is very notorious for aquaplaning. They should also look at the runway to see that it meets international standards.
“I recall that we made input when they were resurfacing the runway. We said that there should be a crest not a valley so that water can be dissipated immediately it rained. So they should look at the slopes that are on the runway,” Sanuis added.
The Chief Pilot of Air Peace, Captain Victor Egonu told THISDAY that it was after the flight had taken off from Abuja that the Air Traffic Control informed the pilot that there would be thunderstorm at the airport of destination and that the controller did not report the rain until the flight was approaching the airport, which meant it had just started drizzling and there was no turbulence during the flight.
On the Port Harcourt Airport runway he said, “Port Harcourt runway record of water logging. The runway surface is not drained when it rains. There is depression on the runway because it is old. There is high risk of aquaplaning in Port Harcourt.”
“It is also in Lagos at the Runway 18L (domestic runway), which is always water logged when it rains. This is why when it rains pilots choose to land at the Runway 18 R (international runway), which is wider and drains water easily,” Egonu said.
He also noted that drainages had been built on the Runway 18L to eliminate water logging and suggested that the Port Harcourt runway should be looked into and be rehabilitated.
The Port Harcourt Airport has a new international terminal which was unveiled last year by President Murtala Muhammed and few days ago Turkish Airlines started three times weekly flight to the airport.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) however, said it has commenced an intensive re-assessment of runways at the nation’s airports.
“This move is aimed at improving on the efficiency of the facilities, thereby forestalling potential accidents on the runways. Although, the regular friction measurement for Port Harcourt International Airport was conducted in March 2019 and the result falls within the minimum friction coefficient level, the facility witnessed a skidding incident recently.
“It is therefore with the intention to increase the friction coefficient levels of our runways in accordance with NCAA advisory circular that the Authority is embarking on this exercise across the nation’s airports as the rain is becoming very heavy and unpredictable,” FAAN said in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu.
The agency said that as a short term measure to increase the safety of the Port Harcourt runway, the Authority just carried out a de- rubberization exercise between 15 to 22 June, 2019 to remove any contaminant.