Flight Operations Disrupted as Air Traffic Controllers Protest Death of Colleague

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  • ATC units operate flow control nationwide forcing airlines to cancel flights

Chinedu Eze

Early Flights from Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano were on Tuesday delayed following the introduction of “Flow Control” by Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs), which is a measured delay of flight start up aimed at slowing down traffic.

This forced airlines to cancel some of their flights, as they could not operate them at the scheduled time due to disruptions by the controllers.

Following the death of one of their colleagues while on duty, Air Traffic Controllers introduced flow control as protest against alleged poor welfare by the management of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).

This development was coming after an Air Traffic Controller; Anniekan Effiong, slumped and died early hours on Monday while on duty at the Abuja Approach Radar Control (TRACON).

Chief Operating Officer, Dana Air, Obi Mbanozua, who confirmed the action of the controllers, said the airline’s 06:45am to Abuja got airborne at 8:15am as the situation looked “as if it’s going to be a long day.”

Mbanozua also disclosed that the airline’s 7:00am PHC was number 20 in the sequence and its Owerri flight of 7:30am was number 12 in the sequence.

“An Arik flight which is number three has just been told not to expect startup clearance before 9:40am in an hour! We’re calling all our passengers right now,” he said.

Also Green Africa cancelled its inaugural flight from Lagos to Owerri slated for 1:45 pm but later rescheduled the flight to 4:45 pm and later announced further delay.

THISDAY also learnt other airlines were facing the same hiccups, as Air Traffic Controllers Flow Control disrupt their flight schedules.

The executive council of National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) held an emergency meeting on Monday and issued a statement thereafter.

NATCA said after deliberations, the council resolved that the ATC system and operations in Nigeria had been skewed and operated with complete disregard to the well being of ATCOs.

“The managers of the system (the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency) have consistently refused to act in good faith in order to reverse the ugly situation, resulting in one-death too many. Despite all entreaties from the EXCO, no action seems to be initiated to resolve any of the issues, hence we are constrained to use any other means at our disposal to register and send out our frustration with the system.

“From 0600 UTC on Tuesday, 23rd November 2021 all ATC units nationwide should operate flow control and all departures should be spaced at 20 minutes interval. All international flights will be exempted,” NATCA said in a statement on Tuesday.

The association also resolved that all ATCOs would be on high alert should there be a need to escalate this exercise beyond flow control, they are ready to further such actions.

“This exercise will be for two days and will be strictly executed at the four major airports with strict coordination from adjacent aerodromes before any start up is issued,” the statement signed by NATCA President, Abayomi Agoro and Secretary, Agbonlahor Felix, added.

An aeronautical engineer who spoke to THISDAY explained that Flow Control means delay in directing startups.

“Usually aircraft takes off within 3-5 of each other but due to lack of manpower or industrial action, controllers do flow control and delay the take off. The implication is that there will be flight delays and slow operation. This seriously caused delays,” the source explained.

At as the time of filling this report, there were moves to reach out to the controllers for them to stop the Flow Control and return to the status quo.