Why Managing Nigeria’s Airspace is Difficult, NAMA MD, Farouk, Clarifies

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*Agency may increase navigational charges

Chinedu Eze

The Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Umar Ahmed Farouk, has explained that the agency was facing challenges in managing the airspace because the navigational and surveillance infrastructure had become obsolete and needed urgent renewal in order not to threaten air safety in the country.
Farouk also regretted that there was paucity of Air Traffic Controllers, who play critical role in managing the airspace, guiding aircraft safely from one airport to another.

To this end, he contended that the agency urgently needed recruitment, training and deployment of the personnel to the airports in dire need of them.
He also disclosed that NAMA would increase navigational charges in order to generate enough revenue to cover the cost of managing Nigeria’s airspace, stressing that NAMA was not a profit-making organisation but striving to recover expenditures through revenue generation.

Farouk, made this known yesterday in an interview with aviation journalists in Lagos, said the agency was making efforts to improve communication, navigation and surveillance in the airspace, which were critical services it provided for safe flight operations.
The NAMA MD equally explained the challenges the agency was facing in the area of communication in the airspace and how his leadership had been improving the situation.

“Before now, most of the airlines avoided Nigerian airspace and they found it extremely difficult to communicate with air traffic controllers. The reason was that the communication system was weak, and over-saturated due to demand.
“As the industry is growing, you should expect more routes to open and there was no corresponding facility to match the emerging air traffic. So, what we did was to cause a huge investment in that regard by the federal government.

“We realised that there were so many openings, so many routes, we had to increase more stations to have signals that would cover the entire Nigeria. The entire communication had been re-designed to make sure that everywhere, every blind spot is covered.
“And where we are today, even if one system fails, the air traffic controller will not notice because there is an overlap and where one overlaps the other; the other one will assist you.  

“We realised also that our radios are working well and well positioned and we have addressed the challenges we met but then, we are still having issues. These issues have nothing to do with radios. Now, it has to do with electricity,” he said.
Farouk noted that navigational aids needed constant electricity and this has constituted a huge challenge, but to overcome it, NAMA was spending hugely to maintain three layers of power supply, from the grid, generators and solar power.

“What we have decided to do is to deploy solar energy to some of these facilities so that they can function well. We have two sources of power. We have the primary one which is the national grid and we have the second one which is generators, and plants and the third one is solar.
“We deployed all these three because ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) frowns at a situation where you have a blackout even for seconds. So, we make sure that we have an uninterrupted power supply. The funding is not there.

“We are approaching it systematically to make sure that communication is good. At the moment, we have significant improvement but there is still room for improvement. Recently, the Minister  of Aviation, approached the presidency for intervention and N40 billion was budgeted but we are yet to access the money. As soon as it is done, we will be able to tackle safety critical challenges that are before us as far as communication is concerned.

“If you go to Navaids, we are also having obsolete facilities. For an average electronic system, the lifespan is about 10 years. Most of these electronics have been working for the past 15-20 years. You will expect the performance to be below the standard. We are replacing them.
“We have commenced replacement of all these facilities. If not for funding, we would have finished replacing all of them. But for now, we have done almost 80% but the contractors are still working.

“The level of patriotism in them is highly commendable. They have understood us and they are working hard to ensure that they complete the project. Here, we have the surveillance. This is where I have a serious challenge.”

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