Aviation, probably more than any other mode of transportation, is greatly affected by weather. From thunderstorms to reduced visibility due to hazy conditions, every phase of flight has the potential to be impacted by weather.
Nigeria, Ghana and other West African countries are some of the places in the world where harmattan haze still bring flight operations to a halt. The trend has become wearily familiar.
As a result, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) recently issued a weather alert to all pilots indicating hazards associated with harmattan dust haze in flight operations at this period of the year.
The circular, to all pilots and airline operators, signed by the Director General of the Authority, Captain Muhtar Usman, specifically told pilots: “To be cautious and uphold Standard and Recommended Practices (SARPs) while conducting flights during hazardous weather associated with dust haze at this period.”
Commercial aviation in Nigeria must deal with these adverse weather effects. The cost is a significant budget item. It is one of the perennial weather phenomena that have adverse impact on flight.
Nigeria has a relatively fledgling domestic aviation market, which is constrained by high tariffs, high fuel costs, relatively low load factor and limited routes.
A typical domestic operator’s Direct Operational Cost (DOC) per flight can range between $3,000 for a regional jet type aircraft with seating capacity of 50-70 passengers to Abuja and $4,000 for a similar flight to Kano. Direct costs due to weather on airline operations can be separated into several categories: diversion, cancellation and delay.
The lowest passenger movements are always in November/December/January. Even though there may be other variables, obviously the effect of weather may have a significant impact on these reductions and the economic effects on domestic operators cannot be downplayed.
Though the costs associated with delays and cancellations vary, airlines taking such actions risk eroding passenger goodwill and that results in lost future revenue.
The impact goes beyond just the lost revenue from ticket sales. The list includes added costs for rescheduling crews, including transportation and hotel costs.
Every December-January, airlines are forced to cancel scheduled flights for several days because of the poor visibility imposed on the nation’s airports by cloudy weather. This period has been no exception. In the absence of modern landing facilities, the airports are virtually shut down.
In the few instances when flights were operated at all, it almost resulted in disaster.
Severe harmattan weather adversely affects operations to the far North and many other places in the South-East where the phenomenon could be very high.
The irony is that most of the airports with exception of a few are yet to be upgraded with a precision approach system, such as an Instrument Landing System (ILS) that will provide precision guidance for pilots to land in such low visibility conditions.
The advantages of having navigational aids like an ILS and approach light components at airports in Nigeria is that it provides precision vertical and horizontal navigation guidance information during approach and landing.
The attractiveness of ILS lies in the economy of its avionics costs and its wide international acceptance. Technological advances over the years have yielded great improvement in accuracy, dependability, and maintainability.
Presently it is only the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja that have the Category III ILS, while the others are still stuck with the Category II, which is less precise.
The era of human estimation of visual range is becoming a past time and the government needs to equip the Nigerian Meteorological Agency with modern equipment.
The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) had a couple of months ago stated that the CAT III equipment is currently being installed to replace CAT II at the airports, to boost operations and safety.
In spite of the best efforts of government, there is still a lot to be done in this very crucial sector in the country.
For instance, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd) of the Aviation Security Consultant, said the CAT III ILS upgrade has been long in coming for 20 years, but still regretted that most of the airports are yet to get airfield lighting for night operations.
According to the aviation expert, it will cost less than $1 million each for the 10 airports dotted across the country.
Should lightening be installed then airlines will be able to go to places like Owerri, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Benin, Calabar and Enugu among others beyond 7p.m., thus enhancing the businesses of private airlines using those airports.
Government and its agencies in charge of this important sector should spare no efforts in ensuring seamless flight operations in the country’s airspace in order to make it not only safer, but also more pleasurable for passengers.