As Director of Electronics and Engineering Services for the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Mr. Farouk Umar, supervises the operations of Nigeria’s Total Radar Coverage (TRACON) project.
Umar’s responsibility involves is keeping a close eye on the technical and safety operations of the multi-billion naira project and ensuring that nothing goes wrong that could compromise the facility and pose harm to flight safety.
The history of TRACON dates to 2003, when the the Federal Government first muted the idea of investing in a modern radar facility akin to what exists in developed economies. But it was not until seven years later in 2010 that the project was eventually brought on stream following a successful deal with Messrs Thales of France, leaders in radar manufacturers in Europe.
Until then, Nigeria’s aviation industry had to rely on an obsolete radar facility (established in the mid-60s. With expansion of aviation activities over the subsequent years, this radar was no longer able to capture aircraft in the country’s airspace.
It was a dark era where emergency and rescue team could not easily locate crashed aircraft and where after a week of search for a missing aircraft that escaped the then radar, the incident was simply dismissed as a hoax. In fact, there were two such incidences of “disappearing aircraft”- where owners of air- craft and families of crew would assert that an aircraft and crew and passengers on board are missing and regulatory authorities will insist that it was a lie.
Working with engineers from the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), manufacturers and radar technology experts from Thales of France were able to design a unique Total Radar Coverage for Nigeria (TRACON) technology for NAMA’s use. It was built with an automated Approach Area Control (AAC) component with Integrated Flight and Radar Data Processing Auro
Cat-C and other associated equipment sited at the four major airports – Lagos, Kano, Abuja, and Port Harcourt.
In order to effectively cover the whole of Nigeria, TRACON had other stand-alone facilities located at Maiduguri, Ilorin, Numan, Talata-Mafara and Obubra.
On delivery in 2010, the TRACON project had cost the Nigerian government an estimated €66,500,870million Euros (about N27billion by today’s forex value).
Crisis over spares
At a stakeholders interactive forum organised by the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Mr. Farouk Umar, Director of Safety Electronics and Engineering Services caused a stir when he told the gathering the agency could no longer access spare parts from the manufacturer, Thales of France (as stipulated in the contractual agreement) to maintain the TRACON facility.
“All efforts to source spare spare parts for the replacement of some of the bad equipment from the manufacturer has proved abortive,” said Umar.
“The situation has been like that since 2014, which was four years after the project came on stream as the agency has been operating the equipment without spares from the manufacturers,” he added.
Umar also said that the facility is also due for upgrade to the technology that was more current. Umar alleged that the French firm had reneged in their contractual agreement and demanded that the Federal Government should wade into the matter. An investment of that magnitude cannot
be allowed to rot, he said.
Meanwhile mixed reactions have continued to trail Umar’s revelation with some stakeholders holding the Nigerian Civil aviation Authority (NCAA) responsible for failing to strictly monitor the operations of key assets in the industry like the TRACON project.
Some of the stakeholders allege graft on the part of top executives of NAMA, saying sums built-in for the maintenance of the project and continuous staff training were misappropriation and not handed over to the manufacturers as stipulated in the contract.
Analyst, Group Capt. John Ojikutu, in his reaction decried a situation where managers of a multi-million naira project such as the TRACON would fail to protect and ensure its proper management.
Ojukutu who lamented the lack of spares for a turnkey project that was barely four years old after its completion, faulted a situation where after Umar had spoken “nobody on the NAMA high table at the Stakeholders forum said anything to show the seriousness of such negligence.” Ojikutu said he was privy to the TRACON deal when it was conceptualised and executed. alleged that, “
The contract was tampered with by at least three of the five Managing Directors of NAMA and on one occasion, about $2.4 million earmarked for the training of the controllers for the project was re-
moved by the Managing Director that signed the turnkey project less than four months after the contract was signed.
“His successor removed the primary radars which our Committee restored.
The next successor tried to remove the VSAT, and again our Committee objected. The same successor created the problem of the lack of no spares for the TRACON when he decided to contract the supply to a third party, and again the committee objected especially when Thales of France reminded us that the project was a turnkey project that had an inbuilt of spare part supply for 10 years. I still have a letter we wrote to the Presidency on this issue which was also highlighted in our report.”
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NCAA complicity in TRACON crisis Ojukutu queried the jobs of regulatory officials of the NCAA and the Federal Ministry of Aviation in their oversight functions on NAMA.
“Has the Ministry and NCAA asked why a turnkey project with a lifespan that is not less 10 years lack spares that barely could sustain it for four years?” demanded Ojukutu. Who is carrying out oversight on the NCAA? Why or how could the NCAA not know that NAMA’s TRACON is deficient in spares? Will we wait until the day it will be the reasons to shut flight operations?”.
A statement by NAMA’s spokesman, Mr. Khalid Emele, said that the Director of Safety Electronics and Engineering Services, Mr. Farouk Umar, was quoted out of context during his presentation at the stakeholders’ forum.
“The TRACON), project is working optimally and spare parts for the facility are regularly sourced from the manufacturers Thales of France whenever required,” he added.