By Louis Ibah
The harmatan season is here with its characteristic dusty-cold wind blowing across the Sahara. For the Nigerian air transport industry, the season comes with some challenges. Weather conditions are so critical to the aviation sector. Therefore, the poor visibility associated with the harmatan haze makes it impossible for pilots to fly.
You fly all the time. Have you noticed that what the entire pilot tells you always is about weather? When he stabilises the aircraft and is cruising at a comfortable altitude, he will inform passengers that the en-route weather is either good or that there are a few clouds to encounter along the route and so passengers should expect some bumps.
In the last one week, airlines have to delay, reschedule or cancel their flights for safety purposes. And this comes with a huge loss in revenue to the airlines as well as an untold hardship and inconveniences to air passengers.
In fact, an estimated N200million is lost daily by airlines whenever they are forced to cancel, delay or reschedule flights in Nigeria.
Director-General of Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), Dr. Anthony Anuforom, had already forecasted that there would be moderate to severe outbreaks of dust haze during the period of November 2016 – March 2017 in Nigeria, which will reduce horizontal visibility significantly to 1,000meters and below in some parts of the country.
To forestall any air crash during the harmatan season, the Nigerian Meteorology Agency NIMET had warned airlines and pilots to ensure that prior to flight operations that they obtain adequate and accurate weather information from NIMET. Airlines are also advised to ensure that flight operations are scheduled with adequate weather information from NIMET to minimise delay or cancellation of flight operations and pilots in particular are warned to exercise maximum restraint when adverse weather is given by NIMET.
Poor navigations facilities
Ideally, with such warnings by NIMET coming months ahead of the onset of the harmatan season, one would have expected the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigerian Airsapce Management Agency (NAMAS) to have swung into action by making the investments in the requisite technology that would boost aircraft take off and landing at various airports in the country even with the poor visibility associated with the harmatan. But sadly, that never occurred. According to the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) several flights, especially the early morning flights, are being grounded owing to the deplorable state of navigational aids at airports around the country which makes flying in the Nigerian airspace virtually impossible during the harmatan season.
The AON bemoaned the obsolete navigational and lightening aids in Nigerian airports saying most international and local flights had to be diverted to airports in nearby Cotouou, Benin Republic where facilities exist to support landing under harsh weather. The AON said 40 years ago on December 28, 1968 the first aircraft operated at Category Three (CAT lll) and landed in zero visibility at Heathrow airport, and wondered why Nigeria was unable to land aircraft with visibility of about 800meters in 2016.
Weather related air crashes
The most recent weather related air crash involved an Air France jet that hit a patch of thunderstorms and lightning over the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.
Air France Flight 447 left Rio de Janeiro heading for Paris May 31, 2009 carrying 228 people, according to news reports. The last contact with the plane came just after it hit a rough patch of weather and signaled a possible electrical malfunction.
Some analysts said a lightning strike could have disabled the plane, noting that there could have been several other weather warnings that the pilots may have failed to heed.
In Nigeria, the ADC and Sosoliso Airlines flights which crashed Abuja and Port Harcourt respectively have been linked to harsh weather. Accident investigators attribute the Sosoliso flight, which crashed on December 10, 2005 at the Port Harcourt International Airport killing 108 passengers and crew, including school children. to missed approach, a pilot error which was caused mainly by low level wind shear at the airport. Similarly, on October 29, 2006, there was the ADC Flight which crashed shortly after takeoff from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, killing 105 passengers and five-crew. The cause was also linked to low-level wind shear. To conquer weather there must be accurate weather report, which airline operators must adhere to.
Therefore, based on the ADC and Sosoliso flights weather induced air-accidents and the spate of near-air-crashes that followed thereafter, the Federal Government had to invest massively in the development of weather information gathering and dissemination infrastructure at the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET). Wind shear alert system is not a cheap technology. It costs quite some money to install one. Prior to that ADC crash in 2006; there was no single wind shear alert system in any Nigerian airport. But after that and based on the recommendation of Accident and Investigation Bureau (AIB), Nigeria at present has equipped nine airports with wind shear alert system.
It however appears that weather conditions in Nigeria are getting worse and the impact on the aviation sector aggravated more with each passing year. Experts have therefore warned that at the root of the problem lies the degradation of the Nigerian environment.
Director-General of NIMET, Dr. Anthony Anuforom, in a paper presented recently to mark the convocation ceremony at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), explained why Nigeria has suddenly become highly vulnerable to Climate Changes. Nigerians are polluting the environment at a very alarming rate through the wrong use or disposal of chemical, industrial waste and deforestation without a corresponding effort to remediate the hazard.
In the lecture titled “Weather Observation, Modelling and Forecasting for Managing Climate Change Impacts”, Anforom opined that considering the “cross-cutting and multifaceted nature of climate change issues, greater inter-disciplinary research is recommended as no single organisation, Ministry, Department or Agency can tackle it alone.”
He also threw a big challenge to the academic community in Nigeria to rise up and contribute its quota to the resolution of climate change issues through vigorous research and establishment of basic weather observatories across the country in other to increase the density of weather data collection in Nigeria.
According to him, the Maplesoft Climate Change Vulnerability Index, places the country as the third most vulnerable country in the world. “This is an issue of serious concern that requires decisive and coordinated action,” said Anuforom.
The INDC effort
In order to nip these challenges in the bud, Anuforom said a Presidential Committee has finalised Nigeria’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions to Reduction in Green Gas Emission (INDC) with an adaptation component which gives speed to the project.
He said that the adaptation component of Nigeria’s INDC is derived largely from the National Adaptation Strategy and Plan of Action for Climate Change Nigeria (NASPA-CCN). “The goal of the adaptation component spells out actions to be taken to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts, minimise risks, increasing resilience, improving adaptive capacity, leveraging on new opportunities and facilitating collaboration within the country as well as the global community,” said Anuforom.
“The INDC outlines adaptation strategies for 13 sectors, namely: agriculture (Crop and Livestock), water Resources (Fresh and Coastal), forestry, biodiversity, health and sanitation, energy, human settlement and housing. There are also transportation and communication, industry and commerce; disaster management, migration and security, livelihoods, vulnerable groups and education
“Weather observation and forecasting, as well as other climate services provided by NIMET are required for implementing the strategies set out for most of the sectors,” Anuforom added.
To guarantee sustainable success, Anuforum recommended the resuscitation and completion of the Development of a National Framework for Application of Climate Services (NFACS) which was conceptual prized in 2013 to “provide a mechanism or platform that brings together climate information providers (such as NIMET), end-users, researchers and other stakeholders to facilitate the production and timely dissemination of science-based information”.
“Like the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) developed by WMO, the proposed NFACS will enable Nigerians manage the risks and opportunities arising from climate variability and change by providing science-based information to the most vulnerable and incorporating such information into planning, policy formulation and implementation at all levels of government”, the DG declared.
Anuforom said that with advancements in computing and ICT infrastructure, the weather forecasting procedure in NIMET has become highly modernised in the past few years. He said modern technology has eliminated the stress of manual data collection and analysis before a forecast is generated. He noted that the contemporary practice involves the use of supercomputers to produce Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) Models.
Anuforom said although the development of accurate weather report was a continuous process, the level so far attained in weather forecasting by NIMET enables it give accurate weather report for Nigeria and other countries in the ECOWAS sub-region.
Enforcing weather reports
The task of ensuring a safe sky in Nigeria is one that must be pursued by all stakeholders. There is therefore the need for the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to ensure the enforcement of the bad weather data generated by NIMET by pilots and airlines.
Above all, the relevant agencies at the airports need to invest in modern navigation aids and runway lights in line with global trend. That way aircraft can fly under any weather conditions at Nigerian airports. Passengers should also show restrain and understanding whenever flights are cancelled or delays due to weather conditions because it is in the interest of safety.
Also, the planned concession or privatisation of Nigerian airports might be a way forward provided it is transparent and with a clear agenda as the concessionaire would make sure these landing aids are in place at the airports they bought-over or manage under a concession deal with the government.