Stories by Louis Ibah
There’s a popular saying that no commercial aircraft makes money for its owner sitting on the ground. That’s why airlines globally do everything within their reach to keep their planes on air as much as they can, including late night flights.
According to the Managing Director, Interjet Nigeria Limited, Mr. Seun Peters, owners of airlines also have to keep the aircraft in the fleet flying as much as possible because of the economics associated with their maintenances.
“Once an aircraft is manufactured and released for use, the maintenance routine also starts running immediately and it doesn’t matter if it is flown or kept on the ground,” Peters said. “So it is better to put it to use because whatever part or component of the aircraft that is programmed for change in a specific time would have to be changed for safety purposes irrespective of the fact that the aircraft was never flown and the same thing applies to the C-checks and D-checks on the aircraft,” he added.
Chairman of the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON), Captain Nogie Meggison, however, told Daily Sun that most airline owners are operating their aircraft at half their capacities because of the absence of the requisite Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) at most of the nation’s airports to guide pilots’ land and take off at night and during adverse weather conditions as is the trend all over the world.
At present, apart from the Lagos and Abuja airports, which operate late night flights up to 11.30pm – 12 midnight because of scheduled international flights, the other airports cannot function beyond 6.30pm as they are shut down due to the absence of ILS facilities.
“This is not good for the airline and even for the aircraft because there is no need keeping an aircraft idle when it is supposed to be in the air making money for the owner,” said Megisson.
It is already a known fact that Nigerians love travelling either for leisure of businesses and most analysts say airlines would always get passengers to fly if the country’s airports were equipped with the right ILS that would permit flying even up to 10pm at most of Nigeria’s airports.
“You will be shocked that a lot of Nigerians will be flying at night if we had flights even between 9.30pm – 10pm running between Lagos-Port Harcourt, Calabar, Owerri, Abuja, Kano, Kaduna, Jos, Enugu and Uyo,” an airline official told Daily Sun. “What the country requires to do this is the right landing and lighting instruments and security around the airports and the roads leading to the airports at those hours of the night.”
What is an ILS
An ILS is a highly accurate radio signal navigation aid used by pilots landing at an airport when there is poor weather and/or low visibility. It consists of two antennae, which transmit signals to receivers in the aircraft cockpit – a glide path tower located next to the runway at the northern end and a localiser antenna at the southern end. In any weather condition, pilots must be able to see the runway before landing. These antennae provide the pilot with vertical and horizontal guidance when landing in low visibility. An ILS enables airlines and airports to continue operations in low visibility conditions, such as heavy rain, very low cloud or hamattan haze, and also at night. It is a well-established and proven technology used around the world, but it is also expensive.
Industry sources told Daily Sun that the cost of the purchase, installation and maintenance contract usually sealed with manufacturers could range between $30 – $35 million.
Megisson lamented a situation where airlines have to cancel almost 50 per cent of flights, while about 80 per cent of flights are delayed due to poor instrument landing facilities during harmatan period.
He explained that there is no airplane licenced to fly today in Nigeria that does not have Category Two or Three Certification, meaning that the aircraft are fitted with the right technology to fly at night or under any adverse weather condition provided the pilot is guided by the right ILS.
“Because we don’t have the right facilities, people don’t travel either for business or leisure as they should to most destinations in the country, and the aircraft and airports are also not working optimally as they should, and this definitely affects the entire economy,” said Meggison.
“In Nigeria, the potential of the airlines and even the airports are half utilised because what we are doing is very laughable at this modern age. It is like someone saying, ‘I can’t read at night because the moon did not come out.’ But it is natural that the sun will go down and the moon will or will not come out, and it is for that reason that the world has designed so many technologies that can aid man to read at night comfortably. In Europe, people land planes at 0.0 visibilities and here in Nigeria we can’t land at 2,000 meters, which is just 2kilometers of visibility at night. It is not a good story to tell.
“So why can’t we invest and equip the airports with the instruments now available? Imagine the loss to the airline and the loss to the business community because most of them will like to fly at whatever time of the day or night an airline is allowed to fly. And what is the cost of these navigational facilities?” queried Meggison.
Aviation analyst and former pilot with Nigeria Airways, Capt. Dele Ore, told Daily Sun that it was quite unfortunate that the failure to continue investing in the right facilities at the airports had caused a situation where night flights had been abandoned in Nigeria. He said in the 60s Nigeria Airways was flying between Lagos and the northern parts of the country aiding a lot of commercial ventures between the North and the South. According to him, efforts should be made by the airports and particularly the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) to invest in these new technologies as well as in the training and retraining of the staff that will put them to work and also ensure their continuous maintenance.
Already, the Nigerian Air Traffic Controllers’ Association (NATCA) has called for improvement on communications and surveillance facilities like the ILS and the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) facilities in order to boost and sustain air safety in the country.
According to NATCA President, Victor Eyaru, no matter how beautiful an airport’s buildings in Nigeria look, it will be a waste without the proper navigational facilities in place to guide safe aircraft land and take off with passengers. He explained that at present, air traffic controllers at the nation’s airport control towers still go through a lot of Herculean tasks to communicate with pilots.
Concession as panacea
Most stakeholders seem to support the idea that the concession of the airports, especially those owned by the Federal Government would go a long way in providing the kind of infrastructure that would allow airlines fly at whatever hour they chose to.
Former Managing Director/CEO of Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL), Mr. Christophe Pennick, told Daily Sun in an interview that privatization or concession of the airports remain the panacea to ending the rot in the state of infrastructure at Nigerian airports.
Pennick suggested that Nigeria followed the contemporary trend, where globally countries are now concessioning airports to competent private firms who will then make the requisite investments that will ensure efficient management and effective delivery of services to airlines, passengers and other users of the airport.
“Even in South Africa where you have the best airports in Africa, you find private parastatals running the airports and managing them as businesses not as government employment agencies. Private companies would ensure better efficiency, they will invest more in technology to uplift the infrastructure of the airport, and they will also care more about the customer. So let us concession Nigerian airport and it will be a win-win situation for the airlines, the passengers, and the government. To me this is the right way to go and I support it by 100per cent,” he added.
Tips to survive sleeping in an airport
It does happen, though not so frequent, that air travellers get stuck in an airport for long hours which often necessitates taking a nap or even an overnight sleep.
Below are some tips that could assist such passengers ease their plight in a situation where an airport terminal becomes a bedroom or an overnight guest house.
Spending the night “camping” at an airport is one of those experiences many of us eventually have to endure, says aviation analyst and author, Mr. Bruce Northam, who’s been travelling the globe for the last three decades. “Bad weather can’t be controlled and delays can lead to missed connections, especially at the end of the day,” Northam explains.
“And because airlines aren’t required to do anything for passengers in these situations, they can leave travellers stuck in an airport with few options other than waiting,” he added.
Without doubts, Nigerian air travellers have had cause to sleep at airports both within and outside the country due to delayed flights or the need to wait to get connecting flights at some airports.
For international travellers, it is important to state that sleeping overnight in airports is legal, and hence, there is no need to feel guilty of doing anything illegitimate. For domestic travellers, the same rule applies once the passenger is in possession of a boarding pass and is allowed inside the boarding section of the airport. Passengers must, however, be extra vigilant so as not to miss flight boarding announcements when they are made. Whether catching a nap or sleeping overnight, it is usually in the best interest of the passenger to stay close to the boarding gate where you have other passengers travelling on the same airline and heading towards the same destination. Passengers should also ask for pillows and blankets – even a cot – from airline or airport staff. No one will offer any of these unless you ask.
Most airports normally shut down their shops by midnight, so its important if you are sleeping overnight to stock up on enough food and drinks that would last the night. If you don’t have a reusable water bottle, keep the plastic one you bought and fill them up at the water fountain. Airports can be very cold or chilly and passengers who are sure to spend the night at airports must also include in their carryon luggage some form of winter clothes, especially outerwear like coats, jackets, hats and gloves or mittens, and socks to protect and insulate against low temperatures. Finally, wear sunglasses; they’ll make your unconsciousness less obvious. Earplugs are a good idea, too, if you’re with a group and not worried about theft.
Guard your luggage
Passengers must not lose sight of the fact that just like any other public facility, thieves do exist at airports. If you are worried about someone stealing from you, take measures to protect your luggage. Acquaint yourself with an airline staff, a security personnel, or a night-shift employee and ask them to recommend a safe napping location. Offer to pay them to keep an eye on you and your luggage. You can also look into luggage storage.
Ask your airline for the closest one, but know that there’s hardly a standard for how they’re run. Look for a safe, comfortable spot close to amenities. In general, look for benches & seating without arm rests, or carpeted areas that you know are monitored by camera, but aren’t near heavy foot traffic. Look for other airport nappers and go bond with them: safety in numbers never goes out of style.
Many airports now have yoga/meditation rooms with complimentary mats. And most international airports have prayer rooms that might also be napping options. Be polite though.
If hotels or pods aren’t an option and you’re averse to sleeping in public, Donna McSherry, owner of sleepinginairports.net recommends sleeping in a rental car. “Head over to the car rentals’ hall to find out the cost of a car rental and—assuming you can keep the car in the lot at no cost, which you usually can at a regional airport—sleep in the car.
Early morning flights
Travelers who have very early morning flights might actually want to spend the night in an airport rather than shell out for a hotel room or chance missing an alarm. If that’s you—arrive with a boarding pass (for airlines with electronic boarding passes) and early enough to go through security, which closes overnight, or you’ll be stuck in the less comfortable ticketing area. Many airlines don’t open their ticket counters until a few hours before departure, and even if they are open well before that, some won’t issue tickets until a couple of hours before flight time (call ahead if you’re not sure). Also, beware of smaller airports, which tend to close down the gate section of the airport entirely during the midnight hours.