…Pilots raise alarm over landing safety
Safety and security experts are raising the red flag over mushrooming a high-rise buildings and telecommunication masts around Nigerian airports and on aircraft flight paths, saying the trand poses a huge risk to safe flight operations in the country.
Although Nigerian aviation industry has enjoyed zero air accident record in the last five years with the last air-crash occurring in October 2013, near crash incidents in the last couple of months, have forced safety experts to draw the attention of regulatory agencies to the proliferation of telecommunication masts and high rise structures around some of the country’s airports in contravention of international civil aviation regulations.
The International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) regulation places high restrictions on high-rise structures around airports and aircraft landing routes. In fact, any building on the flight path of an aircraft ought not to be higher than four-storey tall according to ICAO standard, except for the control towers sited within the airport vicinity.
Nigeria has about 22 airports and Daily Sun learnt that in those areas where there have been cases of high rise structures on the flight path of aircraft, pilots are reported to be battling to manoeuvre through the tall buildings and telecoms masts, which have infringed their pathways and still stay on their flight paths. In Lagos for instance where land is scare in such prime location as Ikeja (that also host the Lagos airport), estate developers and telecommunication firms are often forced to violate know civil aviation regulations by erecting high rise structures for commercial businesses. Daily Sun learnt that most of the developers are even aware that they are breaching laid down laws, but are rather taking advantage of the complicity and laxity in reinforcing standards by the various agencies regulating construction industry in the country.
At the Lagos airport for instance, some developers have encroached into airports lands designated as no-go areas and have constructed buildings on flight paths posing security threat to the airport, aircraft, passengers and crew. Poor regulations and corruption among top officials of regulatory agencies in Nigeria’s aviation sector has often been linked to the many acts of safety compromises in the industry. In 2013, it took several protests by aviation sector labour union to halt the construction of a high-rise storey building by a private developer (which was to serve as a hotel) right opposite the domestic terminal of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA2) and the Presidential wing of the same airport.
Labour had queried the rationale of the government officials that granted the permit for the building of the hotel. It noted that it was a security risk since terrorists could use it to launch attacks on aircraft insisting that the situation was made worse by the fact the occupants of buildings like hotels are usually unknown, unlike a work place or office buildings that vet those who come in and exit the building and that leaves no room for overnight guests.
In Nigeria, the two regulatory institutions involved in mapping out the flight path to guide aircraft flying from one airport to another are the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).
Without doubt, in the past couple of years, these two agencies have compromised in the discharge of their duties in stemming the many incidences of high-rise buildings around airports.
The tide is however beginning to change as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) recently spoke out against the ugly trend, describing the structures as “unauthorised” and promising to partner with State Ministries of Lands, Works and Housing to pull down high-rise structures along aircraft flight paths.
The NCAA also said it would be providing housing and building regulatory agencies in the various states with a ‘Flight Path Map’ to guide them in planning, development and granting of approvals for new structures so that aircraft paths are left free of all forms of high rise structures.
It is not just about the flight paths for aeroplanes, but the restrictions must also factor in low flying aircraft like helicopters. What is often considered first is to clear all buildings on the take-off flight paths of aircraft in anticipation of the fact that planes may lose power in an engine during take-off and crash onto such buildings. It happened with the ADC airline that crashed behind the Abuja airport. Planes can no doubt fly with only one engine if they lose one, but they have less power to climb quickly over obstacles.
Regulators plan for the possibility that a plane could lose the use of an engine during takeoff even though that doesn’t happen very often. As more buildings, telecommunications towers, wind turbines and other tall structures go up near airports, there are fewer safe flight paths available. For example, a building located 10,000 feet from the end of a runway would could be allowed a maximum allowable height of 160 feet. As the distance from an airport increases, the allowable building height increases as well.
In India, their rule says no construction within 150 meters of runways. 150-500 meters only airport operations buildings are allowed. After that, a 1-metre high construction is allowed for every 7 metres one moves further from the runways, except for the take-off and landing paths, for which a 1-metre-high construction is allowed for every 20 metres one moves further from the runways.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore permits buildings to be constructed only up to a maximum height of 280 metres due to the proximity of Changi Airport. in the USA, no antenna is allowed over 2000’. Often red and white paint and flight safety lamps have to be installed on high structures (taller than 100 metres) far away from airports in the USA.
We can all agree planes hitting buildings is not a good idea, not for the plane, the passengers, the building structure and its occupants. Therefore, it makes sense not to have tall buildings around airports especially in the take-off and landing areas.
To this end, NCAA has issued a warning to all operators of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) to ensure they obtain Aviation Height Clearance (AHC), permits and licences before constructing such high rise structures.
Spokesman for the NCAA, Mr. Sam Adurogboye in a statement said the directive was is in line to the Civil Aviation Act 2006 Part IX (30) (L) which empowers the NCAA to prohibit, regulate and remove any structure which, by virtue of its height or position, is considered to endanger the safety of aircraft operations.
Adurogboye said others affected by the warning are landing facilities owners, which include the construction of Helipad/Helideck for civil use and Heliports.
“These permits, Aviation Height Clearance (AHC) and Licences are to be obtained before the construction of the following – tower, telecommunication masts, high rise buildings/structures and landing facilities,” said Adurogboye.