Barely two months after the country attained Category 1 of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Air Safety and Security status, it recorded yet another feat when President Goodluck Jonathan formally inaugurated the new radar facility that would ensure the total coverage of the country’s airspace.
According to Jonathan, the coverage would henceforth enhance the country’s civil and military surveillance of aircraft operation in the country’s airspace.
Contract for the new radar was awarded seven years ago by President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration at the sum of Euros 67 million to Thales ATM GmbH.
The president said the project would work by intercepting signals from moving aircraft which would be relayed to air traffic controllers for the tracking of aircraft.
Jonathan, who spoke while declaring open the new radar facility in Abuja, said: “It is indeed a good day for all of us with the commissioning of today’s project which is another in the deliberate stride in this administration’s effort to provide safe and secured airspace across the whole country with the successful deployment of the total radar coverage of Nigeria TRACON.”
He said the country had again marked another milestone in the history of aviation, adding that the sector was currently undergoing unprecedented transformation.
The feat, he explained, was further evidenced by the fact that Nigeria, which was blacklisted in the airspace in 2005, had now become a force to be reckoned with in territorial airspace safety and security operations.
Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Fidelia Njeze, said the inauguration of the project had brought Nigeria into global reckoning being the third country in Africa after South Africa and Egypt to have it and that it had not been easy pulling the project through.
The coverage includes integrated aircraft billing systems, voice communication systems display consoles, very high frequency transceivers, voice recording systems and fibre optics
She noted that the project was birthed to give surveillance to the airspace, to ensure the safety of all aircraft within the Nigerian airspace through civilian and military aircraft surveillance.
The contract was awarded in 2003 with a completion period of 36 months but a combination of factors led to the failure to meet the stipulated time for the completion.
But an industry expert has dismissed yesterday’s inauguration of TRACON as a mere smokescreen, warning that except urgent remedial steps were taken to effectively put the project on track, the country’s airspace would continue to remain unsafe.
Backing up his position, he said: “TRACON means Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria, which entails that all flights originating, terminating and over-flying the Nigerian airspace are supposed to remain in radio and radar contact with the air traffic controllers until such flights have arrived their destinations within the airspace or have been transferred to an adjacent Flight Inforation Regions(FIRs) if intended destination is beyond the nation’s borders.
“To achieve this safety goal, the two main designated centres are Lagos and Kano Area Control Centres (ACCs). Abuja TRACON site is just a sub-station as far as Nigerian Aviation is concerned purely for terminal and en-route flights below 16000ft with just a single radar scope and a backup for technicals as installed. Kano has six scopes. Lagos 11, Port Harcourt two (sub station).”
On what should be done, he said: “For Nigeria to be totally radar-covered (TRACON), attention must be focused on the two ACCs with very efficient and effective VHF radio coverage and interlink them with the base stations in Obubra, Numan, Ilorin, Maiduguri, Talata Mafara, Abuja and Port Harcourt to have a complete circuit.”
According to him, a pointer to the alleged “hypocrisy” could be gleaned from the epileptic operations that had almost caused fatal accidents in recent times, stating that, “the radar in Lagos has recently been witnessing dropping of labels and epileptic power supply which have contributed in making the equipment clumsy for usage.”
The source challenged the regulatory authorities to be bold enough to admit that the end users of these equipment had been complaining and that “if that is the case, what remedial actions have been put in place by the project co-ordinators to arrest this slide?”
When THISDAY contacted the General Manager, Public Affairs, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Mr. Supo Atobatele, he said:
“For the radio coverage we are talking about, the Federal Government had awarded a N400 million contract to an indigenous company, DAEMAKARO Nigeria Limited in partnership with PARKAIR Limited of the United Kingdom (UK) for total Very High Frequency (VHF) of the entire country.
“Out of the nine stations included in the scope of work, seven have been delivered. Among the sites delivered were Port Harcourt and the entire South-west zone and these are just to complement TRACON.
“As I speak with you, the two frequencies are ready, except for Kano which, although the equipment are on ground, is being delayed because the control tower is still under construction.
“I want to assure you that no one is out to deceive neither Mr. President nor Nigerians. The project is state-of-the-art like the ones we see operational abroad.
But as soon as the entire project is completed, everything would work. The fact that we have been having epileptic power supply and services does not mean that TRACON is a charade; to say that would be most uncharitable when you consider the huge investment here.
If people have problems, they should seek better channels of resolving such problems and stop disparaging others.”