MISSING AIRCRAFT? NEVER AGAIN IN NIGERIA- USMAN AUYO, NAMA MD
Some four years ago, a plane suddenly disappeared in the air somewhere in Cross River State. The managing director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Alhaji Ibrahim Usman Auyo, told a select group of journalists in his Ikeja, Lagos office, that 'that can never occur again.'
Why? Auyo: 'With The Total Radar Coverage of the Nigerian Airspace (TRACON), we can see every object moving in the Nigerian airspace. However if the object is too low, we might not be able to see it but will still be able to communicate with it courtesy the Very High Frequency (VHF) coverage. If there is anything we need to do or the pilot needs us to do, he can talk to us.
With the advent of AIS automation, he can automatically transmit whatever emergency information he has to people who can handle it anywhere in the world. Therefore, missing aircraft cannot happen in Nigeria again, hopefully.' The story of airspace would not be complete without the mention of Auyo.
He was part of the think-tank that midwifed the NAMA. As a participant in the African regional planning committee meeting with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in 1997, he made some contributions, which unknown to him were noted by representatives of the organisation. One of the major decisions taken at that meeting was that countries with large aviation activities should separate airport management from navigation and regulation. Nigeria is one such country. That informed the establishment of NAMA in 1999 after the passage of its enabling act.
The next major challenge was in the choice of who to head the agency as its pioneer managing director and chief executive. Due to the sensitivity of the organisation, it was agreed that the man who would be at the helm of the affairs should have adequate grasp of the system. After a rigorous interview session, Auyo emerged and became the pioneer managing director of NAMA. He had barely settled down when he was retired from service two years after his assumption of office. However, the lCAO offered him employment barely one week after his exit from NAMA. He was in charge of 24 African countries including Nigeria.
While at the ICAO, one issue that made his heart bleed was how the NAMA he had helped midwife was degenerating. An opportunity came handy when he retired from the ICAO after eight years and returned to Nigeria. He was made the managing director of NAMA the second time. It is as if he is on a rescue mission.
Within a year, he had ensured that the TRACON project, which started in 2003, is brought to 90 percent completion stage and it was eventually commissioned. It is one project that would reduce the landing delays in airports drastically.
Auyo hopes to make the Nigerian air space safer than he met it and that the organisation is more expeditious, economic, and viable.
How has it been for the past two years?
When I came to the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), in February 2009, there were confusions in NAMA then. There was this unstable atmosphere which was negative to the civil aviation industry, especially managing the airspace. Therefore, we the management had to come together to see how we could move forward. We were able to move forward by getting the confidence of the staff, the unions, and were able to agree on same grounds. That set the tone for NAMA progress.
Safety is such a critical aspect of airspace management, so with the cooperation from each director, we were able to succeed. A controller needs an engineer who will put to use the equipment. The others like human resources had to do all the processing of papers. Therefore, coming together was the best alternative, more so the International Civil Aviation now has completely changed. It is no more terrestrial (on the ground), but now on satellite basis. We have a programme for our region, Africa, with each state, each air navigational service provider, each airport service provider, air excellent investigators like the Nigerian meteorologists and some must meet to be able to meet the requirements of global air safety. That has been the situation for a while and results have already been achieved.
We actually started with The Total Radar Coverage of the Nigerian Airspace (TRACON), in 2001 before I left or before I was retired. However, it could not take off until 2003. It was executed at a snail speed until in 2009 when I was re-appointed NAMA boss. We put heads together and everybody did their job and on September 28, 2003, Lagos was on TRACON.
Later in the year, Abuja came on board TRACON. In 2010, Port Harcourt joined the list of TRACON covered sphere. Kano had a problem which was due to the death of the contractor while on his way to Kano. This really delayed the implementation of the radar in Kano, but later in 2010 it was finalized and Kano radar is 100 percent perfect. I recently came back from Kano and was quite impressed with what I saw. We can see all the airports in the country now at a glance and that is how it should be.
About four years ago, an aircraft suddenly disappeared into thin air somewhere in Cross River State. With TRACON, can we say such will never occur again?
Yes, that is definetly a thing of the past because with TRACON, we can see every object moving in the Nigerian airspace. However if the object is too low, we might not be able to see it but will still be able to communicate with it courtesy the Very High Frequency (VHF) coverage. If there is anything we need to do or the pilots needs us to do, he can talk to us. The advent of AIS automation, he can automatically transmit whatever emergency information they have to people who can handle it anywhere in the world. Therefore, missing aircraft cannot happen in Nigeria again, hopefully.
We are doing everything possible to ensure that we can see everything within the Nigerian airspace, at least 10 minutes before it enters the Nigerian airspace and 10 minutes after it leaves the Nigerian airspace. We can see both on data and radar. Regarding VHF, the Lagos sector is complete. We are trying to equip more sectors in the Lagos sector, like Lagos West and Lagos East because it is a very vast airspace. The same thing we are doing in Kano. Unfortunately, the Akure sector is not complete because the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), was to build a new control tower which they are yet to do. We hope by March, they should have done that and hopefully we should be able to get Kano radio VHF complete.
On the TRACON issue, there is this opinion from some quarters that Mr. President was deceived into commissioning an unfinished project. How true is this?
I was in hospital in Germany when TRACON was commissioned. When I came back, I was wondering, how somebody can say that, not even on the one in Kano. TRACON is complete. Maybe I will take you to Lagos for you to see what I am talking about. Maybe because it is like INEC machines that are being used for registration, it is impossible to just perfect it. Therefore, as we progress, our engineers are seeing what is happening. They keep tuning and finally we will get there.
The most important thing now is Lagos seeing aircraft taking off from Ilorin, Kaduna, Enugu. Very soon, we are sending more aero controllers. That is our big problem right now, the controllers to man Lagos and country. So we are taking 20 of them to the airspace, where that is area controlled. They will sit down there for maybe two weeks and familiarize themselves to the control system. After that, they will be certified by being issued certificate. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), will then finish the remaining modalities and we can move, full operations.
Full Operation Radar means only Lagos and Kano will control all the flights within the country. Those in Kano sector will be controlled by Kano and those in Lagos sector will be controlled by Lagos. Lagos will give permission for aircraft to take-off from Enugu, Calabar, Akwa Ibom and all within that sector. The same thing goes for Kano, controlling all the airports within its axis. This is in line with the improvements of communication within airport to airport and airport to the center. So it takes time, but TRACON is complete.
One dominant issue is the 'pay-as-you-go' method adopted by NAMA in the face of backlog of debts being incurred by the various airlines using NAMA's services. What is the position of things now?
The airlines are paying, in fact, they pay in advance. It is better for them and also better for us. Although the money is small, but they are paying and everybody is happy. The only problem is the backlog of debt owed before the 'pay-as-you-go' method was introduced. Since June last year, nobody has paid a kobo. About N4billion is still being owed NAMA by various airlines, particularly the indigenous airlines.
The foreign airlines are paying, but the indigenous airlines are the problem. Airlines owe but pay their bills in foreign countries, but here, there is always complain. Across the nation, the airline traffic is around 500 with Lagos airport being the busiest. The pay-as-you-go method has been successful so far, although it is small money.
Concerning the anticipated reduction in service charges by the NCAA and some other government agencies, is NAMA going to follow suit?
We cannot reduce fares for our services because we cannot compromise safety standards. NAMA fares are fixed. We have challenges in discharging our services to these airlines. The issue of power is a major challenge, although we are anticipating solar energy for TRACON.
Recently, there was this view making the rounds that if the current crop of aviation personnel retires in the next five years, there won't be any competent hand around to fill the void left by them. Any succession plan in NAMA?
For now it is true that we have shortage of personnel in some areas, however, we are recruiting and bringing in fresh hands. Currently, we are conducting a recruitment exercise and my directors are making sure there is succession plan within their directorates. Two Nigerians were trained by the French recently and we also have training schedules for people coming in. I can tell you that when we leave, we are leaving behind competent hands who will take over in NAMA.
There is this insubordination issue in NAMA concerning your office and that of a director under you. Can you shed more light on this?
As far as NAMA is concerned, there is nothing of such within our administration. My directors have been loyal to date and I do not know what some people are trying to gain spreading false information. It is not true that there is insubordination in NAMA.
What kind of legacy will you like to leave behind?
I will like the trend that we started at NAMA to be sustained. I will implore my engineers and my controllers to sustain the equipment and standard we have set at NAMA.