12th March, 2013
The electricity supply cuts that have occurred in the past few days at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, southwest Nigeria, leading to near-tragic landings, are a sad remainder that although some buildings are receiving a facelift at some airports across the country at the moment, the industry remains virtually in a decrepit state. The main problems are not being tackled and the rot in the industry continues to expand at an alarming rate.
On Monday night last week, as an Emirates Flight EK781 was about to land, the light suddenly went off at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, plunging the runway into total darkness and forcing the pilot to abort landing and to hurriedly divert the plane to Togo, a less economically endowed country in West Africa than Nigeria.
The Emirates plane, an Airbus A340-500, had arrived from Dubai, United Arab Emirates and had already received clearance for landing from the traffic controllers when the near accident happened at about 7.44 p.m. After a few hours in Lome, capital of Togo, the plane returned to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport and luckily made a safe landing only for a second power cut that plunged the entire airport into another blackout. The incident was a repeat of what happened to a Kenyan Airways flight on Saturday 2 March.
The Kenyan Airways flight had come from Nairobi, Kenya, and had arrived the Lagos airport at about 9 p.m. in complete darkness.
Passengers aboard the lucky plane described the blackout as total and frightening. It was a shocking sight to see immigration workers, police officers and officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, use torchlight to work.
Although the spokesperson of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, Mr. Yakubu Dati, has blamed rain storms for the mess that could have led to loss of lives, he also admitted that since the roof of the generator house was blown off last year, it had not been fixed and the water drenched the panels. As a result, the panels were soaked and could not transmit power to the E-wing of the terminal building. This is a clear example of crass inefficiency and total negligence in the sector. It is sad that the roof of the generator house that was blown off in the middle of last year has not been fixed in March this year and this unpardonable negligence could have led to some plane crashes.
Without functional generators, the airfield lighting cannot function when there is no electricity from the unreliable government agency, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN.
FAAN said the Monday blackout lasted only six minutes. But those six minutes were long enough for a plane to crash or other tragedies to occur. FAAN says it is putting in place alternative power supply sources, but those sources are not functional yet and the blackouts may continue for sometime, endangering the lives of Nigerian travellers.
Apart from the blackouts, there is a myriad of other problems rocking the troubled sector. For now, the Nigerian skies remain terribly unsafe, the air traffic controllers have said so in many statements in recent months. Workers have been embroiled in labour disputes with the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, for months.
Also, the price jet A1, as aviation fuel is known, continues to hit the roof and air fares remain so expensive that many Nigerians who used to travel by air have simply stopped. Besides, agreements in the sector with private investors continue to be swept aside and the government policy of bringing in more private investors into the aviation sector seems to have taken a back seat.
Since Nigeria became independent 53 years ago, more than 20 airports were built but most of them are left to rot.
The government then signed agreements with private investors who could remodel and maintain them while paying their due shares to the government.
Agreements were signed with Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited and Maevis Nigeria Limited, just to mention a few.
However, these agreements have either been cancelled or are being breached with impunity. Cases arising form these breaches are in court.
While Nigerians are applauding the facelift at the airports, ten years from now, we are likely to go back to square one, a tragic reversal of what is happening now. We call on the aviation authorities to use the vast resources made available to them to do what needs to be done.
The President must replace them if they are unable to fix the mess and appoint people who are capable to carry out far-reaching changes in the aviation industry.