By Stephen Onabe
Harry S. Truman once said: “men make history and not the other way round. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skilful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” Indeed, the above position of Truman could be best appreciated when viewed against the string of developmental initiatives that have come the way of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) in the past 22 months with Engr. Ibrahim Abdulsalam on the saddle.
To say that Engr. Abdulsalam is a courageous leader is to put it mildly as he combines both the doggedness of a lion and the sheer determination of a go-getter. Perhaps, flowing from his Engineering background, the NAMA helmsman has left no one in doubt about his dream to transform NAMA into a one-stop organization where the entire air traffic management systems in the country could be handled digitally with the touch of a button! From March 2014 when he took over the reins as Managing Director/Chief Executive, it would seem that he has preoccupied himself with finding digital solutions to every process and procedure of the agency and thus, it has been a harvest of one digital innovation after the other, just as most close watchers now refer to NAMA as a “digital agency.”
Over the years, the dissemination of aeronautical information to airspace users also known as Notice to Air Men (NOTAM) was done manually and in hard copy. This posed a lot of challenges due to unnecessary bureaucracy and paper work, leading to waste of time and money. In response to the yearnings of stakeholders for a faster method of disseminating NOTAM, the agency recently developed an application software designed to enhance dissemination of NOTAM electronically to airspace users. And much to the delight of stakeholders, the deployment of e-NOTAM solution has precipitated ease of access to online real-time aeronautical information just as the cumbersomeness of paper work and the red tapes that characterized the old system have been totally eliminated.
Also recently, NAMA took another bold step by transiting from the manual system of processing flight clearances to the electronic system, also known as e-flight clearance. The deployment of the e-flight clearance software became imperative following the myriad of challenges that dogged the old system. Among these challenges were the difficulty in tracing clearance documents, unnecessary bureaucracy leading to waste of time as well as vulnerability of the system to various forms of manipulation which could be detrimental to national security.
In collaboration with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), NAMA in 2014 commenced the process of developing the web-based software application as an alternative to the manual system. This according to Abdulsalam was in line with the strategic objective of the agency to automate its business processes technically, operationally and administratively.
So far, the e-flight clearance software has gained nationwide acceptability and also attracted an avalanche of accolades to the agency by stakeholders who see the digital solution as a breakthrough and a clean break from the dark past. From the Hon. Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, through the security agencies and to the airlines, it has been the same song: NAMA has acquitted itself as a forward looking agency, bringing digital solutions to its operational challenges.
On the 12th of November, 2015, Nigeria made history as one of the few countries on the continent of Africa to deploy the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Contract/ Controller Pilot Data Link Communication (ADS-C/ CPDLC) as an alternative system of controlling aircraft other than voice communication. Like other digital interventions already deployed by the agency, ADS-C/CPDLC is designed to solve a major challenge of Air Traffic Control which is the saturation of voice communication channels. Nigerian aviation has had its fair share of voice communication challenges and that is why the deployment of ADS-C/CPDLC as an alternate means of ground to air/air to ground communication is a critical landmark in the annals of Nigerian aviation history.
Apart from reducing pressure on radio voice frequency, ADS-C/CPDLC has considerably reduced pilot/controller workload, enhanced airspace capacity, improved situational awareness for pilots and also provided long range communication especially along the remote continental and oceanic airspace.
Aside from digitalizing air traffic management services, it is worthy of note that administrative processes in NAMA have also benefited from the wind of automation blowing in the agency with the introduction of a digitalized system of raising requests for stationeries and other technical equipment on Microsoft Dynamics AX software under the Enterprise Resource Planning Programme of the agency. This automated requisition process has brought about a faster treatment of stores requests and also entrenched transparency, probity and accountability in the system.
Only recently, Engr. Abdulsalam hinted while declaring open a training workshop on e-NOTAM that NAMA was in the process of changing the manual system of coordination between air traffic services units to a digital system for seamless and effective exchange of flight movement and control data.
On why everything about NAMA is going digital, Engr. Abdulsalam appears to have the right answer: “Aviation globally is moving away from manual to digital operations and Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind,…the agency’s determination to provide safe, efficient and economic air navigation services has challenged us to deploy new technologies that would ease service provision, save time and reduce operational cost for the airlines and aviation agencies.”
As NAMA continues to explore new frontiers towards enhancing safety of air navigation in the country, it behoves the aviation community and indeed well-meaning Nigerians to give the agency the needed support and encouragement.
Onabe is of the Public Affairs Department of NAMA in Lagos.