Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Captain Fola Akinkuotu and members of his team spent weeks installing facilities at the Kaduna International Airport and finished installation and calibration of these facilities long before the flight. Even Ethiopian Airlines that landed via the navigational aids of NAMA confessed the facilities were top-notch. In this special report NIGERIANFLIGHTDECK examines what the airspace managers went through, the gains and the challenges that the agency went through and its plans to replicate what has happened in Kaduna all over.
THE safest takeoffs or landings have little or nothing at all to do with the aesthetics or size of the terminal building but with some innate factors that are unseen yet play the most critical of roles in guiding aircraft from initiation to destination point.
Minister of Aviation, senator Hadi Sirika knows this all too well and that was why when they directed flights to be diverted to Kaduna for the repairs of the Abuja runway, it was key for him that the agency that had the most critical job to do was the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).
NAMA was on ground weeks before the commencement of the diverted flights to put most of the navigational aids in place as well as calibrate them to ensure their accuracy.
Still what was most outstanding was the fact that the agency did almost all the installation with its own engineers drawing from the experience gathered over the years.
The agency’s Managing Director, Captain Fola Akinkuotu in company of the Director Safety Electronics and Electrical services, Engineer Umar Farouk and top delegation of staff in Kaduna led a group of journalist around some of the NAMA installations explaining that the Federal Government has put in a level of investment so airlines could operate from Kaduna safely.
Akinkuotu himself an engineer and pilot went on to explain some of the installations and their functions and how they help guarantee those safe flights as well as some of the challenges the agency has and moves being made.
During the facility tour Akinkuotu talked about the VOR, Instrument Landing System (ILS) and how it these advanced systems can help especially against the perennial harmattan haze that causes most flights delay and cancellations.
He explained on the functions of the VOR, Instrument Landing Systems and said it was key for aircraft safe landing.
According to Akinkuotu, the VOR is a non-precision approach system which can aid landing an aircraft by providing lateral guidance which is however not as accurate as an ILS but gets the aircraft within certain range.
A VOR, Very High Frequency Omni Directional Radio Range, according to Wikipedia, is a type of short-range radio navigation system for aircraft, enabling aircraft with a receiving unit to determine their position and stay on course by receiving radio signals transmitted by a network of fixed ground radio beacons. It uses frequencies in the very high frequency (VHF) band from 108 to 117.95 MHz
Akinkuotu who spoke on the VOR’s function said,” It is called a non-precision approach, depending on how sophisticated the VOR is, you can get very close but nonetheless, it is categorized as non-precision approach.”
“ It provides lateral guidance for you to be able to maneuver towards a slope. It is like a straight line or better yet a funnel and within a certain range, a sector you have guidance. The VOR provides guidance not as accurate as an ILS but it provides lateral guidance and this is what that does and this is what was here before.”
According to him, there has been an ILS in Kaduna for years, the ILS has been there since the 80s Kaduna is not exactly new to precision approaches but the gentlemen here have kept it working.
He also spoke on the Doppler VOR stating that they were available and NAMA had them but these more advanced VOR were not deployed in Kaduna
Director Safety Electronics and Electrical services, Engineer Umar Farouk spoke further on the DVOR stating first that Kaduna has two transmitters and so there is no problem with the CVOR, he however said that the DVOR was more advanced.
Farouk said,” The DVOR is low on maintenance unlike the VOR and has a wider reach. The VOR you have to maintain certain radius and will need you to remove all obstacles from the path, cut tries and grasses for it to be accurate but the DVOR doesn’t require all that and like I said it is low maintenance.”
On the Instrument Landing system, Captain Akinkuotu explained that this precision landing instrument was installed by NAMA engineers who he said were highly under-appreciated because of their work rate.
He said, “Talking about the kind of approaches these are called precision approaches and so what makes them precision is that fact that you get a three dimensional guidance to a particular spot and this provides guidance to any of the degree of slope. This ILS is on a three degree glide path.
Akinkuotu said,” The ILS is more precise than the VOR. Here you have guidance between 25 nautical miles. There are three major components of the ILS; glideslope, localizer and Distant Measuring Equipment. The glideslope provides vertical guidance for aircraft while the localizer provides lateral guidance and the DME measures the distant of the threshold. The localizer has two legs, the standby and the main. The main runs all the time and the standby is there for an auto transfer and so it is seamless.”
“It has been installed and I must say here that it was done by NAMA engineers which sometimes they are not given the kind of recognition they deserve. Contractors tell us that they fixed it but they (NAMA) engineers fixed it and they have done a very good job as we have calibrated it.”
“ Inside there where we have the transmitters we have channels for the glide scope which provides vertical guidance. We have two channels, one is on standby and the other is on normal and what it does is like a fail-safe, so if the normal fails it rolls over to the standby.”
“Also in there, is the Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) which allows you to know your distance from the airfield and again you have two channels one on standby and one on normal. The equipment are brand new and they have been working quite nicely and of course they need power.”
“We have two generators to support them and they consume diesel so they consume energy and our engineers keep their eyes on them 24/7. Inside there is the shelter that has the transmitter.”
Adding, Engineer Farouk explained that with the ILS that the aircraft establishes itself with the equipment 10 nautical miles away from threshold that is where it establishes the glide.
Also as it relates to the perennial issue of harmattan haze where pilots mostly blame the country’s lack of navigational facilities for their inability to land, Akinkuotu said the country has a Category 2 ILS and assured that come December there will be no such issues as government has bought 11 ILS and is replicating what was done in Kaduna in about 18 airports.
He said,”We might also add that quite often we hear our pilots talk about what kind of capabilities we have in the harmattan and this system is a category 2 ILS which will bring us down to at least a 100feet to from elevation and visibility of less than 800 metres up to 1000feet which is quite good. “
“Our harmattans, they can be bad but I am sure that for 95% if not 100% of the time with an operable ILS Category 2 system we should be able to get it every time. So come December there should be no reason or no excuse.”
On replication Akinkuotu went on,” Government has tried, we have an order, contracts for 11 ILS, I know there is Lagos, Port Harcourt, Minna, Benin there is Abuja, Kaduna but they are 11 that are going to be installed. They are brand new but don’t forget that we are going to recover some items, Lagos has an ILS and I think Ibadan too is going to get from the new ones so whatever we recover, we will put them at some of the other airports. I would expect that over time when all of the assets are in we should be able to do not less than 18 fields .”
While government plans to replicate this installation in other airports to boost visibility during harmattan haze, it is also in hopes that NAMA engineers the way they installed the ILS in Kaduna would be given the opportunity to repeat the feat and save the country some cost.
Tackling the challenges all bore down to capital
However, despite these laudable achievements, there are some challenges bearing down on the airspace management all of them tied to funds and the ability of NAMA to generate enough to keep the systems going without hitches as the alternative is inconceivable.
Captain Akinkuotu said,” I think the biggest problem is power availability because we cannot afford, the nation cannot afford to have signals vanish mid approach, that is the primary consideration. Account for every other thing , you put an AVR, a gen and also a stabilizer to stabilize whatever power you get and you still have the power and if this power goes off…you all know the story.”
“The only thing you have to tell the people that we need money to keep it going, we have to provide power to these stations 24/7. So when the airlines complain that we are charging them, this is why we are charging them. We have men here who have to make sure that this things are working 24/7. we pay for power and we pay for manpower. And apart from the fact that it cost money, there is also the matter of cost recovery to keep it running. I have quite often said that telephone communication in Nigeria is quite expensive and one of the reason is that all towers need to be powered by gen and also the cooling systems too. We are doing the same thing, diesel has gone up.”
Captain Akinkuotu also spoke on the cost of maintaining the ILS stating that it is humongous and needs to be protected 24/7 but also decried that the cost of fueling the agency’s alternate source was high.
” And because it is expensive, any of the components (glideslope, localizer and DME) we make sure they are protected by 24/7 by power, generator power. Buying the generator isn’t the problem, buying it is most times cheaper than the cost of running it,” he said
Engineer Farouk adding to it said that,” The (Kaduna) airport is connected to the national grid but at the moment we still run on alternates, we have about 170 to 180 and it is too low for the equipment if you allow that kind of power run through these equipment it will destroy the equipment that is why we have the UPS, the AVR; we have two generators and we are using tertiary power now. We don’t rely on power from the national grid as the power from the national grid is epileptic and most times come with lower voltage.”
He also added that the NAMA boss was exploring alternate means of power generation,” What the MD has forgotten to tell you is that because of the rate of consumption of AGO, we plan to deploy solar (alternate) energy on all these equipment so we have stability in power as well as the cooling systems these two are very essential for these equipment to survive and I know he is working towards the alternative means of power but it is money.”
“Like my Director of Engineering has said we are looking at an alternate means of power, we have solar driven systems in one or two stations, for the system and for the cooling. Cooling of these components is essential because if they overheat, they will fail and these are challenges for us in this part of the world.” Akinkuotu concluded.
On dormancy of the Kaduna Airport after the expiration of the six-week closure of Abuja , Captain Akinkuotu stated that,”Airport utilization is dependent on commercial needs and way back I remember this Kaduna Airport was full of activities, I fly at 7 in the morning and the last flight will come in at about 6.30 and we were not the only airline and so I am hoping , I am praying that Kaduna gets a revival of economic activities. I mean, how many flights you operate to a place depends on the economic activities and it is our hope and desire that Kaduna should get back to the old glory.”