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Flights diverted as weather grounds airlines operations

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THOUSANDS of passengers were on Thursday urged to show understanding for the delay, cancellation and diversion of their flights.

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), which made the appeal, said the infractions were triggered by the prevailing global inclement weather.

Many air travellers, whose flights were to originate from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja (MMIA) and other local airports, were stranded for several hours on Thursday.

Many flights could also not land in Lagos. Some flights from Abuja had to be turned back, unable to land in Lagos.

According to the regulator, the situation that warranted cancellations, delays and diversions of flights were not peculiar to the country but a global phenomenon occasioned by adverse weather.

NCAA General Manager (Public Relations) Sam Adurogboye said the   appeal became imperative for the sake of safety.

He  said in a statement  that the NCAA had also urged airlines and pilots to exercise restraint over harmattan haze and the safety approach to adopt to avert any crisis.

Adurogboye said both domestic and international airlines were affected by   poor visibility at many airports making it difficult for aircraft to either take off or land.

The  statement reads: “Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has sent out an appeal to passengers for their understanding over the prevailing flight delays and cancellations experienced in airports across the country due to the adverse weather situation.

“The prevailing inclement weather is a global experience at the moment which had warranted cancellation of in-bound international flights alike. It is  therefore not peculiar to Nigeria.

“We urge pilots, operators and other stakeholders to exercise restraints over harmattan dust haze and safety approach to adopt.”

The NCAA had in an advisory memo last November,  alerted pilots of the hazards associated with dust haze.

The regulator said the dry and dusty wind that blows south from the Sahara across Nigeria will persist till March.

The advisory  reads: “Pilots/operators are therefore directed to note the following hazards and operational problems forthwith in the interest of safety.

“Air-to-ground visibility may be considerably reduced due to dust haze; Aerodrome visibility may fall below the prescribed operating minima and in severe conditions, dust haze can blot out runways, markers and airfield lightings over wide areas making visual navigation extremely difficult or impossible; and

“Flights are bound to be delayed, diverted or cancelled where terminal visibility falls below the prescribed aerodrome operating minima.”

Domestic carriers were counting their losses as the poor visibility crippled their operations.

Some carriers announced outright cancellation as the weather at some airports could not guarantee safe flight operations.

Many of them notified their passengers of possible delay and cancellation and urged them to contact their customer care units for  information to avoid coming to the airport to wait for hours.

In its weather advisory, Arik Air said the  persisting weather condition had  affected its flights on the Port -Harcourt, Kaduna, Benin, Warri, Asaba, Yola, and Sokoto routes.

”This is to inform all our esteemed customers who have had the difficulty in reaching their various destinations through our flights that the current challenge is due to inclement weather,” the airline said in the advisory.

Dana Air, in its advisory to passengers, said: “We sincerely empathize with all our guests presently experiencing delays across our network due to poor weather conditions in major parts of the country.”

Some foreign airlines— Emirates, Rwandair, Kenayan, Delta and British Airways— diverted their flights to Accra, Ghana due to poor visibility.

Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) General Manager, Public Affairs, Khalid Emele, attributed the inability of some foreign carriers to land in Lagos to inclement weather.

”The facts on record however are as follows: Lagos has two runways- 18 right and 18 left. The Doppler Very High Omni-Directional Radio Range (DVOR) and the Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) at the airport have successfully been calibrated and passed 100 hundred per cent,” Emele said in a statement.

Investigations showed that Accra airport now found it difficult to  accommodate diverted flights from Lagos.

“The situation is getting worse now. British Airways has a 747 aircraft stuck in Abuja. We have another aircraft stuck in Ghana for two days now. Accra is so full that they say they can no longer take diversion anymore. Even AirPeace could not land this morning. We just hope the situation gets better”, an airline official hinted The Nation yesterday.

*Minister apologises

Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika has however apologised to stranded passengers at the MMIA and those affected by the diversions.

He said  that beyond inclement weather, the problem was largely orchestrated by issues bordering on malfunctioning of components of the newly procured Instrument Landing Systems (ILS).

Sirika explained in a statement by his ministry’s spokesman James Odaudu that efforts were on to reactivate the system.

He said: “While these developments are greatly regretted, we wish to let the public know that the authorities at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos were in the process of replacing the old Category 2 ILS  with the newly procured Category 3 system that allows for the lowest visibility landing.

“Unfortunately, there was a malfunctioning of certain components, which, coupled with the unforeseen weather conditions, made landing at the airport difficult.

“The procurement of the Category 3 ILS is in pursuance of the desire of the Federal Government to ensure the safety of air passengers by ensuring that airplanes can land with almost zero visibility.

“We wish to assure the public and the airlines, that efforts are on to return the system to full working condition and that normalcy of operations will be re-established in due course.”

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