Resignation calls grow on Aviation minister over failed N2.59b calibration aircraft
The latest discovery that contrary to the claims of bad weather as the cause of the recent shameful diversion of international flights from Nigeria to Ghana and other neighbouring countries, it was the faulty N2.59bn calibration aircraft purchased by the Minister that failed to work after all.
Recall that the Beechcraft Super King, Air 350 (B350) calibration aircraft was recently purchased by the Federal Government, at the cost of N2.59b ($8.5m).
The logic of the Minister ahead of buying the aircraft was that it would end the era of hiring such a plane twice a year at the cost of N152.5m ($500, 000) to do routine calibration of navigational aids, at airports nationwide. However, the said aircraft failed when it matter most with high level losses on industry operators who lost over N3bn within the period of the diversion.
Business Hilights gathered that Calibration is a process that ensures the safety of air navigation by conducting regular flight inspection, calibration of test equipment/avionics systems, surveillance of airspace systems, and certification of navigation aids/associated facility in accordance with the stipulated procedures as recommended in ICAO document 8071, annexes 10 (vol. I & II) and 14, as well as NCAA regulations.
Calibration of ILS are done twice a year-February and November, every six months because of the level of accuracy required, while Very High Frequency (VHF) Omni-Directional Range (VOR) is calibrated once in a year, and the radar system is once every three years. If there is repair work on any of the navigational equipment, or total replacement, it has to be calibrated.
With the ILS at the two busiest and international airports not ready to support operation during recent harmattan haze, a lot of Lagos bound flights were diverted to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, and neighbouring African countries citing safety reasons.
Whereas efforts to get the voice of the ministry failed as at press time, sources at the Aviation agency said the installed instruments were not yet in use because they have still not been calibrated to precision.
Claims by the Ministry was that the aircraft was released mid January for the calibration of the Category III ILS at the MMIA, in Lagos which is to last for less than one month but strong indications emerged lately that the exercise did not go as planned hence the landing hiccups.
An official revealed that “The Beechcraft Super King aircraft that we relied on failed as the ILS reading was very bad. It seemed some components on the new aircraft are not compliant with the new Category III ILS on the Runway 18 Right. So, the exercise could not be completed for the MMIA as planned. They were in search of a solution when the weather got bad and exposed the whole thing. That was what happened.”
However, the agency out of fear of further national embarrassment has leased aircraft from Omni-blue Aviation Services and conducted the calibration.
Having remained silent on the none functionality of the new calibration aircraft and claimed “unforeseen weather conditions” amid replacement of ILS II with ILS III at the airport for the flight diversions caused the diversions, industry experts have started calling for the resignation of the Minister, Capt. Hadi Sirika from Katsina State.
In his anger, leading aviation consultant, Tunde Ajaguna, described the development and denial as most unfortunate, stressing that in saner clime, some key officers, including the minister “would have been made to resign or fired for letting the country down.”
In his submission, he noted that “I am most embarrassed and ashamed as a Nigerian. But this is supposed to be an aviator turned-minister. What did he mean by unforeseen weather conditions? Spare me the trash. He didn’t know that there would be harmattan haze in November to March or what? He should have resigned honourably. He failed the country by buying the wrong equipment and he should be made to face the music. Period.”