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Checking Nigeria’s Air Traffic Controllers’ Strikes

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Air Traffic Controllers, under the auspices of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) recently withdrew their services and paralysed flight operations at the nation’s airports as they embarked on a six-hour warning strike.

The reason for embarking on the strike was to press home their demand for improved welfare, a demand they have been making since the past years. They equally alleged that another reason for the strike was the epileptic air navigation equipment for effective performance.

The strike had adverse effect on the nation’s economy because it disrupted many Nigerians from attending critical private, social and business meetings as movement of people were hampered.

The strike gave rise to delays, prompting some airlines to cancel flights to some destinations, resulting in loss of millions of naira while the action lasted.

It took the intervention of the management of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), who sent senior officials of the agency to the towers to control flight movement as to curb the adverse consequences of the strike.

Air Traffic Controllers (ATCS) have threatened to go on strike three times within this year, insisting that the management of NAMA must abide by the agreement it reached with the workers to improve their welfare last year. The six hours warning strike was to herald a total industrial action.

NATCA issued a statement that, “it was against the background of no action plan and political will to implement the agreements earlier entered into with the association and others that necessitated the corresponding action by the Air Traffic Controllers.

Despite calling off the planned indefinite strike by the workers, it is expected that the management would address the issues raised by the Air Controllers without allowing them the opportunity to invoke the industrial action that would put the country at the receiving end.

In the case of poor equipment, the air controllers cited incessant failure of air navigation facilities at airports nationwide leading to increase in work load of air traffic controllers and pilots.

A statement by NATCA and signed by its General Secretary, Mr Olawole Banji, said it was disheartening that in the last few months the communication, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) equipment has been epileptic.

Although the ATCS said that some employees in the agency have spent so much time and energy they would have expended in making facilities function optimally to feed the public with falsehoods as to the semi-ability of the (NS/ATM equipment to cover their ineptitude.

The statement said, “we can, however, say categorically that it is either the personnel responsible for the equipment are incompetent or the incessant failures are as a result of acts of sabortage on their part.

Experts in the aviation industry said because of the special work the controllers are doing, they deserve what they are asking for in the emoluments but lamented that the controllers have acquired the attitude of threatening to shut down the airspace unless their demands were met at the slightest provocation.

An aviation expert who does not want his name in print said when the Associated Aviation Charter flight crashed on take-off at the Murtala Muhammadi International Airport, Lagos, on October 3, 2013, the controllers cashed-in on the opportunity of the tragic incident to issue a statement, condemning the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) and claimed that the landing aids were not working despite the fact that the crash was caused by pilot error.

Again, there is this belief among air controllers that as far as the airspace management is concerned, they should have a pride of place. Part of their latest conditions is that every airport should be manned by a Traffic Controller.

But when they do this, they pitch themselves against engineers who ensure that their working equipment is functional without which the controllers cannot function.

Infact, one of the major challenges facing NAMA is the antagonism or rivalry between the engineers and the controllers. Most times when the controllers condemn their working equipment they want to convey the message that the engineers are not doing their work effectively.

The engineers on their part believe that without their input, there would have been no equipment to work with by the controllers. However, in the cat-and –dog relationship between the two professional bodies it is NAMA, as an agency, that loses.

The Management of NAMA, according to the General Manager, Public Affairs, Mr Olajumoke Adetona, said the agency had been consulting with the air traffic controllers and that the management has approved the controllers demand. He also said that the agency did not recognize any staff as superior to the other.

Nevertheless, NAMA must find a way of addressing the rivalry between the two professional bodies to have a smooth operation.

To achieve that they need to embark on sensitization of their workforce and reorientate them to be the best they can be without in fighting with other professional bodies.

NAMA should ensure that workers’ entitlements are paid as at when due to give them a sense of belonging while motivational incentives should be adopted such as best monthly worker and yearly best staff ceremony for the different categories of workers.

The scenario that gave room for such national embarrassment can be avoided if the authorities adopt a proactive approach to issues of staff welfare.

Therefore, the ministry of aviation should nip such circumstances in the bud before it escalates into full blown disagreement to warrant an industrial dispute.

The authorities should equally utilize the early warning signals for possible intervention before it degenerates to a situation where airline operations would not only be affected but the economy with the consequent battering of the country’s image abroad.

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Commission Unhappy With Expansion Work At Imo Airport

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Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC) has expressed dissatisfaction with the level of work done at the ongoing expansion of the Imo Airport Apron project in Owerri.
Director, Policy and Standard of the commission, Mr Alex Elikwu raised the concern last Tuesday when he led a team from the commission and Ministry of Aviation to inspect the phase two and three of  ongoing expansion of the Airports Apron project.
Elikwu said he was not satisfied with the level of work done, considering the amount of money released for the contract.
He said: “We are not satisfied with what we are seeing here today; it fell short of our expectations because out of the N 677million contract sum, a total of N560million has been released to the contractor which constitutes 82 per cent of the total sum.”
According to the director, the quality of the job done so far also fell short of standard.
He also raised worry over the contractor’s absence during the inspection after he was duly informed by the airport manager of their visit.
“We want the ministry of aviation to ensure that the contractor justifies money given to him by the federal government.
“His absence will create a lacuna in our inspection because we need to ask him some technical questions and get direct answer from him but right now that he is not here with us, we will do our report and make recommendations to government,” he said.
The director also expressed regrets on the condition of the runway noting that the spotted potholes made the airport runway fell short of internationally accepted standard.
Elikwu said that this called for urgent attention.
The Airport Manager, Rejoice Ndudinachi said the Apron expansion was an abandoned project when she took over management of the airport.
“This project was abandoned when I came in but I insisted that the contractor must come back to site due to flight increase operations in the airport.
“I don’t supervise the contractor, directly but the ministry of aviation; I also informed him that inspection team from the presidency will visit the site so I don’t know why he is not here,” she said.
The airport manager also appealed to the federal government to help connect the airport to national grid, adding that since she came in, she had been running the airport on a generated power supply.

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FG Promises To Collaborate With IFATCA On Air Safety

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The Federal Government has pledged to collaborate with the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Association (IFATCA) and other relevant stakeholders in the aviation industry in a bid to ensure continuous safety and seamless air navigation in Nigeria.
The Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, who disclosed this during a regional stakeholders forum on air safety in Abuja, yesterday, noted that there has been a deliberate and aggressive efforts by government in the area of manpower training in the aviation industry.
He said that government was prepared to partner with the international body of air traffic controllers in a bid to ensure safe skies both in Nigeria and globally.
Sirika noted that the job of an air traffic controller was both crucial and critical to the overall safety of air travel, pointing out that government in realisation of this, was determined that air traffic controllers are proficient in their job.
According to him, a total of 86 air traffic controllers have been trained and deployed under his watch, while 46 are being trained at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology in Zaria, adding that another set of 40 air traffic controllers trained by the Kano State government have been absorbed into the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).
The aviation minister also said that part of efforts to make the job of air traffic controllers more efficient and less cumbersome was the earlier deployment of Automatic Dependant Surveillance / Controller Pilot Data link Communication.
He said that this equipment had been deployed both in Kano and Lagos area control centres, and promised that government would implement the agreement reached at the forum.
He pointed out that IFATCA remains a critical stakeholder in the global aviation family.
He urged the air traffic stakeholders to intensify efforts on achieving unbroken air safety within the region and beyond, adding that this requires collaborative efforts across the borders to ensure seamless, safe and efficient air navigation.
The minister, however, noted that the Africa and Middle East region which has more than 15 per cent global population contributes marginally to the global air travel, saying the time has come for the region to put its act together and take up the challenge.

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FAAN Moves To Curb Pollution At Airports

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The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has said that efforts have been intensified to curb pollution at the airports so as to make them safe and healthy.
The Managing Director of FAAN, Capt. Rabiu Yadudu, disclosed this yesterday while speaking to newsmen on curbing pollution emission at airports, in Lagos.
He noted that environmental management studies/environmental audits carried out in all the airports in Nigeria showed that the amount of air pollution arising from the airport operations were all within acceptable limits of the World Bank and federal ministries.
“At the Murtala Muhammed Airport, we are taking a study of carbon emissions and we found out that there are four levels in reducing carbon emissions.
“We are almost through with the first level which is mapping. We have taken statistics and got data of emission that has to do with electricity generating sets and all that. We are keying to that at the airport , we have also completed that of the Abuja airport.
“In our own part in the airport, we have tried to stop the use of pure water and also to discourage water bottles, plastic containers.
“A lot of things have been put in place to reduce plastic usage at the airports. Within our environment, we are also encouraging paper bags instead of plastic and nylon littering in the whole environment “, Yadudu said.
The FAAN boss also explained that air pollution was caused by various gaseous pollutants arising from human developmental and industrial activities and with disregard for best practices with respect to emissions management.
Yadudu reiterated the importance of collaborating with relevant agencies to develop the state action plan for implementation for carbon offsetting and reduction scheme for international aviation in Nigeria in order to ensure a safe and healthy environment.
He also added his voice to the global environment body to identify challenges of air pollution emanating from different human activities.

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