NAMA MD: Primary radar desirable for Nigeria’s airspace safety

The Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Mr. Lawrence Mathew Pwajok has explained that the country’s airspace would be safer with the primary radar and one that has the capabilities to detect flying objects whether it wants to be seen or not.

Pwajok in a presentation he made to the media at the weekend in Abuja disclosed that, unlike the Secondary Radar which requires cooperation from the aircraft that uses the airspace by turning on an airborne radar system, the Primary radar can detect any aircraft in the airspace even when that airborne system on the aircraft is turned off intentionally or accidentally due to natural phenomenon.




The airspace agency had come under scrutiny many times for not being able to see helicopters that do illegal activities in the country because they operate under secondary radar coverage without airborne equipment or transponders.

For those familiar with airspace management, civil aviation uses secondary radar for coverage and the primary radar for the four International airports alone because of the power involved to keep the system up but when operational, a primary radar has capabilities to detect flying objects whether it wants to be seen or not.

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Pwajok stated, “The primary radar has the capacity to detect every flying object, whether it wants to be seen or not but unfortunately, it requires a whole lot of power and energy, and all over the world, nobody can deploy a long-range primary radar system. So for civil aviation, they are deployed within very busy and complex airspace like Lagos, Abuja, Kano, and Port Harcourt”.

He, however, explained that in 2008/09 when the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) was installed, the military was supposed to also have it’s own using the Primary radar system but the huge costs involved made implementation almost impossible.

” The challenge of not having a primary radar system is a very serious one. We have had instances where we were accused of not being able to detect helicopters that do nefarious activities and we don’t have a defense because If they operate within 60 nautical miles of any of the four International airports, they will be detected, that I can assure you but any operation outside this, if they switch off that radar equipment, we cannot see the target.

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According to the NAMA boss, civil and military aviation would appreciate the funding of primary radar that would be total as both can interface on its usage and the benefits are humongous.

”We have two types of radars, the Primary Radar and Secondary Radar. Why is it that helicopters are flying in the North West and North East supporting terrorist activities but you cannot see them? An aircraft has an airborne system called a transponder; now the secondary radar only picks up aircraft that have that transponder and puts it on.

“The secondary radar that covers Nigeria requires the aircraft to be equipped with an airborne radar system and is also activated. If you have it and turn it off is like having a tracker and switching it off. We can’t track you so the secondary radar requires cooperation from the aircraft.

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Pwajok explained its uses and importance stating,” A primary radar can detect anybody; it doesn’t need the cooperation of the aircraft. It detects the height, it detects the speed of the aircraft; it detects the direction of flight of the aircraft and displays it on the screen for Air Traffic Control.


“So, if your equipment turns off, either deliberately or due to a technical failure, you would still be detected by the Primary Radar, that is the advantage. Sometimes aircraft enter bad weather and the electronic systems go off. The pilot did not switch off but was affected by a natural phenomenon however we still have to guide that aircraft because he is flying blind and otherwise would run into another aircraft, this is where the primary radar helps.” He explained.

Wole Shadare