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*Flight Delays, Cancellations expected
The Nigerian Meteorology Agency (NIMET) has warned airlines of harmattan haze sweeping across the country, saying that this weather condition compels airlines to delay or cancel scheduled flights whenever horizontal visibility falls below the stipulated minima.
The agency had on October 2016 had issued an advisory forecast for dust outbreaks to affect the country during the December to February dry season period.
The Director-General of NIMET, Dr. Anthony Anuforom said occasional outbreak of dust which will reduce horizontal visibility significantly to 1000m and below in some places was predicted.
He also stated that the expected increase in concentration of the dust particles will lead to colder and drier atmosphere as well as increase in incidences of respiratory disorder.
In the course of monitoring the weather situation in and outside Nigeria, he said NiMet has observed that in the past 24hours, dust has been raised over the source regions in Niger/Chad republic which will be transported by northeast trade winds into and across the country.
He noted that visibility is as low as 100m were reported by some stations in the Niger republic.
His words, “Current reports of visibility values across the country are good. However, deterioration is expected to set in beginning from areas in the far northern parts of the country over the next twenty four to forty-eight hours.”
“There is prospect of fresh dust plumes being raised in the coming days, with its attendant consequence. NiMet will however, continue to monitor the weather and climate conditions as they unfold and provide regular updates and advisories to the general public”, he added.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has continuously alerted airlines and passengers of the impact of harmattan haze to air travel. It has its minimum standard visibility between 700 to 1000 feet depending on the airport.
Experts reasoned that regulatory body should look at the equipment of each airline and grant some of the airlines that have Next Generation aircraft the right to operate under low visibility, using the modern equipment in their aircraft.
But the snag really is on landing aids. Only four, out of the 22 airports in Nigeria have airfield lighting and these are the airports in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt. There have been efforts made over the years to install airfield lighting at some airports in the country but such efforts end woefully as they were usually followed by scandals of huge sums of money diverted by government officials.
Ideally, runway construction goes with airfield lighting; so when the contract for runway is being awarded it is done simultaneously with the runway lighting project and as the runway is being worked on, the contractor for the airfield lighting would be installing underground cables. The idea of having runways without lighting system is an aberration and a later development, which signposts how low the country has fallen.
During the Yuletide season, many of the airports in Nigeria are very busy because many Nigerians return from overseas and from their working places in Nigeria to visit their kith and kin to celebrate the Christmas.
Many Nigerians who plan to travel by air may not travel as scheduled because of Harmattan haze, which may lead to flight cancellations. The consequence is that a passenger who is billed to fly to any destination may not be sure whether the flight would take place or it would be cancelled.
Airlines lose huge resources to these cancellations and because flights cannot land in these airports beyond 6:00 pm, many passengers are left stranded at the airports. Some experts who spoke at the colloquium said NCAA could solve this problem by making it compulsory that every airport must have runway lighting.