Air travel in Nigeria is usually at its peak during the Yuletide season. However, the harmattan haze during this period has led to so many flight delays, cancellations for passengers and also losses on the part of airline operators.
Usually, between the end of November and February, the harmattan, a dry and dusty wind, blows from the Sahara Desert over the West African sub-continent into the Gulf of Guinea. In some West African countries, like Nigeria, the heavy presence of dust in the atmosphere limits visibility severely, sometimes blocking the sun for days. It is difficult to fully eradicate this issue because weather is natural. However, this situation can be managed.
Firstly, the required equipment such as the Instrument Landing System (ILS) must be put in place in all airports across the country. Instrument Landing System (ILS) is the basic equipment used in Nigeria. However, technology has come up with an equipment which is more effective called Performance Based Navigation (PBN). There should also be constant power supply at the airport for this equipment to function effectively and also avoid unnecessary interference.
Pilots and operators should also know that during the period, air-to-ground visibility may be reduced considerably due to dust haze and Aerodrome visibility may fall below the prescribed operating minima and in severe conditions. These dust haze can blot out runways, markers and airfield lightings over wide areas making visual navigation extremely difficult or impossible.
Therefore, the pilots should obtain adequate departure, en-route, destination and alternate aerodromes weather information and briefing from the aerodrome meteorological office prior to flight operations. They should also ensure adherence to aerodrome weather minima.
The aircraft should also have the necessary safety equipment for flying and landing during the harmattan season. Air passengers should also be sensitized during this period so that they would be aware of the situations that occur with flight disruptions. They would also be prepared for alternatives if their flight is eventually cancelled. Government and the insurance companies also have a role to play in this in ensuring that some of the losses suffered by airlines are reduced.
Similarly, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has urged pilots to exercise maximum restraint during the harmattan season as it can hamper safe flight operations.
In a statement, NCAA Spokesman, Sam Adurogboye says, the season which has since commenced and expected to persist till March next 2020 as predicted by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) is hazardous to safe flight operations.
In a bid to ensure safe flight operations in Nigeria airspace, the agency also issued Advisory Circular to intimate pilots, operators and other stakeholders about dust haze and safety approach to adopt.
The statement also urged passengers that during bad weather situation flights are bound to be delayed, diverted or cancelled when terminal visibility falls below the prescribed aerodrome operating minima.
Operators were also advised to ensure that necessary measures are put in place to cushion the effects of flight delays or cancellations on their passengers.