By Abiose Adelaja Adams
Nigeria’s Air Traffic Controllers’ Association has called on the federal government to improve conditions of workers in the aviation industry in order to make flying safer for the public.
Air controllers are professionals who instruct the pilot on safe landing and take-off rules for the avoidance of plane collision or crashes.
However, since they make many split second decisions and constantly require high situational awareness, the acquisition of up-to-date equipment, knowledge and skills, cannot be compromised.
But the association’s president, Victor Eyara, in a statement jointly signed by him and the secretary general, said that the current working conditions of the air traffic controllers could compromise the nation’s air safety.
Chief amongst them is the lack of re-training. Air traffic controllers have not been taking the mandatory biennial refresher courses due to an lack of funding by the responsible office, the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency, NAMA.
Also, the regular professional trainings like radar and area/airways non-radar control courses have been non-existent for two years. Yet, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, makes these mandatory courses to ensure currency of air traffic controllers and to ensure air safety.
“The aviation sector is very dynamic and requires the constant updating of professionals knowledge to keep them abreast of the latest information,” said Eyaru.
“We cannot overemphasize the importance of training especially on a job like ours. If I went for a course last year, the course content would have changed by this year, so I need to continually upgrade our knowledge and skills. But we have not been going for the course and it is not something we can do ourselves,” he stated further.
The secretary general of the association Banji Olawode, said that he had not gone for the refresher course for the 24 years he had been in service.
Also, the Flying PPL training for air traffic controllers as entrenched in the Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulation Part 2, paragraph 17 section 6 a & b has been suspended since 2012.
Giving the history of some fatal crashes and the human sorrow and economic loss that followed, it is clear that these professionals need to keep their skills at acceptable operational levels.
According to Eyara; “There is a lot of sacrifice that we are putting in our job to make sure that we continue to deliver good service by working with the tools we have. But the government should not assume we know. Because if there is an error what would be spent to correct it will be more than what would have been spent in the event of an accident.”
Some of the courses are Basic Aviation planning, Operations and Management; Proficiency Course for Pilots and Air Traffic Controller Quality Assurance. While some of these courses are offered abroad, others are offered at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology Zaria.
The air traffic controllers association said that every year, the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, claims it has no money to send them for training.
Captain Dele Ore, president of Aviation Round Table considers this worrisome, observing that proficiency tests should not be taken lightly.
“If they say they don’t have money for 2,3,4 years, I think it is irresponsibility on their part because they should make the funds available; it should even take priority over salaries.”
Training fee ranges from N72,000 up to N220,000 per person, according to figures from the Zaria-based Aviation College’s website. This is exclusive of flight ticket and hotel accommodation.
“But what we suspect is that they budget for it and then use the money for the training for something else. It is the same corruption that cuts across every sector of the society,” Olawode alleged.
However, a look at the breakdown of the budgetary allocation to NAMA in the last three years shows that is has not appropriated any funds for training in that period.
Since their re-training does not affect licensing, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, the industry regulator renews the air traffic controllers’ licenses based on passing medical fitness exams.
But Ore maintains that at least some of them, if not all, should take course, except otherwise where they are given a waiver.
The air traffic controllers also observed that it is important that nation’s radar equipment, TRACON, be made up to date.to further reduce the probability of air accidents.
Eyara told icirnigeria.org; “We are not saying it is not working but there is a component in it that needs to be activated. It is called Mode S.” The Mode-S is to improve pilot situational awareness as information is delivered to the cock pit.
According to him, the presence of Mode-S would make it easy to see all an aircraft’s information and specifications such as its
registration number, license, destination, as soon as it arrives the country’s air space. But in the absence of this vital equipment, the air traffic controller has to do more talking, which makes work cumbersome.
“The pilots from other countries are laughing at us because of our infrastructure because many other countries have this technology.
Other pressing demands are a review of the air traffic controllers’ salary scale structure to compensate for the highly mentally challenging career.
Explaining, Olawode said their work places “so much demand on our health. As you are seeing us, most of us are patients of high blood pressure. When you are in that control room, it is called a hot seat. If they call you that your child is dying, you dare not respond. It is a job that demands so much concentration. It affects our hearing because we are trained to listen to many people at the same time and always with ear phones; we must have strong eye sight and able to see a plane from far. Then it places a lot on our alertness and emergency response.”
The occupational hazards that go with this kind of work, apart from high blood pressure, include eye sight and hearing impairment.