Flight delays and cancellations: A broader, truer perspective

Capt. Ibrahim Mshelia, CEO, Westlink Airlines


By Captain Ibrahim K. Mshelia


The truth about flight delays leading to cancellation in Nigeria are multifaceted. All aircraft and pilots that operate in the nigerian airspace at all times are also fully equipped , says Captain Ibrahim Mshelia, who educates on some major causes of delays

Aviation business is the most regulated business in the world. Aviation business is also a straight forward process and similar if not exactly same all over the world. From Nigeria to Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroun and Central African Republic and so on. This country has had a dose of half baked professionals who offer mediocre and or complete false scenarios to attract the attention of our ever listening leaders who out of desire to get things right jump into the wrong bus most times and waste money or repeat same mistakes year in year out.

There is hardly any airline that would deliberate delay a flight. Of what benefit would it be? Rather, airlines would like to make as many flights as possible because the aircraft are built to be in the air and not on the ground, the name airlines depicts this norm. The more the volume of quality flights, the best for the airlines and the economy of Nigeria and all nations.

The insinuation, therefore, that airlines deliberately delay flights is not only untrue, but better put makes no common sense.

Nigerians are one of the most traveled group in Africa if not the entire world. It is not lost on any Nigerian traveller what to expect therefore from airlines in Nigeria compared to the other outside world they have experienced. After all, successful flights start from the ground, and end on the ground.

All operators fly same if not similar machines (aircraft type) also with the rest of the world as there are no made in Nigeria planes yet.

All our flights also use airports with standard specifications as elsewhere in the rest of the world. The contention here however is that Nigerian operators delay flight deliberately which is not true. Circumstances at and around our airports and operations differ as the weather also differs from place to place.

Aviation is not entirely local. So for your aviation to be up to speed, the local content has to adhere to the minimum standard recommended by ICAO. Hence they audit member nations from time to time. Nigeria currently has done so well in the eye of ICAO and they gave us a Category One safety status.

Unfortunately our Ministers comments if not misquoted, is technically in conflict with the position we hold today in the eyes of the world. To say operators of Nigeria and their pilots are not properly trained to fly Instrument Landing System (ILS ) as their aircraft is equally not equipped to perform that operation is untrue and should be discarded as well. No pilots can graduate from school without passing instrument rating to qualify as commercial pilot, as also No aircraft manufacturer will finish and deliver any commercial aircraft no matter the size without installing the equipment that can interrogate the ground signals and display to the trained pilots to fly accurately and navigate to destinations and land.

I should again drum that Aviation assessment is one standard under International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Nigeria is a category one CAA and the best rating or the highest. The General public should believe this and take it to the bank.

Nigeria being CAT one mainly means that our airports and airlines are top and safe for local and international operations. The reason we have airlines from America, Europe, Middle East , Far East etc coming here.

Therefore, Nigerian airlines, Nigerian airports, Nigerian pilots and indeed all pilots holding commercial pilots licenses or advanced are all fully qualified and safe to fly into any airports local or international when normal conditions permit.

When safety and security are achieved, the next will be the luxury. There are so many other luxury items added to our CAA but it’s not the reason for this write up which is basically meant to correct a wrong information.

It is possible that in every profession, there are good bad and ugly ones. All genuinely qualified professionals in Nigeria and or those who frequent Nigerian airspace would not ever allow unsafe practices. Beyond norms, they are humans who love their own lives as well.

Commercial Aviation is 64 years and private ownership is over 46 years.

The problems with delays and cancellations in Nigeria are multifaceted. There are some policies of government that share in the causes of delays leading to some cancellations.

Until the government removes or changes the policies , the problem will remain. Talking will not change anything, but appropriate action will.

What can cause delays and how can we mitigate avoidable delays?
An operator’s point of view, a schedule airline’s planned flight can only be delayed if the day did not break or caused by things beyond their control such the following only:
i. Operating Aircraft develops a fault that cannot be fixed before boarding,
ii. Adverse weather: harmattan, fog or rains etc. these are the only phenomena that affect Nigerian airports.
iii. VIP movements caused by the President’s or Vice President’s movement.
iv. Union or Civil a strikes, riots or disturbances
v. Lack of operational materials like fuel shortages (very common from time to time) ground equipment or bad weather unfit for take off and landing. Rains ,Storms or fog
vi. Service providers delays ( catering, Handling companies delay in baggage processing , delay by fuellers and airport security screening of baggage and passengers etc)
vii. Declaring some viable airports as visual only airports. Meaning only sunrise to sunset hours Operations.
Landing and taking off in adverse weather require ILS and Lightings. It’s good to also mention the design limits. The Design limit for ILS CAT 2 (ICAO) is 200 ft (60m) decision height and 1800ft to 1200 ft (550 to 350 meters ) Runway visual range (RVR) – the responsibility for this is (NAMA) this equipment works with the airborne equipment to guide the aircraft to safe landing in accuracy… the word accurately is hereby emphasized.

NCAA regulation (Nig.Cars) part 6 Has the following definition for operations of ILS cat II(two or 2) as : Category II (CAT II) operation.—A precision instrument approach and landing with: (i) a decision height lower than 60m (200 ft), but not lower than 30 m (100 ft); and (ii) a runway visual range not less 300m.

So this means in harmattan, if the visibility is between 350 and 550 meters, it should be at the airline’s call if their route and approach details are approved as such. There is No safety threat therefore Operating at those minimums that are 450 to 350 meters. One wonders why the state minima is placed ar 800m or 2,640ft. This stops operation in an operable environment. This is a major cause of delay in harmattan season. Only the Government can remove this obstacle, not the airlines.

One other thing one would make clear here also is that no airlines would also limit its self out of the skies. There is no Nigerian airlines which instrument approach procedure minima are 800m. They are all in line with or in very close proximity to the NCAA and icao minima.

But because the passenger only know the airlines. The blame is always easily shifted to the airlines.

Rainy and Harmattan seasons are the two natural phenomena that affect aviation in Nigeria. In addition there are also other argument between users years upon years.

The major things that cause delays in Nigeria mainly during rainy and harmattan seasons are the effects of storm and dust haze on safety of flights from the storm and or reduced visibility from the rains. Rainy seasons are common to all places but harmattan is peculiar to us because we are south of the Sahara desert, where the injection of polar jets streams cause instability on the surface and raises the sand dunes carrying fine particle of dust causing the air to be contaminated with fine dust particles thereby obstructing visibility. We know this and therefore have no excuse when it comes. But who is to blame??

Let’s find out :

The effects are…. Reduced visibility when they occur. Harmattan reduced visibility is not associated with unsafe fights, only restrictions for viewing and therefore obstruction for landing. While rainy season are associated with both safety concerns like lighting strikes rough weather and aqua/hydro planning during landing or takeoff etc.

Storms in Rainy season are more predictable and have a life span of 4 hours to dissipate so you can plan. Harmattan on the other hand is more difficult to predict and once here, you cannot easily predict and it takes time for the dust it came with to blow away of settle to the ground making visibility clearer.

How can we mitigate these: there has been Instrument Landing System(ILS) since at least before Nigerian aviation evolved and we have them also here. I have close to 40 years experience and I met the training requirements for this at school before graduation.
So also did every commercial pilot on planet earth. ILS. The Minster equally confirmed that ILS are installed in all airports.

The question therefore is why the delays? The answer is simply because the state minima was taken too high that it’s comes before the actual safe minima. Then the airlines, even though they have the equipped aircraft and trained crew, they are forced to obey the higher minima which seldom comes most days in harmattan. That’s the simple reason for the public to understand.

Now, ILS CAT 2 is the common one in the country’s airports. And all installed according to the Minister. If the minima was not raised and the ILS are all functioning with the correct lighting. The airlines will fly safely. So who is the reason for the delay?

NAMA is to ensure that the ILS are installed and serviceable. It also has to ensure calibration all times.

All airlines definitely have the airborne equipment also installed and serviceable always on their planes in service . Statement of fact and NCAA can testify.

The airlines go through this certification and meet the requirement of part 7 Nig.Cars. Each airline must comply before their AOC.is issued. Statement of fact too!

Here are other reasons for delays or cancellations. Mind you, all airports are supposed to be equipped with runway lights for night operations. The reason runways are built with lighting. But most airports’ operating hours have been reduced to operate daylight hours, that is sunrise to sunset. should VIP movement, or early morning harmattan visibility minima , rain or storm occur with earlier flight, then the following flights will suffer delay with resultant cancellation of the later ones.

The reasons being offered for day light operations in airports with landing facilities is lack of man power. Meanwhile, aviation has nearly 30,000 employees or more. So how can’t a sector that has 30,000 employees run shift? Hospitals run 24/7 because it essential service, So is aviation. So why???

These are other causes:

1. Lack of runway lightings at airports.

2. Lack of fully serviceable landing aids.

How do we mitigate this reoccurring decimal? Flight delays: Few things:

i. Install Fully serviceable ILS at all viable airports being used now
ii. Install runway lights for night schedule ops. And open all airports 24/7. Plan a shift for staff to at least midnight like in those days. Airlines can spread their Schedule and minimize or eliminate unnecessary delays. Visibility in harmattan is best at night. Worse between 10am and 3pm then starts to improve Gradually.
iii. Most important , allow airlines to fly their approved minima and not a state minima that is too high. 800 metres is still too good a visibility for a runway with ILS cat II with full Approach Lighting System (ALS) serviceable.

iv. Sterilisation of airports for VIP movement. If and when this is stopped and be replace with priority start and taxi only. It will mitigate delays.

Above information are the true situation both technically and operational.

Airlines in this country are trying seriously, if it were not for interest but just the monetary benefits. I am sure many operators will not own an airline in Nigeria. The unnecessary blames by state and passengers can discourage many investors.

He who feels it knows it.

Captain Ibrahim Mshelia is Chairman,  WestLink Airline

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