Nigerian pilots have raised the alarm over the poor state of runways in some of the country’s airports. They said such facilities need urgent intervention from relevant government agencies in order to avert an air accident.
It was learnt that pilots in recent months were having difficulties landing at the Port Harcourt, Enugu, and Lagos airports owing to the dilapidated state of the runway surfaces of these airports. The three airports’ runways, according to the pilots, don’t allow sufficient friction for landing aircraft tyres especially during rainy conditions.
Chief Pilot of Air Peace Airline, Capt. Victor Egonu, who addressed journalists in Lagos to explain the skidding of a Boeing 737 aircraft upon landing at the Port Harcourt International Airport last Saturday, confirmed the fears by pilots that there were flying into death traps during raining conditions in some airports. Egonu said preliminary investigations by Air Peace on the skidding incident on its Boeing 737 aircraft indicated that the runway surface of the Port Harcourt International Airport was waterlogged and did not drain properly to allow the smooth landing of the aircraft even after requisite clearance had been obtained from Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) by the two pilots.
“Pilots in Nigeria complain very often about the surface of Port Harcourt Airport runway that it is waterlogged and doesn’t drain properly whenever it rains to allow for smooth landing because there are depressions which allow water to collect in them,” said Egonu.
“And if you fly into Enugu, it is so bad that air traffic controllers have to advise you that they are potholes and that stones jumping off could burst your tyres and pilots are usually scared. We have airlines with torn tyres from this. At the Lagos airport runway 18L, we are now avoiding it whenever it rains because it doesn’t drain well and so divert to land at runway 18R
“And even in Abuja yesterday, our aircraft had a burst tyre from an object it picked up after landing on the runway and this is very dangerous because if you pick up something from the tyre on the runway as it was the case of the Concord aircraft, it could ignite fire once it reclines and makes contact with the fuel tank,” Egonu said.
On the skidding incident in Port Harcourt, Egonu said: “When they got to Port Harcourt the Captain-in-Command at 15 miles of landing called the Control Tower and asked if it was raining and the controller’s reply was in the negative – that is it was not raining.
“So, they continued with the approach and there was no turbulence. The controller gave them landing clearance to land on Runway 2.1 but advised that the runway surface was wet. It had been raining for days in Port Harcourt. So they continued the approach and when the aircraft was about landing, it suddenly started drizzling. The surface of the runway has some depressions which allow water to collect; it doesn’t drain properly. And then they touched down, it skidded. I cannot preempt the ongoing AIB investigation and report, but that’s our preliminary finding,” he added.
According to him, airlines and pilots would appreciate if there are constant inspection of the runways by relevant regulators to ensure they are in line with standards that ensure safe flight operations.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, however, said the agency had commenced an intensive re-assessment of runways at the nation’s airports to forestall potential accidents on the runways.
“It is therefore with the intention to increase the friction coefficient levels of our runways in accordance with NCAA advisory circular that the authority is embarking on this exercise across the nation’s airports as the rain is becoming very heavy and unpredictable,” Yakubu said.
She explained that although, the regular friction measurement for Port Harcourt International Airport was conducted in March 2019 and the result falls within the minimum friction coefficient level, the airport, however, still witnessed a skidding incident recently by an Air Peace aircraft.
“As a short term measure to increase the safety of the Port Harcourt runway, the authority just carried out a de- rubberisation exercise between June 15 and 22, 2019, to remove any contaminant,” Yakubu added.