Dubai-based long haul legend Emirates has suspended all flights to Lagos for the foreseeable future. The airline has said it will not resume flying to the Nigerian destination until the airport improves its Instrument Landing System (ILS). Other airlines have experienced difficulties in landing at the Nigerian airport too, as the nation suffers a prolonged case of the Harmattan haze.
Emirates abandons Lagos
Emirates has stopped flying to Lagos temporarily due to issues with the weather. In a statement posted on its website, the airline said,
“Due to poor weather and low visibility in Lagos, the following Emirates flights have been cancelled on 17th and 18th February: EK781/EK782: Dubai – Lagos – Dubai EK783/EK784: Dubai – Lagos – Dubai.”
Emirates has said that affected passengers in Dubai can still travel to Abuja as an alternative to Lagos. The airline usually operates 14 weekly services between Dubai and Lagos, according to CH-Aviation, but has had a lot of disruption to flight schedules lately.
On the 13th of February, it diverted its service to Accra instead and hooked up with local airline Arik Air to take its passengers onwards to Lagos.
Emirates is not alone in experiencing difficulty at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.
For the past two weeks, numerous airlines have canceled or diverted flights bound for Lagos due to poor visibility at the airport. Delta Air Lines, Lufthansa, Air France and a number of others have all had to divert flights away from Lagos and are reportedly considering suspending services also.
British Airways has also canceled Lagos operations. The UK airline usually operates daily services to the Nigerian destination but has cited ‘operational constraints’ as a reason to cancel services. In an email seen by CH-Aviation, it said,
“Due to adverse weather at the airport, we were unable to safely land in Lagos. If you wish to travel from Accra – London Heathrow, there are a limited availability of seats to book … Our Customer Relations team will review each case on an individual basis.”
What’s the problem with Lagos?
The issue at Lagos is a weather phenomenon known as the Harmattan haze. The Harmattan is a season in West Africa that runs from late November to mid-March. It sees a dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind invading the region, bringing with it heavy dust from the Sahara Desert. In some places, this haze can severely limit visibility and block the sun for many days.
Landing in poor visibility is not usually an issue, at least if the airport has the right equipment. Using Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) of at least CAT III, pilots can secure enough assistance to land safely, even when the visibility is near to nothing. Lagos Airport was supposed to have ILS CAT III installed some time ago, but some have raised questions over whether it was even bought for the airport.
The Nigerian Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has insisted to This Day that CAT III ILS has not only been bought for the airport, but also installed. He further said that not only was it in place in both Lagos and Abuja, it was also calibrated. However, he explained that following calibration, some inaccurate readings were noted, specifically on runway 18R, the one used by international flights. He said,
“Unfortunately, it was in the process of recalibrating that the weather situation in Lagos changed for the worse, hence the disruption of international flights into Lagos. Some airlines opted to divert their flights to Kotoka airport (CAT II ILS) in Ghana, leaving innocent travelers stranded, when they could have easily diverted to Abuja (CAT III ILS), where flights to Lagos are regular.”
However, The Nation claims that, whatever the reason, the ILS Is faulty. It says that the Visual Glide Slope Indicator (VGSI), a ground device that uses lights to assist pilots in landing, is not working properly. According to the publication, the Nigerian Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika admitted that some components of the ILS were faulty.
CAT III ILS allows airlines to land even in zero visibility. CAT II, on the other hand, requires a minimum of 800m of visibility in order for aircraft to land. The weather phenomenon is expected to continue into March, making it difficult if not impossible for large aircraft to land until the ILS system is fixed.