Consequent upon the series of airplane crashes that Nigeria witnessed between October 2005 and December 2006, the Federal Government was forced to take an uncommon, critical look into the aviation sector and possibly carry out a holistic overhauling of the entire system. The series of tragedies painted a negative image of the security of our air-space to the international community which prompted for its blacklisting, and hence, the need to carry out decisive actions to win back the confidence of air travelers.One of such moves to reposition the sector was the decision to embark on the installation of special communication radars at strategic airports across the country in a project code-named, TRACON, meaning, Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria. The Aim of TRACON According to AllAfrica.
com, “The primary aim of the radar project was to provide total coverage for the Nigerian airspace, enhance civil and military surveillance of aircraft operating in the country. ” (2010: 4).The ulti-billion naira project when operational was expected to monitor the airspace better and also improve safety as aircraft would be captured both on radar and communication.
It was designed to assist both pilots and air traffic controllers in discharge of their duties. The equipment is meant to aid separation of aircraft in the airspace. With the radar, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency’s (NAMA) air traffic controllers will be able to track overflying aircraft; hence it will boost the agency’s revenue (BusinessdayOnline. om: 2).
To enable it carry out these functions effectively, its architectural designed was to consist of Voice Communication Systems (VCS), Voice Recording Systems (VRS), Very High Frequency Transceivers (VHFT), Fiber Optic, Display Consoles, Integrated Aircraft Billing Systems (IABS) and spares while radars at the international airports comprise both primary and secondary radars (AllAfrica. com: 9).In addition to these, TRACON was so structured to have four primary and five secondary radar heads strategically located across the length and breadth of the country, for maximum coverage of the nation’s airspace. The Award of the contract Being such a massive and highly technical project, the contract was to be awarded to a reputable firm with long history of professionalism in execution of such projects. Thales ATM of France seemed to have been the chosen one in this regard.Although initially awarded in 2003 as a result of government’s foresight in keeping the nation’s airspace in check, lots of challenges and interferences could not allow the project to see the light of the day. However, in the wake of the multiple crashes that shook the aviation industry to its very foundation, the Federal Government under the then President Olusegun Obasanjo re-awarded the said contract in 2006 to Thales ATM through the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) at the cost of 66, 500, 870 Euros (AllAfrica.
om: 5). Like the many projects of government with lofty inceptions without proper implementation, TRACON was not without its own fair share of troubles. First, the eighteen months deadline handed down by the Obasanjo administration to Thales ATM was not to be, due to several hiccups the project experienced. Some of the equipment initially purchased from overseas where seen being returned to their manufacturers for reasons ranging from damages to out-datedness of technology.Moreover, political and bureaucratic interferences also took their own toll on the projects with the contractors giving recurrent ‘reasons’ for project delay such as government not paying what was expected or refusal of Customs to release imported equipment until excise duties are paid (BusinessdayOnline.
com: 1, 4). In the words of Harold Demuren, a onetime Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), “TRACON has faced what can be described as an unfortunate setback as the contractors have uncovered some problems in the equipment and have taken these components back to France” (BusinessdayOnline. om: 6). An online news article also puts it this way, “However, the project suffered some setback, which include; interference in the original scope of the project which included removal of the initial primary radar, mode of payment, phasing of project, increase in the number of simulator training centers from one to 40 and construction of a new Area Control Centers /Approach Radar building” (AllAfrica. com: 6). Similarly, SunnewsOnline. com in an interview with Captain Ado Sanusi, a onetime MD/CE NAMA, writes: The major problem that we faced was that the project was abandoned.
It is still there because people find it more convenient to take on a new project and move forward; rather than father an old project you want to revive. With that kind of situation, the contractor keeps asking, are you really, really interested? I have to talk to the contractors because they have been manufacturing and selling radar all over the world and radar is not something you manufacture and keep. The one we had requested for a very long time had been sold. It is now that I am telling them that they should pick and give it to us so that we can implement this and make sure that we do it in 15 months.These are the kind of problems we had when we came in. (2007: 18) Despite these many challenges, TRACON as a matter of fact today is not just a reality but a huge success.
Successive governments saw the need to carry on the projects even though reluctant. Before the commissioning, there have been doubts over the ability to deliver the project that has generated controversies in the past. There were also insinuations in the industry that the project may not see the light of the day due to the many hiccups it witnessed. But those insinuations were proved wrong when TRACON was eventually commissioned.In his speech while commissioning the project on October 18, 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan said, “This project is part of deliberate efforts to provide security for the country and safety of the airlines that fly in, out and over the country and is a milestone in the history of aviation. It is worthy of note that the aviation industry that was blacklisted in 2005 has become the owner of the territorial navigational facility that puts it in the pedestal to be among the league of nations that have met set International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set rules” (AllAfrica.
com: 18).Conclusion. In principle, the project was conceived out of the need to have total coverage of the Nigerian airspace by radar and also to modernize Nigerian airspace infrastructure to meet the key requirement of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Communications Navigation, Surveillance and Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM).
The commissioning of the TRACON system no doubt makes Nigeria a force to be reckoned with in the League of Nations that has met the requisite standards and recommended practices for aviation operations by ICAO and the United Nation technological agencies for aviation.BibliographyAkintola, Kehinde, Sade Ayodele. “Jonathan Commissions 76m Euro Radar Project Amidst ATC Protest”. BusinessdayOnline. com, Abuja: 19 October 2010.
Web November 22, 2010. Haastrup, Wale. “TRACON Suffers Fresh Setbacks”. BusinessdayOnline. com, Abuja: 27 November2008. Web November 22, 2010. Orukpe, Abel.
“Nigeria: The Making of TRACON”. AllAfrica. com. 18 October 2010. Web November 22, 2010.
Usim, Uche. “Why We Want to Carry TRACON Project to Point of No Return”. SunnewsOnline.
com. 16thJuly,2007. Web November 22, 2010.