Jahath Bennett Inyang
School of Information Technology and Communications,
American University of Nigeria,
Yola, Adamawa State,
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 multi-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.com: 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.com: 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...