U.S. Africa Command/Nigeria

Air Forces Africa Works to Boost Niger­ian Air Safe­ty

By Air Force Maj. Paula Kurtz
Spe­cial to Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Ger­many, Feb. 13, 2009 — While tak­ing to the skies has some inher­ent risk, advances in tech­nol­o­gy, strin­gent main­te­nance require­ments and rig­or­ous train­ing pro­ce­dures for air­crews have con­tributed to a safe aer­i­al envi­ron­ment in most parts of the world.

But some parts of the world lack basic infra­struc­ture and tech­nol­o­gy such as radar or air traf­fic con­trol. For­mal main­te­nance pro­grams for air­craft do not exist, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion between pilots and ground per­son­nel is spo­radic or nonex­is­tent.

These are just a few of the air domain chal­lenges faced by many of the 54 nations that make up the African con­ti­nent. Since it stood up as the air com­po­nent for U.S. Africa Com­mand on Oct. 1, mem­bers of U.S. Air Forces Africa have been build­ing a pro­gram aimed at bol­ster­ing air safe­ty and secu­ri­ty on the con­ti­nent.

Air Force Lt. Col. David MacKen­zie, deputy direc­tor of the plans direc­torate, trav­eled to Nige­ria in Jan­u­ary to work with Niger­ian and U.S. avi­a­tion experts on chart­ing the future of Nigeria’s air domain pro­gram and to give a pre­sen­ta­tion on the U.S. search and res­cue pro­gram and its capa­bil­i­ties.

“This was real­ly a com­pre­hen­sive and syn­chro­nized effort … to enhance part­ner capac­i­ty in build­ing Nigeria’s air domain,” MacKen­zie said.

Dur­ing the first por­tion of his vis­it, MacKen­zie brought his exper­tise as a C-130 pilot and instruc­tor to an assess­ment of the Niger­ian air force’s C-130 fleet and its logis­tics pro­gram. With only one of Nigeria’s eight C-130s cur­rent­ly air­wor­thy, the team eval­u­at­ed the oth­ers for pos­si­ble recon­sti­tu­tion, plac­ing heavy empha­sis on the main­te­nance required to keep them safe­ly in the air.

“It’s not just about fix­ing the air­craft,” MacKen­zie said. “There is a big sus­tain­ment piece in the sup­ply, logis­tics and train­ing areas as well. Spare parts should be avail­able, and a sup­ply sys­tem for tech­ni­cal orders and back-shop equip­ment, plus train­ing for your main­te­nance, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and sup­ply peo­ple is required.”

Ulti­mate­ly, the goal of rebuild­ing the C-130 fleet is to facil­i­tate Nigeria’s com­mit­ment to con­tribute more sup­port to peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions on the con­ti­nent through air­lift of indige­nous or neigh­bor­ing troops and equip­ment, offi­cials said. On the ground, Nige­ria is build­ing a force of sev­en peace­keep­ing bat­tal­ions to sup­port African Union and Unit­ed Nations peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions in Liberia, Sudan and Soma­lia.

“Right now, they have very lim­it­ed ways to get peo­ple to the fight or sus­tain them when they are there,” MacKen­zie said.

His find­ings dur­ing this assess­ment will help to shape future the­ater secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion plans with Nige­ria as issues are addressed through mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary capac­i­ty-build­ing events led by the Cal­i­for­nia Nation­al Guard in the State Part­ner­ship Pro­gram, joint exer­cis­es, con­fer­ences and senior-leader engage­ments.

While the Niger­ian air force is focused on refur­bish­ing its C-130 fleet, its civ­il avi­a­tion lead­ers are tak­ing a hard look at equal­ly impor­tant search and res­cue pro­ce­dures.

“Search and res­cue real­ly takes a coor­di­nat­ed approach,” MacKen­zie said Jan. 20 in Abu­ja, the country’s cap­i­tal. “They dis­cussed the need to exer­cise their pro­grams … through table­top and field exer­cis­es … so they’ll be bet­ter pre­pared when some­thing hap­pens. That’s not the time you want to be test­ing your com­mu­ni­ca­tions and pro­ce­dures.”

MacKen­zie used the recent U.S. Air­ways emer­gency land­ing in New York’s Hud­son Riv­er as an exam­ple of well-prac­ticed res­cue pro­ce­dures.

“We talked about the quick response of the res­cue folks on the ground as part of that suc­cess sto­ry,” MacKen­zie said. “Those who had boats in the water — Park Ser­vice, fer­ry oper­a­tors, New York City police — wast­ed no time in get­ting to the wreck­age to ren­der aid to the sur­vivors. That was crit­i­cal in min­i­miz­ing injuries and sav­ing lives.”

Though acknowl­edg­ing the Niger­ian air domain has “sig­nif­i­cant gaps” in its safe­ty and secu­ri­ty pro­ce­dures, MacKen­zie was quick to com­pli­ment offi­cials on their bird and safe­ty haz­ards pro­gram, describ­ing the country’s main port city, Lagos, as a “sprawl­ing city with lots of birds” that pose haz­ards to air­craft.

A three-tiered air domain safe­ty and secu­ri­ty pro­gram is designed to cap­i­tal­ize on “nat­ur­al air link­ages,” where U.S. Air Force pro­grams and capa­bil­i­ties can con­tribute to increas­ing capac­i­ty with­in the mil­i­tary and civ­il avi­a­tion pro­grams on the con­ti­nent.

Speak­ing at the African Avi­a­tion Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence in August, a Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial not­ed that in the 10-year peri­od between 1994 and 2004, African nations account­ed for only 4.5 per­cent of the world’s total air traf­fic, but had a star­tling 25 per­cent of avi­a­tion acci­dents.

“We hope the Nige­ri­ans estab­lish a safe and effi­cient air domain mod­el in Nige­ria, and hope it takes root and spreads,” MacKen­zie said. “It will if the lead­ers there have the polit­i­cal will to share and teach oth­ers in the region.”

(Air Force Maj. Paula Kurtz serves with the 17th Air Force pub­lic affairs office.)

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)