Airports closure: Minister explains
…Qatar, Emirates, Proflight denied landing rights because the airport was processing the landing of President Hichilema, and not because of poor air traffic management at KKIA, Mfuwe international airports
By NATION REPORTER
HERE was nothing sinister for the aviation staff at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport to delay the landing of both Qatar and Emirates airlines because the airport was being prepared for landing of President Hakainde Hichilema, Frank Tayali has said.
The KKIA was on Saturday afternoon closed for close to an hour, forcing landing aircrafts that included Qatar and the Emirates to circle the airport several times because the aviation staff was preparing for the landing of President Hichilema from Mfuwe.
But Mr Tayali, the Transport and Logistics Minister has clarified that it was international aviation practice that when the airport is processing the departure and landing of the President, all other flights, irrespective of their status were instructed to hold on.
Mr Tayali said airlines were aware of the international standard practice that when the airport was preparing for the takeoff and landing of a head of State, all other flying activities were halted because no country would ever risk the life of its President.
“What happened on Saturday is the international standard practice everywhere in the world. President Hichilema was to land from Mfuwe and no one expected the aviation staff to hold the head of State in the air to accommodate the landing of aircrafts entering Zambia.”
“Imagine Air Force One is on the runaway and you have all other planes landing and taking off…you would be risking the life of the head of State. So there was nothing sinister or attempt to deny landing rights to other planes but were only delayed because the airport was processing the landing of President Hichilema,” Mr Tayali said. Aeronautical images of both Qatar and Emirates airlines circling the KKIA have emerged and they are showing the two airplanes going round the airport because they could not be cleared for landing.
And Proflight’s Saturday 10:30 flight to Mfuwe was forced to divert to Ndola after the Mfuwe International Airport was closed from 11:30 to 12:58 hours to facilitate a Presidential movement and meetings at the airport.
Aviation experts have told the Daily Nation that the two passenger planes had their landing schedules adjusted after the pilots were denied rights to land, forcing the crew to embark on an orbit voyage for more than 30 minutes, causing panic among passengers on both flights.
The aviation experts have blamed management of the Lusaka International Airport for having failed to manage the Presidential flight timelines, causing serious panic among the passengers and the crew staff of the two aircrafts.
But Mr Tayali said all presidential flights were arranged by the Zambia Air Force (ZAF) aviation experts and that it was incorrect to blame KKIA staff or the Ministry of Transport and Logistics.
“For the first time, two international aircrafts, Qatar and Emirates were made to circle the Lusaka International Airport for several long minutes because their crews were denied landing rights as scheduled.
The two aircrafts were in the Lusaka airspace as scheduled but could not land because the aviation staff denied them access to land as they were preparing for the landing of President Hichilema who was coming from Mfuwe. It was such a scary moment to watch the two plane circling the airport for more than 25 minutes,” the experts said.
And Proflight, which was due to land at Mfuwe at 11:45 was denied landing due to a meeting President Hichilema was having at the airport.
Proflight was instead instructed to hold on from landing.
The sources have revealed that twice, the pilots requested to land as they would be going into low fuel reserves and twice they were denied landing permission.
“So in the interests of safety and on the indication of not knowing how long the airport would remain closed, they had to take the decision to divert to Ndola to refuel. Flight 804 Lusaka- Mfuwe was scheduled to land in Mfuwe at 11:45 and only landed at 14:50 after diverting to Ndola. The return flight Mfuwe- Lusaka departed at 15:13 instead of 12:20,” experts said.
The experts stated that it was important that the VVIP movements should be managed quickly and efficiently and should not result in airport closures of the length of period which would result endangering the lives of passangers.