Two years after it was commissioned by Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, Governor of Lagos State, the helipad at the Lagos State Teaching University Hospital (LASUTH) in Ikeja has remained non-operational.
The facility, built to accelerate emergency healthcare delivery, SaharaReporters gathered, served as a base for the advance security of team of President Muhammadu Buhari when he visited the state last month.
The helipad, located in front of the surgical emergency building, is equipped with top-tier facilities, including nighttime lighting for helicopters landing when dark. On a visit to the helipad, Jerry Joel, a worker in the teaching hospital’s Surgical Emergency Ward confirmed to SaharaReporters that the helipad has remained non-operational. The situation, added Joel, may have been because no patient has required been evacuated by helicopter.
“Maybe there has not been any patient that requires the service or do you have any patient that needs it?” he asked. The hospital worker would later direct SaharaReporters’ correspondent to Dr. I. A Mustafa, LASUTH Head of Surgical Emergency Department, who, in turn, requested that clarifications be sought from Professor David Oke, Chief Medical Director (CMD), LASUTH.
Citing another reason why the helipad has not been functional, the CMD told SaharaReporters that the blame for the situation of the helipad belongs to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), which is yet to grant approval for it to operate.
“Any flying vehicle has to be registered with NCAA. Until that is done and approved, we cannot be on the map. Lagos State has done its bit; we are just waiting for the NCAA to come and inspect and give us approval."
"They will come inspect and whatever process we are required to go through, we will go through it. Everything hinges on the fact that NCAA has to give us approval to commence operation of the helipad within the Nigerian airspace. It is a federal thing when you fly in any country,” said Professor Oke.
The NCAA, however, refused to take the blame. Mr. Sam Adurogboye, NCAA spokesman, when contacted said that the agency became aware of the existence of the helipad only through a radio announcement. He suggested that the helipad was commissioned before it was ready for use. He asked why the helipad was commissioned at a time that it was not ready.
Adurogboye said, “For approval for any aircraft, the owner, from inception will apply to the NCAA, which will monitor and offer advice. The most important determinant of approval is the owner. There are other things that we want them to correct to get approval. I am telling you that NCAA cannot just turn down a request. The onus is on the owner."
Insisting that the helipad was built without the knowledge of the NCAA, Adurogboye expressed, “In the first instance, they constructed it without NCAA’s knowledge. We got to know that they have helipad there when a radio announcement was made that Caverton Helicopters was about to start operating services to the place. We wrote to the CMD, telling him we only became aware of the helipad through the radio announcement.”
The agency equally claimed that the only time LASUTH approached it was when the hospital wanted to train its officials that would operate the helipad.
“The CMD, on 11 August 2016, wrote the NCAA requesting us to train the people they recruited to man the place. NCAA wrote back on 20 December 2016 that what was requested was a secondary thing. We wondered how we could train those who would operate the helipad when we were not even aware that it existed."
"Two, we don’t train personnel; we only recommend approved places where you can go to train. Three, you’ve not done all you need to do that can cause us to give licence,” said Mr. Adurogboye.
The NCAA, added the spokesman, wrote a second letter on the same day, saying it was notified that an illegal flight operation had taken place at the helipad and warned LASUTH that any flight operation without NCAA’s clearance is illegal.
“We notified the CMD and LASUTH wrote back that they would contact us, but they have not done so since 20 December 2016. We also notified the industry that no one can fly there and that if anyone flies there it is illegal,” said the NCAA.
When SaharaRepoters returned to seek the reaction of the CMD to the defence offered by the NCAA, he stated that the helipad was built by the military administration of General Buba Marwa (retd).
“Do you know that the helipad had been there before this time. Governor Marwa had built the helipad. Let them go back to their history,” he said.
When asked why the NCAA was not aware of the existence of the helipad, Professor Oke directed our correspondent to office of the Lagos State Health Commissioner.
“This thing was at the discretion of His Excellency (Governor) and the Ministry of Health. The information you are asking for, you will have to go and see the Health Commissioner about it,” he said with barely disguised indignation.
However, many attempts to speak with the commissioner, Dr. Olajide Idris, were unsuccessful.
SaharaReporters learned that the Lagos State government acted in breach of the country’s aviation regulations when constructing the helipad.
Moreover, with NCAA’s insistence on certain standards, it may take much longer before the helipad becomes operational.