The recent announcement by the minister of state for aviation, Hadi Sirika that the Nnamdi Azikiwe airpot will be closed for six weeks has continued to generate debate among stakeholders. The minister recently disclosed that flights will now be diverted to the Kaduna Airport, from where buses will take passengers back to Abuja in a two-hour road journey. Reason being that, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja has received some kind of threats from local and international airlines to boycott the airport over the poor state of the runway. The aviation ministry however revealed that government has put in place adequate arrangement to provide buses to convey passengers to Abuja or to the railway station, depending on the choice of the passengers involved.
Economic Confidential gathered that ,the situation where the Ministry was trying to manage the situation by carrying out repair works on the runway in the middle of the night was no longer tenable which resulted in the decision to shut down the airport to carry out extensive repair works on the runway. The alternative Airport is said to be significantly less popular than the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport.
While some of the stakeholders considered it a welcome development, others are of the view that the move would bring much discomfort to air travellers and foreign airlines especially, forcing many to temporarily quit air travel to the northern part of the country. For some of them, the planned temporary closure of the airport, will further compound the economic woe of the country which has run into recession.
Analysts have continued to questioned the decision to close the airport for repairs on the runway instead of the construction of a new runway, particularly in view of the fact that the new airport terminal at the airport will soon be completed and commissioned which will result in a significant increase in traffic at the airport.
In an attempt to convince stakeholders, the minister of state, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika has sued for cooperation and understanding from stakeholders. Speaking at a recent stakeholders meeting in Abuja, while unfolding plans on the diversion of flights from Abuja to Kaduna Sirika said, it was government’s decision to maintain airport facilities for better usage and to boost the nation’s economy.
The minister, while highlighting the reasons for a major repair work on the 20 year old runway, explained that the present administration of Buhari has moral burden to fulfil its promises to Nigerians.
Sirika said the nation cannot wait to witness a major disaster before putting the airports infrastructure in order pointing out that the runway will be of great economic value when rehabilitated. “We did not take the decisions alone, a lot of issues were considered and lot of consultations were made, such as the security and safety of passengers” he added
He however admitted that, many stakeholders, would be out of business for the period of six weeks, these people are the hoteliers, car hires, and other people who render sundry services”
Sirika stressed that the sudden need for repair, was necessitated upon the fact that the runway was made to have a life span of 20 years adding that since 1982 it has out-lived its life span after series of repairs. He added that the Abuja runway has witnessed largest airplane landings in the recent time which has led to its bad state saying that only total removal of the runaway surface was the solution.
On the capacity of the Kaduna airport as an alternate airport, Sirika disclosed that a lot of things were considered before making the decision. These include, proximity of Kaduna to Abuja, with a distance of 188 kilometers, Kaduna runway dimension of about 3000/45km, with shoulder of 10.5m and with apron size of 400/120m enough to accommodate six B737 and two B747 aircraft.
Part of the plans he said, included the new security measure from Kaduna to Abuja to ensure safety and avoid mishap. According to him, the Nigeria security and Civil Defense Corps, the Nigeria Police, the Ministry of Defense, the FRSC, DSS will be involved.
He also pointed out that the federal government will train aviation security personnel in arms carrying saying it will ensure that the airport security were not overpowered or intimidated by aggrieved passengers.
Meanwhile, two aviation bodies in the industry, operators and travelers Companies association of Nigeria have condemned the choice of Kaduna as an alternative route to Abuja.
Speaking on this issue, the Chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria Captain Noggie Megisson, disagreed with the minister, pointing out that a repair in Abuja airport, would not warrant a total shift of operation to Kaduna. According to him, such repair works were carried out at nights as it had been done elsewhere advising the ministry to reconsider its decision.
In another development, representatives of international airlines operators have rejected the Kaduna International Airport as alternative destination for Abuja flights to enable government carry out repairs on the runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
Speaking on the issue, a representative of the international airlines operators, Mr. Osho Joseph said Kaduna international airport is not an option for them. We believe Kaduna may be an alternative for local operators but definitely not for international airline operator.
Meanwhile, members of upper chamber of the national assembly had rejected the planned closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja over the planned repair of the runway by the Federal Government. Following the adoption of a motion moved by Senator Hope Uzordinma, the senate ordered its committee on aviation to within two days meet with the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, Minister of Power, Babatunde Fashola, FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello, Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar, and heads of Aviation agencies to fashion out alternative measures.
In the motion titled; “The Planned Closure of Abuja Airport,” Senator Uzordinma argued that a six-week outright closure of a major and the only airport in the nation’s federal capital can trigger untold hardship on international and local air travellers and therefore dent the nation’s image. According to him, a complete shot-down of the airport will impact negatively on international trade and related activities, with a multiplier effect that can exert further pressure on an already recessed national economy.
He also argued that the logistics and security challenges the diversion of Abuja bound flights to Kaduna will throw up would be too much to cope with by all relevant stakeholders.
He called on the Senate to stop the move as according to him, all other available options have not been exhausted to avoid the total shutdown of the Airport.
Many of the senators who contributed supported the motion leading to a unanimous decision to summon the affected ministers and heads of relevant aviation agencies for an alternative way out of the crisis.
In his remarks, Senate President Saraki said: “Where else in the world are things done this way. Idea of total closure of the Abuja Airport is not the best option.
“Therefore the Senate Aviation Committee should meet with the relevant ministers and heads of aviation agencies within the next two days for an alternative option and report back to the senate within a week for final decision over the matter.”