Friday, 6 January 2017

Abuja Airport closure: Why we chose Kaduna as alternative – FG

The Federal Government has said the three airports close to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, NAIA, Abuja, do not meet the criteria set for alternative airports to Abuja. This, however, did not go down well with stakeholders in the aviation industry, who expressed divergent views on the alternative airport and the total closure of the Abuja Airport from March 8 to April 19, 2017. 

Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, during the stakeholders forum in Abuja, yesterday, said three other airports close to Abuja— Minna Airport in Niger State, Yakubu Gowon Airport in Jos and Ilorin Airport in Kwara— did not meet the criteria set by the Federal Government as alternative airports. 

The minister, while explaining the rationale behind the choice of Kaduna airport, said: “Niger and Kwara states are probably thinking they are better alternatives, they are very good alternatives for sure but unfortunately, there are quite a number of criteria we looked at which the other airports did not meet before we chose Kaduna. 

“The three are good airports close to Abuja but they simply did not meet with the criteria we used. Minna, Ilorin and even Jos airport as well.” 

Stating what necessitated the rehabilitation of Abuja airport runway, the minister recalled that the Abuja runway was constructed in 1982, adding that it had overshot its design lifespan by 14 years, resulting in a number of distressed and failed portions of the runaway. He recalled the experiences of airlines on the Abuja runway, saying: “On December 4, 2013, a Saudi Arabian cargo plane damaged its landing gear in a major incident at the Abuja airport runway, which led to the closure of the airport for several hours, from the night of December 4 to the evening of the following day. 

“In August 2016, there was also another major incident involving South Africa Airways flight that got damaged when it landed on the same Abuja airport runway. “Just last year, Emirates aircraft was also damaged when it landed on the same runway and it was one of the reasons the airline gave for stopping operations to Abuja airport, while other international airlines were considering pulling out of Abuja airport like the Kenya Airways because of the dangerous runway and multiple incidences of landing gear damages that had been reported by operators of private jets caused by the poor condition of the Abuja runway. 

“This administration with safety and security as its priority, has decided to face the problem head-on. The cooperation of all stakeholders is, therefore, required to enable us go through this transition period with minimal discomfort.” 

Stakeholders differ on closure Expressing their misgivings about the decision of the Federal Government, stakeholders, including Aviation Operators of Nigeria, AON; International Airline Operators, IAO; embassies in Abuja and the Nigerian Association of Travel Agencies, NATA, among others were not in agreement with Federal Government on the choice of Kaduna as alternative airport and total closure of the Abuja airport Chairman of AON, Capt. Nogie Meggison, said operators were in total support of the rehabilitation of the Abuja airport runway but do not agree with the complete shutdown of the airport. 

Meggison was of the view that the 3900-metre runway could be divided into sections while a section is undergoing repair, the other is left open till the repairs of the closed section is completed. He suggested that a section that would be left open could accommodate a Boeing 737, adding that international flights could go to Lagos or Kano for the period of repairs. He wondered if Kaduna airport was ready to accommodate the traffic of passengers and aircraft. 

Responding, however, Executive Secretary, Kaduna Investment Promotion Agency, Mallam Gambo Hamza, said Kaduna was ready to take the traffic while the state had made provision for security with 20 policemen on standby at every kilometre.

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