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Foreign and domestic airlines operating in Nigeria have kicked against the Federal Government’s decision to shut down the Nnamdi Azikiwe In­ternational Airport, Abuja, for repairs.
They suggested segmented repairs of the runway instead of a complete closure of the Abu­ja Airport.
The aviation firms also urged the government to re­view its plan for the airlines to fly into the Kaduna Airport en-route the nation’s capital for the period the Abuja Airport will be closed.
The airline operators ex­pressed their views in Abu­ja on Thursday at the Aviation Stakeholders’ Forum organised by the Aviation Ministry on its plan to shut down the Nnam­di Azikiwe International Air­port temporarily for the repair on the runway and the use of Kaduna Airport as an alterna­tive route.
The Chairman of the Air­line Operators of Nigeria (AON), Mr. Nogie Meggisson, who spoke at the meeting, declared that while his members were not averse to the repair of the runway because of safe­ty considerations, the govern­ment should consider alternative ways to undertake the repairs.
He said: “AON on the other side is of the view that the airport should either be repaired at night like what is done in other coun­tries from 6pm to 6am. For exam­ple, the Gatwick Airport, 85 years later, handles 400,000 passengers yearly. Abuja Airport only han­dles 40,000 passengers a year. If we have that kind of volume go­ing through Gatwick and it has not been closed, we need to look at it again before we move out of Abuja.
“Alternatively, the runway in Abuja is 3,900 metres. If you split the runway in two, you will get roughly 2,000 metres. We can fix one side for three weeks and come back to the other side with 2,000 metres runway. A Boeing 737 can comfortably get onto it on a one hour flight. A PRJ, a Dash-8 and local carriers can come in.
“The international carriers can go to Lagos and Kano and redistribute from there. That is our own view”.
While raising concerns over the capacity of the Kaduna Air­port to handle such large volume of passengers, Meggisso advised the government to reconsider its plan, saying:
“Abuja Airport, yes, is dete­riorated. Abuja needs to be re­paired right now but we should look at how it will become a win-win situation.”
Speaking on behalf of the In­ternational Airline Operators, Mr. Osho Joseph raised posers over the availability of aviation fuel for airlines in Kaduna and advised the government to recon­sider Kaduna Airport as an alter­native route for only local airlines.
In his response, the Minis­ter of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, said that all the con­cerns raised by the airline oper­ators were taken into consid­eration before the government reached the decision for a tem­porary shutdown.
He said: “What you said is not new to us; we can work at night and achieve results without clos­ing the airport only if the repair is on the surface. That is if you are resurfacing.
“The structure of the run­way right through the bottom; all the four levels are dilapidated and completely gone! It opens up without giving you notice. We need to do this runway, we will be working for six months without closure day in day out like they do in Gatwick for six months but we will do six weeks of closure to be able in six weeks to attend to the central part of that runway.
“This working at night with­out the closure of the airport is what we have been doing for 14 years after the lifespan of that runway and we achieved the same result. Engineers have looked at it, there were four inter­national consultants that were in­vited who worked on the runway for three months and came back with the same results”.
The minister allayed fears by the stakeholders on the issue of security and safety along the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway and the road leading to the airport. He assured them that adequate measures are being put in place to ensure the safety of passengers coming from Abuja.
Sirika said that the stakehold­ers will be invited to inspect the Kaduna Airport, the Abuja-Ka­duna Road, Nnamdi Azikwe Road and the screening points to ascertain the level of prepared­ness, so that they can make more input should they not be im­pressed with what they will see.”
Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State who was repre­sented by the Executive Secretary, Kaduna Investment Promotion Agency, Mr. Gambo Hamza, as­sured stakeholders of adequate security as well as the state’s pre­paredness to make the airport suitable for the operators.
“We see this as a very prime project for Nigeria. In terms of security, from Abuja to Kadu­na, there will be 20 policemen on every 11 kilometres. We are doing all the clearing that is required to assist the Feder­al Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to get the project online. The Nnamdi Azikiwe Road is be­ing fixed at this moment. We will deliver by the end of January on what is expected from Kaduna State,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Gov­ernment has appointed a for­mer Managing Director of the defunct Nigerian Airways, Mo­hammed Joji, as chairman of a transitional committee for the relocation of flights to and from Abuja to Kaduna Airport.
An online news medium said last night that Joji confirmed his appointment.
“Yes, I have just been ap­pointed this morning by the minister of aviation as the chair­man of the transition committee for the temporary relocation of Abuja flights to Kaduna.
“I am on my way back from Abuja to Kaduna after the meet­ing with the minister and ac­ceptance of the appointment,” Joji said.