Airlines, Engineers oppose shutdown of Abuja Airport •Britain expresses worry but FG adamant

Posted by News Express | 6 January 2017 | 2,070 times

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The chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria, Mr Noggie Maggison, and that of international airline operators, Mr Osho Joseph, on Thursday expressed objections over impending closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, by the Federal Government.

The Nigerian Society of Engineers has opposed a decision also opposed the decision, even as the British Deputy High Commissioner, Harriet Thompson, raised concerns about the movement of passengers from Abuja to Kaduna during the period of closure to be used to repair the runway of the only airport in the country’s capital city.

The objections were raised during a special stakeholders’ meeting on the issue presided over by the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika.

Chris Okoye, the Chairman, Board of Fellows, Nigerian Society of Engineers, said during the sidelines of the meeting that the decision was rather hasty and is lacking in the necessary consultations deserving of such a momentous project.

The decision to shut the airport and divert Abuja-bound flights to Kaduna, an airport used primarily for domestic flights about 160 km (100 miles) to the north, was taken after airlines threatened to stop flying to the capital due to the bad condition of the runway.

The government had said the six-week closure would begin in February. But a statement issued on Tuesday, which said the aviation minister would discuss the matter with stakeholders, said the “proposed closure” was set to start on 8 March.

No reason was given for the change of date.

Okoye, who expressed surprise at the impending closure, advised the authorities concerned to carry out repairs on the runways in the night and allow flight operations at daytime in preference to the 6 weeks’ complete shutdown.

“We believe that the closure of this airport is indeed going to be a disaster. This is an airport that is the gateway to Nigeria. Apart from the business hub of Lagos, Abuja has now become a very busy airport.

“We think that there are appropriate ways, granting the fact that the existing runway has lasted for more than 30 years and therefore requires to be changed, rebuilt and rehabilitated.

“What we thought would have happened is that a state of emergency should have been declared so that the second runway can be started immediately even if it means borrowing money by this Federal Government to start the runway of the Abuja international Airport.”

Analysts have said that the temporary closure of Abuja airport, the country’s second busiest after the commercial capital Lagos, will have a negative impact on Africa’s biggest economy, which fell into recession in 2016 for the first time in 25 years.

Passengers travelling to Abuja will have to fly to Kaduna and travel in bus shuttles, guarded by security provided by the government, to the capital on a pot-holed road where kidnappings have taken place in the last few years.

Sirika during the meeting, however, reassured international and local airline operators, as well as air travellers of adequate security at the Kaduna airport.

He emphasised the importance of the closure, pointing out the security and safety measures put in place to ease air transportation to and from Kaduna airport.

The minister, who addressed all the concerns raised by the stakeholders, said that the closing of the airport was a painful decision taken in the interest of all stakeholders.

He said that the Federal Government remained committed to the safety of air travellers, stressing that the airport runway would be rehabilitated within six weeks.

The runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport was built in 1982 with a life span of 20 years.

Fourteen years after its lifespan expired, the airstrip has been adjudged unsafe for air travellers.

Kaduna’s international airport handled 12 flights in December 2015, the last month for which Nigeria’s airports authority has figures, compared with 812 that used Abuja International.

The government has said German company Julius Berger will carry out repairs on Abuja’s damaged runway.
•Based on reports by Channels TV and TV360 Nigeria.

Source: News Express

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