‘Boom time awaits domestic airlines during Abuja closure’
Concerns over inconveniences and revenue loss notwithstanding, domestic airlines in the country may be in for a boom when the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja runway is closed for repair.
Experts, who made this disclosure, said several foreign airlines currently operating the Abuja route would be depending on domestic operators to eventually take their passengers to and fro the northern part of the country that will be temporarily cut-off while the runway repair lasted.
And for as many airlines that are prepared to seize the opportunity, it will mean additional revenue to make up for past losses on account of the harmattan haze and perennial fuel scarcity, among other operational issues.
Recall that the 4000metres long runway at the International Airport, has been in bad shape in the last couple of months and was in December 2016, penciled down for repair at the cost of N1billion.
At least three foreign airlines, including South African Airways, have had their wide-body aircraft damaged in the process of landing on the runway.
While the repair work would last for at least six weeks, the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, had said that the runway would be temporarily closed and traffic diverted to Kaduna Airport, from where buses will take passengers back to Abuja in a two-hour road journey.
Amidst concerns from international communities and members of the public on the poor condition of the connecting 210km road between Kaduna and Abuja, experts are worried about impacts on travellers and attendant revenue losses.
Aviation Security consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), said while most foreign airlines would not divert to Kaduna for security reasons, he would not align with arguments on revenue losses, rather “boom time for domestic operators.”
Ojikutu, therefore, urged the domestic airlines to brace up and take maximum advantage of the traffic pull that would come to Lagos.
He said while the domestic airlines might find Kaduna airport convenient, “the current security threats in that state may not make the airport attractive to the foreign airlines particularly those from the European Union and United States.
According to him: “Most would prefer to operate all their flights to Lagos, as it was when the Port-Harcourt was closed for runway repairs in 2007/2008.
“The diversions of these flights to Lagos would be a boom in business to the benefit of the domestic, who should work in alliance with these foreign airlines to help distribute and collect their inbound and outbound international passengers for them between Lagos and other Airports,” Ojikutu said.
He added that instead of the Kaduna airport currently proposed for diversion, domestic airlines would find the Minna Airport more useful due to its proximity to Abuja than Kaduna.
He said domestic airlines could use the Minna Airport for all inbound and outbound Abuja passengers, especially for daylight flights, if the airport lacked adequate night landing facilities, while Kaduna Airport serves the purpose of night operations.
“I disagree with those having some apprehensions that revenue would be lost because of the closure. There would not be significant losses if the international traffic maintained their daily Abuja flights to wherever they choose to fly to (Lagos or Kaduna) any of which is still managed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
“They would be required to pay the normal charges to FAAN, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). In fact, there would be increase in the number of flights for domestic airlines and additional revenue for them,” Ojikutu said.
Chairman, Governing Board of the Nigerian Aviation Safety Initiative (NASI), Capt. Dung Pam, said although the temporary closure of the runway was for safety concerns, but the effects would still be huge on the already troubled sector.
Pam recalled that the Abuja Airport was built in 1982, with a runway surface that has a lifespan of 20 to 25 years. By 2007, the runway ought to have been resurfaced, failure of which was “a mistake” on the part of the authorities.
He said: “I’m a bit shocked that the government is not even finding out why we are making such a costly mistake. They came up with this remodeling thing and it is either they did a very bad job on the runway or they did nothing.”
The chairman recalled that the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport, in New York, United States, one of the busiest airports in the world, does its maintenance at night when the traffic is least and never completely shut down a runway.
“The Abuja runway is pretty long. Lagos runway is 3.9km and hardly would any aircraft need more than 2.5km for takeoff and landing, which is just about the same distance (2.75km) of the one at the local airport in Lagos. That is what you need for a 747 aircraft type.
“The JFK will do the repair for about two or three hours at night. They replace not just the surface, but even the entire base, which is a huge slab of concrete. The next morning, the flights can go on as usual.
“The (Nigerian authorities) should have looked at other ways, because it will be a serious inconvenience and the huge cost of providing buses to convey passengers to Abuja,” Pam said.