South African Airways rejects Kaduna, suspends Abuja operations during runway repair
• Travel agencies urge Lagos option for foreign airlines
South African Airways yesterday said it plans to suspend its Abuja operations during the six weeks period of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport runway repair.
The Guardian learnt that the airline, in a letter to the authorities, said the measure became imperative following its decision not to fly to Kaduna Airport, designated to serve all Abuja-bound aircraft during the closure.
The implication of the temporary suspension of operations is that passengers of the airline can only board in Lagos and contend with limited flight options, while paying more for travel expenses.
The Guardian had reported that Abuja-bound foreign airlines were considering suspending operations following a consensus that the plan to divert air traffic to Kaduna Airport would be risky for foreigners.
President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, warned that allowing the airlines to suspend operations would be a bad omen for the sector, with effects lasting longer than the six weeks duration.
Bankole said instead of South African Airways and other foreign airlines suspending operations, the Federal Government should rather divert foreign traffic to Lagos, while domestic operators go to Kaduna airport.
South African Airways said its last flight into Abuja would be on March 6, while the Federal Government will close the airport on March 8.
It was gathered that the airline has already sent the notice of its position to the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika. The letter to Sirika, from South African Airways by its Acting Chief Commercial Officer, Aaron Munetsi, said the operations to Abuja would resume on April 18, 2017.
According to Munetsi, “SAA commends the Nigerian authorities concerning the planned repairs of the NAIA runway. However, due to network and fleet operations planning, SAA regrets to advise that the airline will suspend its Abuja operations with effect from 6th March until the 18th April, 2017,” the letter read in part.
The airline said it would be in constant touch with the Nigerian aviation authorities as the repair work progresses in order to establish its readiness for revised operations in accordance with its work schedule.
President of NANTA, Bankole said that the civil unrest in Kaduna worries the foreign airlines and their affiliated travel agencies, leaving none satisfied with the security provision of the Federal Government.
He said it would not augur well for the international carriers to divert to Kaduna. And to prevent them from suspending operations, the option of diverting foreign airlines to Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, should be considered.
In his words, “The international carriers will not joke with the lives of their passengers. Most of the airlines arrive at night and will not risk night travel by road anywhere in the country.
“The danger of them leaving us for six weeks is much. With the way airlines run, they will not take off their plane and allow it idle for six weeks. Rather, the planes will be redeployed to other routes and they may just not come back to Nigeria.
“Instead of loosing the slots and carriers, it is better to allow them fly to Lagos in the interim, while domestic airlines partner with the foreign ones to redistribute their passengers to Kaduna and other places,” Bankole said.