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Airport reopening: Different strokes for different folks

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Abuja Airport

The Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja was reopened on Tuesday April 18, 2017 with commendations from all and sundry.

The stress people went through as a result of the diversion of flights to Kaduna in the last six weeks notwithstanding, passengers, operators and industry watchers are unanimous in applauding the federal government, Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika and his team for a job well-done and at record time.

Although a good job seemed to have been done in this case, the debacle of failed runway and the lessons that should be learnt are not lost on stakeholders.

Specifically, the development has ignited the call for a second runway in Abuja among some industry stakeholders while others are of the view that one runway per airport was okay where sound maintenance culture is seen as a statutory duty for Abuja runway and the 21 other airports across the country.

Meanwhile, barely 24 hours after the NAIA reopened without fun-fair, airlines that have used the Kaduna International Airport (KIA) have returned to the Abuja route (considered the most viable route) with an average of five cycles daily per airline.

The diversion, therefore, leaves KIA with reduced traffic and millions worth of investment at the risk of under-utilisation.

Fact is that the only runway for both international and domestic airlines at the Abuja airport expired some 14 years ago, going by international aviation standards.

An average runway around the world has between 20 to 25 years expiration period. Abuja airport was built in 1983 and by rule should have been fully rehabilitated in 2003.

It was, therefore, a mystery that the country did not record a major disaster at the airport in the last 14 years. However, no fewer than five major airlines recorded damages to their aircraft, with repairs running into millions of dollars in the last two years.

Travel agencies in the country are of the view that the presence of a second runway for the busy Abuja airport, just like the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, would save the airlines the damages, temporary closure of the airport and unnecessary embarrassment to the country.

President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, commended the completion of rehabilitation exercise on schedule, but insisted that work on the second runway should immediately commence.

“We are requesting that the government embark on the implementation of the second runway so that in the next 10 to 15 years, we won’t be talking about a runway that is an embarrassment to the country,” he said.

He added that with the paucity of funds in an economy in recession, the federal government should consider the option of Public Private Partnership (PPP) or a special loan to get the second runway done in good time.

“That will ease the pressure of this kind of situation in the future. The government of the day has shown that they are proactive but it should ensure that the construction of the second runway commences without delay,” he said.

Indeed, plan to pave the second runway at the Abuja airport dated back to 1983 when the airport was built. In 2010, when the existing 20-year shelf life of the runway expired, the government made move to lay the second runway.

The call made lots of sense considering that it is the only airport servicing the nation’s seat of power and the second busiest airport in the country.

Unfortunately, the good intention fell flat on its face when the then ministry of aviation, officials and contractors jointly submitted a staggering bill of N63 billion to the Senate House Committee on Aviation for the second runway of about 4000 metres long.

Even Heathrow Airport runway-one of the busiest in the world was constructed at the cost of about N15 billion. The runway of Jigawa Airport was built at N12 billion. It, therefore, explained why the second runway plan was truncated till date. And away with the idea too was the urgent need to maintain the existing runway.

Chairman, Governing Council of the Nigerian Aviation Safety Initiative (NASI), Capt. Rwung Dung Pam said the over-bloated figure for the second runway should have been investigated instead of throwing the baby away with the bath water as was the case with the then house committee on aviation.

Pam is, however, for sound maintenance of the runway in a very diligent manner and in accordance with aviation best practices.

He said: “Part of the maintenance should be carried out daily and in some cases for every landing and takeoff of aircrafts to ensure there are no objects that can cause damage.

“Going forward, I will ask: How many airports in Nigeria have expired runways? I will ask the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to be proactive, go through and ensure that the maintenance programme designed for all runways are adhered to so that we don’t wait for too long to do the right things.”

The Secretary General of the Aviation Round Table (ART), Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) could not agree more with Pam. He argued that there must be periodic maintenance programme with statutory function for regulatory authorities to complement the regular repairs.

Ojikutu said the Abuja runway failed because it was over stretched and there was no maintenance programme in place for it and the other 21 airports runways nationwide.

He advised that besides repair and reopening of the Abuja Airport, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and FAAN should be mandated to come up with a sound maintenance programme for the Abuja Airport runway and the others across the country.

“We must remember that maintenance is not about the number of years any more but about the volume of aircraft traffic on the runway. Besides, as the Kaduna Airport is the alternative airport to Abuja, so is the Ilorin Airport the alternative to Lagos Airport.

“Ilorin Airport was built about 30 years ago and is ready to receive traffic diversion from Lagos. These are the things we should be thinking about to ensure the Abuja Airport situation does not repeat itself,” he said.

However, life has returned to the Abuja Airport after the break and much to the detriment of the Kaduna Airport that had played a good host in the last six weeks. Local carriers immediately reopened operations with multiple scheduled flights on Lagos-Abuja route beginning from Wednesday, April 19.

And by Friday, the Kaduna Airport was already mulling the losses as the airport that was receiving about 100 aircraft daily has returned to the status quo of between two and four landings daily.

The worst is that passengers that had been booked for the Kaduna route post reopening of the Abuja Aiport were left stranded at Kaduna as their airlines failed to show up.

Medview Airlines said the reopening of Abuja was a relief to both the airline and passengers and had immediately started operations to the nation’s capital with six flights from Lagos daily.

Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the airline, Lookman Animashaun said besides the six daily flights, the flights to Yola, Kano and Maiduguri will now be routed through Abuja.

He said Kaduna has a lot of potentials, hence the airline decided to maintain a daily presence there.

Accounts Manager of Dana Air, Obi Mbanuzuo thanked the Minister of State for Aviation Hadi Sirika for walking the talk in the rehabilitation exercise.

Mbanuzuo hinted that the airline would, beginning from Wednesday, operate five frequencies on the Lagos-Abuja route daily with one flight daily to Kaduna.

Arik Air also reopened its daily flights between Abuja and Lagos, while other destinations like Ilorin, Ibadan, Gombe, Yola, Sokoto, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt and Accra (Ghana) are due to be connected from Abuja.

Chief Executive Officer of Arik Air, Captain Roy Ilegbodu, said: “We are pleased that the Federal Government has fulfilled its promise of reopening the Abuja Airport on schedule. This is highly commendable and airline operators can now operate safely to Abuja without any concerns about the state of the runway.”

Also, the Corporate Communications Manager of Air Peace, Chris Iwarah said: “The repair of the runway has further intensified our enthusiasm to deliver the best flight experience to our valued guests in a very safe atmosphere. Our Abuja schedules are live once again and we promise to give the best of air travel services as we resume our flight operations in the Federal Capital Territory.”

It is obvious that the Lagos-Abuja route is where the juicy route for the operators and it is a matter of time to see what will become of the proposed upgrade of the Kaduna International Airport.

Kaduna Residents Count Losses As Abuja Airport Reopens
From Saxone Akhaine, Kaduna
With the re-opening of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja for flight operations, the management of Kaduna Airport and business owners in Kaduna have been counting the losses recorded as the city returns to status quo.

Although the management of the airport commended federal government’s efforts in upgrading the facilities to international standards, it said with the return of most flights to Abuja, only very few domestic flights are now operating from Kaduna, prompting a drop in passengers patronage.

The Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika

Business activities around the airport environment have also dropped, as operators of bureau de change, food vendors, airport taxi/car hire and others were no longer visible.

The Public Relations Officer of the airport, Mr. Ibrahim Dawi Bwala, while acknowledging the gains made from the temporary diversion of flights to Kaduna during the rehabilitation exercise at the Abuja airport said: “We are now back to status quo with only three airlines operating domestic flights. Effort is being made by management to improve the number of flight operations here.

“The airport is back to its former self. A lot of gains were made during the period of diversion both in terms of passenger movement, as well as our facilities, which have been upgraded to world-class standards.

“However, since the return of flights to Abuja, activities here have slowed down. Even before the movement, we only had three airlines that were operating out of Kaduna namely-Arik, Azman and Medview airlines. They have continued their operations.

“Even some of the ones that came during the diversion period promised to come back. Ethiopian Airlines said they would be back here in three weeks. Maybe they will be doing combined flights between Abuja and Kaduna.

“Then, we have Air Peace and Dana airlines, which also indicated interest in coming back. For now, they have to go and stabilise their operations in Abuja first before coming back.”

The Kaduna Airport spokesman highlighted the gains recorded from the diversion of flights, explaining that between March 8 and April 17, passenger movements recorded 89,655 arrivals and 86,276 departures, making a total of 175,931 passengers.

International movement was 5,638 arrivals and 6,691departures, while domestic aircraft movements showed 1,170 arrivals while 1,170 departures making a total of 2,340.

The schedule for international aircraft movements indicated a total of 112 aircraft movements for both arrivals and departures.

Bwala added: “We have just gone back to our normal routine of three airlines operating out of Kaduna to Lagos after the return of flights operations to Abuja following the rehabilitation exercise.

He said with the facilities on ground in Kaduna, more airlines would start operations there.

He also lamented the low business activities at the airport a few days after the reopening of the Abuja Airport.

“Those who transacted businesses here during the exercise were all here for business and once they don’t have people to patronise them again they started leaving.

“We only have the very few ones we used to have. Most of the bureau de change businessmen you saw here came because of the operation and since the operation has ended, they all went back to their various bases in Abuja.

Meanwhile, food vendors and hoteliers who recorded high volume of patronage are now counting their losses following the return of flights operations to Abuja, with one of them saying: “We no longer have customers as it was during the flight diversion period.”

A food vendor operating at the airport, who identified herself as Mama Sidi said: “You can see that we don’t have any customers here again since passengers have returned to Abuja. There are no more customers and we are thinking of going back to the town to operate our food business.

“Unless the government does something to bring more flights to Kaduna, passengers and business activities here will die completely.”

An official of Assa Pyramid Hotel, who craved anonymity told The Guardian: “Our hotel is here in the heart of the town and we could feel the positive impact of Kaduna Airport when all flights were diverted from Abuja, because we had a lot of customers booking accommodation.

“But after the Abuja Airport was reopened, we started feeling the negative impact as the numbers of customers dropped and you can even see the impact now.”

The Pains And Gains Of Re-Opening Abuja Airport
From Joke Falaju, Abuja
The re-opening of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport 24 hours ahead of schedule has been described by many stakeholders as one of its kind in the country’s history.

The news came as a surprise to many top management staff of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), who as at Sunday evening, thought commercial flight operations would resume at midnight on Wednesday.

However, the certification of the airport by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) after due diligence on the rehabilitated runway gave the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika the approval to declare the runway safe and open for commercial flight operations.

Sources say the initial plan of the federal government was to commence flight operations on Wednesday at midnight, but changed the schedule so as not give the British Airways the credit of being the first airline to land at the airport since it usually lands at the airport at 5am.

Prior to the six weeks closure of the runway, Sirika had appealed to international airlines to support the government in the time of need, saying it was willing to work with all operators.

However, Ethiopian Airlines was the only international airline that agreed to route its flights through Kaduna during the six weeks closure of the Abuja Airport and to show their support to the federal government, it flew the Kaduna route daily with its Dreamliner Boeing 787, airlifting over 4,500 passengers between March 8 and April 4.

There are indications that the airline may begin to enjoy incentives from the government for its understanding during the period.

Meanwhile, as at Wednesday the car park was full and several passengers besieged the airport to fly to different destinations.

Domestic airlines, including Dana, Air Peace, Arik, Medview and Azman immediately resumed their six daily flights to Abuja.

Many business owners within the airport premises heaved a sigh of relief when they found out that the airport was to reopen ahead of schedule.

An airport taxi owner, Taiwo Yusuf lamented how he was finding it difficult to get passengers during the six weeks closure.

He said: “During the closure of the airport, there were several taxi operators struggling to get few passengers.

“For us to get passengers, we bargain with passengers to pay as low as N1, 500 to N2, 000, instead of the usual N3, 500 to N5, 000. But now that the airport is open, our fasting period is over.”

A kilishi (dry meat) seller, who identified himself as Abdullahi, lamented how he struggled to pay his N120, 000 annual due to FAAN, saying that during the closure of the airport, he could count the number of kilishi he sold, adding that his sales dropped to less than 30 per cent of his usual daily takings.

“Since the opening of the airport, sales are gradually picking up, but I believe it will get better as time goes on,” he said.

A restaurant operator in the terminal building said: “The lull in business was expected during the closure of the airport but passengers are gradually coming in.

“More so, most of our customers are foreign airline passengers and they have not been coming in handy like we used to have. I know that by next week, things would have improved.”

Hoteliers are not also left out in the waiting game. For most of them, it is too early to ascertain the effect the re-opening of the airport has had on their businesses.

They noted that it would take up to two or three weeks before things normalise.

The General Manager of AES Luxury Apartments, Dipo Oluyemi lamented how they lost N45 million the hotel would have generated from an event slated for the first week of April, but was canceled due to the closure of the airport.

He noted that it was too early to assess the effects the reopening of the Abuja Airport would have on their business, saying that in the coming weeks, there would be increase in the number of guests as most of the events earlier scheduled March and April have being postponed to May.

Oluyemi said: “With the opening of the airport, I believe we would be able to recover all the money we lost during the closure of the airport.”

Another official of Transcorp Hotel, who pleaded anonymity, noted that it is obvious even from the reception hall that activities were yet to pick up in the hotel fully as they used to be.

He was, however, optimistic that activities would definitely improve soon.

Meanwhile, nightlife in the Abuja metropolis is gradually picking up in most of the parks and gardens, as several residents continue to throng the fun destinations.

Stakeholders and passengers have commended the federal government for keeping to the six weeks deadline.

One of the passengers who arrived from India, Quardry Nihilola said: “I was so happy to see a new airport and very impressed. The airport is very ok.”

Another passenger, Ibrahim Tafida maintained that landing on the runway was very smooth and without any bumps or portholes, unlike before the repairs.

When asked how he felt landing in Abuja instead of Kaduna, he replied: “It was fantastic, all the rigours of landing in Kaduna before coming to Abuja is no longer there. We can now land in Abuja and then proceed to our offices.

“At first, we were told we will be landing in Kaduna and suddenly it changed to Abuja. We could not contain our joy.”

Another passenger, Chigbo Chikwando told The Guardian: “Well, I must say that am kind of impressed. This is unlike Nigeria, where even if they say the airport is going to resume operations on a date, we will expect one or two more days for them to put things in place. So, am quite impressed that they actually gave this date and they kept to it.”

On the lessons learnt from the closure of the airport, he said: “We are gradually coming of age. The Nigeria we used to know where we say things and we don’t really mean them is giving way as we are more people-oriented now.

“So, it is quite impressive, to say the least. And we give kudos to the government for really keeping to the appointed date. This is the first time in Nigeria we are seeing what they said is going to happen and it happened.”

It Was Good Business For Chisco, uto Star, MFC Motors, Others
Daniel Anazia

The diversion of flights to the Kaduna Airport following the closure of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja for maintenance was a blessing for Kaduna State particularly the traders, transporters, food vendors, hoteliers and others, who directly or indirectly benefitted, while the six-week repair works lasted.

With the closure, the once sleepy Kaduna Airport literally became awake as life returned to the airport community that had experienced a lull in the past years.

Business, activities sprang up and boomed as Abuja bound local and international flights were diverted to Kaduna. This made passengers to drive on the road for another two and half hours from Kaduna to Abuja after 60 minutes of comfort in the air to meet up with engagements. They also spent the same time from Abuja to Kaduna to catch flights back to their destinations.

While hotels in Abuja may not have suffered so much from the closure, for most small business owners in and around the airport, the six weeks closure was a harrowing period as they experienced little or no patronage at all.

Meanwhile, it was a bumper period for those in Kaduna as they smiled to the banks due to the boom in business as a result in shift of aviation logistics.

Despite the provision of free transportation with security escort from the Kaduna Airport to Abuja, most passengers were not too comfortable with the temporary arrangement, which came with its own challenges.

While passengers complained of the inconveniences and loss of valuable time associated with the two-hour shuttle by buses between the airport and Abuja, airline operators and aviation handling firms lamented the huge logistics cost they bore. The figure was put at about N2 billion in moving equipment and personnel from Abuja to Kaduna to facilitate smooth business operations.

Some passengers who spoke to The Guardian said what could have come as comfort was lost in the journey to and from the Kaduna Airport that takes about three hours.

According to one passenger, who simply gave his name as Greg, a Lagos-based entrepreneur, one of the challenges faced by passengers while the Abuja Airport closure lasted was the movement between Kaduna Airport and Abuja.

He explained that the shuttle bus arrangement by the federal government through the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) complicated passengers’ movement following logistics issues.

“Much as I commend the government for the shuttle buses that convey passengers from Kaduna Airport to Abuja Airport with security personnel, it has its own challenges. For instance, on our way from Abuja to Kaduna, one of the buses was involved in an accident, which incidentally made the convoy to stop.

And not until the matter was resolved, no passenger was able to move, which on the one hand complicated our movement, especially with regard to the scheduled flight time- check-in and boarding time,” he said.

For Bankole Sotimi, an Abuja-based civil servant who missed his flight to Ilorin, driving from Abuja to Kaduna for three hours for a 50 minutes flight was sickening.

He said he missed his flight to Ilorin due to the time he spent driving from Abuja to Kaduna.

“As I was checked into the departure hall, I was shown the flight taxing to take off. If it were to be Abuja, I wouldn’t have missed the flight, because I would not have spent the number of hours I spent travelling to Kaduna Airport from Abuja,” he said.

On the free shuttle buses provided by government Sotimi said: “I have not patronised the buses but from what I heard people said it was a good initiative although it had its minor challenges.

“The bus drivers would never agree to drop you on the road even when you get to your terminal point. They were under instructions to take passengers from Kaduna to Abuja terminal where they would find their way to town. So for me, it was a double journey,” he stated.

Checks revealed that flight delays, which were often hinged on technical reasons were deliberate to enable the shuttle buses from the Abuja Airport arrive the Kaduna Airport and to enable the airlines accommodate their passengers.

It was however, a big break for Chisco Motors, Auto Star Executives and MFC Investment, which were contracted as the transport companies to convey passengers to and from Kaduna to Abuja. While Chisco Motors provided 18 of the vehicles, Auto Star Executives provided nine, and MFC investment provided two.

About N1bn was said to have been spent on transport and logistics during the six- week closure of the Abuja Airport. Of this amount N84 million was spent for the transportation of passengers to and from the airports. The sum was shared among the three motor companies that provided a total of 29 vehicles to transport the passengers during the period.

While the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) received N358.5 million, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) got N237.2 million, the Immigration Service received N29 million while the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) received N325 million from the project.

It was also gathered the runway rehabilitation alone gulped N5.8 billion (about $18.4m), a far cry from the initial N63.5 billion the government had budgeted to spend on the construction of a second runway for the same airport in 2010.

FAAN also benefitted in the windfall. It was gathered that an average of 1,000 vehicles, comprising cars, SUVs and trucks, excluding the shuttle buses provided by the government, entered the Kaduna Airport on a daily basis and paid a tollgate fee of N200, N300 and N500 respectively.

It was a good decision by the government for taxi operators as they counted their blessings following increase in patronage since the diversion of flights to the Kaduna Airport.

Ameh Sunday said: “Business has changed and we can pick passengers conveniently now. We even get passengers with ease and all drivers are happy.

“We enjoy our work. Before, we can spend two days here without getting even one passenger. But now, even the highway is busy since the diversion started some days back. You can see checkpoints around. Everywhere is secure and business is going fine,” he added.



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