‘How we will ease Abuja travellers’ pains over airport shutdown’
• To provide security, buses, train, helicopters
• Airline operators urge partial shutdown
The Federal Government is putting in place the necessary logistics to ensure seamless operations during the closure of the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja, according to the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika.
At a stakeholders’ meeting on the temporary closure of the airport for the repair of the runway yesterday in Abuja, Sirika assured that necessary arrangements had been made to ensure the exercise would not exceed six weeks, between March 8 and April 19.
He said arrangements had been made for arrival and departure of passengers as free shuttle buses would be provided to augment train services. He said that helicopters would also be provided for those who could afford them. If these measures are put in place, they would ease the plight of Abuja-bound air travellers who would be made to access the Federal Capital Territory through Kaduna. However, these arrangements may not vitiate the financial losses to the aviation sector over the closure of the Abuja airport as passengers traffic may reduce.
Sirika said the Ministries of Transport and Power, Works and Housing would fix the dilapidated Kaduna-Abuja Expressway before February, adding that the Kaduna airport would be provided with 24 hours electricity supply.
However, the President of the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON), Captain Nogie Meggison faulted the minister on the temporary closure of the runway, maintaining that it could have been repaired in the night as the practice in some countries.
He gave an instance of Gatwick Airport in London that handles 400,000 passengers annually while Abuja only handles 40,000 passengers. “If that amount of passengers is moving in and out of Gatwick Airport annually and the airport has not closed down, it is better we look into it again before we move out of Abuja because of the logistic reasons.
“Alternatively, the runway at the Abuja airport is 3,900 meters and if split into two, it would be roughly 2000m. While work is going on on one portion, the other portion could be used for landing as domestic airlines can successfully land with a 2000m runway. The international airline can land in Lagos and Kano airports for the period of closure,” he said.
The comment generated a resounding applause from stakeholders that filled the main hall of the Umar Musa Ya’Adua Centre. Meggison added that AON was of the view that the Kaduna Airport may not be able to handle the volume of passengers that would be coming through it.
The minister, in his response, explained that the runway could be repaired without closure only if the surface was being done, pointing out that the structure of the facility right through to the bottom was completely destroyed.
Sirika stated: “We need to do this runway, we will be working for six months without closure like what was done in Gatwick airport. But we would only wok for six weeks with full closure instead of six months in order to attend to the central part of the runway. This repair without the disruption of flights is what we have been doing for 14 years after the life span of the runway.