Closure of Enugu international airport
Doubtless, Nigeria’s aviation industry has been going through twists and turns for many years, even before the advent of the current administration. Issues of public concern that have emanated from the industry have ranged from the periodic shortage of aviation fuel, to safety concerns, airport closures and reopening and trespass of cows into the runways, among others. These issues have been quite challenging to some and even traumatic to many others, in particular, air travellers in the country. In as much as these issues have persisted over time, air safety in the past few years has been cheering by global standards and so, many still prefer air travel to other transportation modes, which are bedevilled with security and other concerns.
It is against this background that we regard the current closure as expedient to maintain public trust in air travel in Nigeria. But there has been some concern about the nonchalant attitude of government about the decrepit state of the Enugu Airport. First, it is surprising that the government could have abandoned such an airport in an old regional capital, classified as international in such a state of dilapidation to the extent that the runways are filled with potholes and the take-off and landing of aircraft becoming a matter of safety concern. Even if there have been budget constraints, airports that have been designated as international are expected to be given some measure of attention in relation to maintenance of basic operational infrastructure as it impinges on image of the country. It is strange that the authorities appear to have looked the other way while different foreign airlines plied the Enugu route, under such dangerous circumstances occasioned by the very obvious infrastructural decay at the airport. Nigeria can do better than this. Some officers, who have exhibited negligence in the most regulated industry on earth, should be punished – on this Enugu aviation beat.
Meanwhile, the closure has also been linked to an offensive radio mast and the encroachment of a nearby market, which is said to attract birds and thus presenting risks of bird strikes on aircraft. The aviation ministry’s regulators had raised these concerns. It is quite gratifying to note that the Enugu State government immediately responded and relocated the market at a very short notice. This is how it should be. The onus is now on aviation authorities in Abuja to rise to the needful and ensure that the airport is put back to functional use in no distant time.
In addressing this issue, a number of pertinent issues come to play here. First, the aviation authorities should comply with global best practices in ensuring that the airport is put back to operation. According to the aviation minister, Enugu as a city, is as strategic to the South East as Kaduna is to the North and Ibadan to the Western part of Nigeria. Given such significance of Enugu, as a former regional capital, the authorities should not allow slipshodness and mediocrity in this maintenance. Second is the issue of the length of time the airport will remain closed for repairs. Initially, an obvious prevarication was evident in the government posture in this regard. Initially, government kept mum on the issue, as if to suggest that the closure will be indefinite but on further pressure for clarity from concerned stakeholders on this, government, curiously set December 2019 for the reopening of the airport. We hope this will be adhered to even as we feel it is still a bridge too far!
Third, given that the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja was closed for repairs sometime in 2017, a benchmark has been set for the closure and reopening of airports in the country. In this Abuja case, the closure was for six weeks, which was heralded by elaborate preparations by the authorities to divert traffic to Kaduna airport. During the period of closure, credible contractors were deployed which worked day and night on the second runway till completion. This should guide the renovation pattern of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu. Otherwise, this would lead to suspicion of double standards in the country. Government should avoid this perception and thus work towards building national cohesion.
In furtherance of this, government should ensure that the Owerri and Asaba airports, being the closest to Enugu are operationally prepared to receive increased traffic as well as the connecting roads to these airports, which should be made motorable.
Besides, there should be no excuses such as lack of resources and budget constraints, since these airports generate revenue for government and as such deserve good attention. The work at the airport should be properly done and effort should be intensified in the repairs such that the reopening date of December 2019 would be sacrosanct, to the benefit of all.
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