By Lawani Mikairu
Representatives of international airlines operators who attended the stakeholders meeting called by the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika to discuss the closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja to enable government carry out repairs on the runway rejected the Kaduna International Airport as alternative destination for Abuja flight
Mr Osho Joseph who spoke on behalf of the representatives of the international airlines operators at the stakeholders meeting said the Kaduna airport may be a good option for local airlines but not for foreign.
He said, “We believe Kaduna may be an alternative for local operators but definitely not for international airline operators. But we will get back on this.”
He described the planned closure as a total disruption of their schedules and operations, stressing that Kaduna lacked capacity and logistics to handle international flights. He also expressed worry over logistics challenges like aviation fuel supply, security of passengers, capacity to handle bigger airplanes and more passengers, among other issues.
“We’re supposed to learn from past experiences. We shouldn’t have waited this long before repairing the runway. We have individual concerns aside security issues. We believe Kaduna airport is an alternate airport for local airlines, but not foreign carriers,”Joseph said.
“Again, we ask, what arrangements are on ground in Kaduna to assist fuel marketers? Besides, since the thinking is to utilise the opportunity of the dry season, why not start the repairs in February and end in March?,” he queried.
The Chairman, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Noggie Meggison supported the position of the foreign airlines. He said while the local carriers support the repair of the Abuja airport runway to buoy safe operations, it could be done without total closure
Meggison said “The Abuja runway should be repaired at night as done in other climes between 6pm-6am. Such is the style used in Gatwick airport in the UK. It handles 400,000 passengers a year. Abuja is about 4,000. If Gatwick can be done that way, why not Abuja? International airlines can fly into Kano and Lagos, and we’ll distribute passengers for them because Kaduna doesn’t seem to work for them.
“We should take another look at the cost of logistics and support. Runway of Abuja is 3,900 metres. Spilt it into two. We can fix each 2,000 metres in four weeks, while the other side remains operational. So, smaller airplanes like the B737s and CRJs can land. Kaduna can’t handle high volume of passengers and airplanes. We’re in total support of rehabilitation of the Abuja runway. It has become a safety concern and needs to be addressed.”
In his response, the minister of state for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika said it is an economic decision on the part of all stakeholders in the sector to fly to Kaduna during the six weeks required for repairs.
“On whether some of the international airline won’t fly to Kaduna, that’s an economic decision. But we will ensure they are comfortable if they chose to fly to Kaduna. Kaduna has the capacity to take jumbo jets and B777s” he said.
The minister also said “what I have is not final. We are still open to new knowledge on this matter. At the end of our preparation, stakeholders will be invited to inspect Kaduna to ask further questions.”
On security, he explained that the federal government and the Kaduna State Government will provide “security within the airport, Kaduna Metropolitan City, enroute to railway station & along Kaduna- Abuja road.”
He also said air surveillance of the entire route will be provided by the Police and the Air Force even as road safety personnel will be deployed to ensure smooth flow of traffic.
He also said passengers will be screened in Abuja, possibly at the old parade ground, Area 11 before buses will take them to Kaduna for free. However the passengers will be screened again at Kaduna airport.
On the scope of work to be done on the runway he said “about 48,000 tonnes of asphalt by milling will be removed and reinstalled, over 400 shallow bases will be removed, about 20km of cables will be laid, 50 tonnes of asphalt reinforcement to be placed and the runway lighting system to be replaced and upgraded”.
The minister ruled out carrying out repairs of the Abuja airport runway at night as suggested by some stakeholders saying “We know that option but we can’t possibly work at night on Abuja airport” the minister said adding that the entire runway has failed.
Meanwhile, The National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies, NANTA, weekend supported the rejection of Kaduna Airport as alternate airport by foreign airlines operating in Nigeria following the decision of the government to close Abuja airport runway for six weeks for repair works. The association said the foreign carriers should be given the option of flying the Abuja passengers to Lagos and allowing the domestic airlines to do the distribution of the passengers to Kaduna airport.
The President of NANTA, Mr. Bankole Bernard made the position of the body known while briefing aviation reporter weekend in Lagos. He said the government should not compel the foreign carriers to operate from Kaduna airport as they could decide to withdraw their aircraft from that route and stop operating flight for the six weeks the repair works will last and this might cause more hardship for the passengers .
According to Bernard, “As things are now, it will not augur well asking the international carriers to go to Kaduna, some of them have expressed their displeasure on the idea of going to Kaduna. So for us not to experience airlines withdrawing from Nigeria because once they take this aircraft away from Nigeria, it might be difficult bringing them back and that will lead to lesser inventory or choice of travelling for us which will lead to increase in cost of travelling for us.” “So we are recommending that the government can direct all the international airlines to operate from Lagos within that six weeks that the Abuja runway will be under renovation and that will give our local carriers the opportunity to partner with the international carriers by moving their passengers from Lagos to Kaduna and there they get a free shuttle to Abuja. We think this will work well and the international carriers will still stay and render the same services they have been doing without increasing their fares.”
“Yes when It was first mentioned that Kaduna airport will be used as alternate airport to Abuja, what came to mind immediately was the civil unrest in Kaduna and what is going to happen to the lives of passengers transiting from Kaduna to Abuja knowing fully well that this is a highway and people can easily be harmed, though the minister made us to understand that a lot of preparations have been made, even at that, a lot of us are still not convinced knowing fully well that in Nigeria there is always a last-minute failure in some of these things”.
“For some of us, we have some issues to raise with the minister. We are settled with the fact that the runway is long overdue, the lifespan of a runway is actually supposed to be for 20years and as it stand today, we are on the 34th year of the existence of that runway, so you will agree with me that it has even spent more than enough of its lifespan.
It can put the life of passengers at risk because if an aircraft land on it, what we have been experiencing in the last few months is damage to the aircraft” the NANTA president said.
“It might lead to a situation where it will lead to further disaster and we don’t want that to happen, so we are in support of total repairs and not patching of the surface of the runway, but total repairs. So the inconveniences is something we all have to bear.