The closure of Abuja airport even the thought is such a ridiculous outlandish decision and shows how far away from reality we are. How do you shut the door on a major entry point into the countries capital? (Africa’s most populous country and largest economy) Could Ghana afford to close Kotoka Airport in Accra, This questions was posed in Accra last week, they looked bewildered as if to say “where is he from doesn’t he know how vital the airport is to the overall Economy of Ghana”.
Abuja has approximately the same population as Accra and they are both capital cities. 2016 figures: Abuja six million and Accra for million. Imagine the impact on our national economy. Both cities are developing new airport infrastructure so there are many similarities, however a major difference appears to be in the planning of these developments. You can feel it when you’re in these airports. One gives you a semblance of order and progress the other a sense of confusion and short-sightedness. You can guess which is which!
The real issue on the table re-Abuja Airport runway is not whether the runway needs to be resurfaced/repaired, but whether the airport should be closed for six weeks or possibly more (there is no guarantee of six weeks) to effect these repairs or whether the work can be done overnight or on weekends to prevent massive financial and economic losses to airport operators, airlines, support services and the Abuja economy.
Most worrying is that stakeholders were not properly briefed on why the airport needs to be closed and the reasoning behind this decision. There has been little interactive discussion and the ministry’s request that stakeholders come to Abuja for what was supposed to be an interactive stakeholders meeting did little to explain the rationale behind the thinking.This demonstrative approach of government to interacting with the private sector and civil society, smacks of military pronouncements without necessarily military training! Stakeholders were simply addressed on what was to take place and dismissed with a modicum of patience for any questions from the general assembly. This was a PR exercise to tick all the boxes for transparency and good governance but in reality government didn’t come to listen to them or their input on the matter.
Numerous letters have been written to government on the closure from interested parties. There have been articles in the media which in the main seem to have fallen on deaf ears with no meaningful response. This opinion paper, is another attempt to draw our government into constructive dialogue in the hope that together the best practical solution to avoiding economic losses to Abuja’s economy, the aviation industry, airlines both domestic and international, and most importantly the international embarrassment as Nigeria could be the first country to take this approach to resurface/ repair one of its major airport runways.
We therefore ask government to enlighten us on the factors that led to the decision to completely close the airport as against a partial closure. It might be for instance that the damage to the runway is so bad that there are no alternatives, then the general public and for sure the ‘stakeholders’ should properly informed
We have heard it all before but it’s so relevant that we have to ask the questions again and again till we get some convincing answers. Why is it that Gatwick Airport 3.3km main runway which handles over 53 hourly aircraft movements and is the world’s busiest single runway airport (single here is important as Abuja is also a single runway airport), can be resurfaced whilst maintaining the airport’s demanding flight schedule. In 2011, this work was carried out by shutting down the airport between 2130hrs and 0530hrs, six days a week, meaning no loss of business (www.volkerfitzpatrick.com.uk), video ‘Gatwick Airport repaired in sections www.bbc/news/uk-england-sussex-18647257.
In Frankfurt Germany (which country Julius Berger’s parent company resides) the same approach was taken “working through the night to rebuild Frankfurt Airport’s crumbling runway, workers face not only a ‘non compromise deadline to finish by dawn when the jets start landing again despite the fear of UNEXPLODED WORLD WAR TWO BOMBS…”. (www.luchtzak.be) To be sure Abuja Airport has no unexploded bombs and for sure not as many aircraft movements. Perhaps the contractor Julius Berger can shed more light on the technical reason(s) for complete closure as opposed to carrying out the work overnight. There are numerous other references on runway resurfacing which only begs the question why Abuja is different.
Aside from the cost of the contract we need to understand the overall cost to the government, the Abuja economy, to the airlines, to the FAAN and to the aviation service providers. In order to divert aircraft to Kaduna Airport, Kaduna Airport needs renovation, equipment purchased, facilities upgraded and man power provided. What is the budget?, Rehabilitation of the Abuja – Kaduna highway, “specialized” passengers busses, provision of additional FRSC personnel, police and security agencies, ambulances etc. All at a cost we ought to be told what this cost is and who will ultimately bear this cost? For sure it must be in the Billions and this brings to mind the question “is there a budget for it?”
The effect on the Abuja economy, reduction in hotel rooms rented, restaurants and taxis, private businesses even government work, will be negatively impacted; At the Airport; loss of passenger revenue, from landing and parking fees, passenger tax, loss of business to companies such as ground handlers, inflight catering companies, courier services, import export companies, car hire services, shops, restaurants and bars, will all loose revenue not to mention on going fixed costs. Must companies lay off staff? Who will pay staff during this period? Will government/ FAAN prorate rent and fees at the airport during this period? These losses will run into Billions yet no one thought it important to discuss the options in detail with the ‘stakeholders’. Is this a responsible inclusive, feeling government?
We need answers to these questions to justify the losses. There seems to be an adversarial atmosphere between government, business and society. Government must remember we all have a stake and most actions are interrelated. This is a democracy and we should be carried along. We need a comparative analysis of the options, outright closure VS night closure to be able to make an informed decision on the economic consequences of this action.
To understand the thinking behind this decision and the problems in aviation there is need to make a slight deviation from the main theme of this opinion paper. There are far too many unanswered question in aviation today which might fall under the heading ‘planning’. Do we have an aviation sector plan? And if so, can we the public know what it is? In Britain for instance there is an Aviation Policy Framework covering some 30 years which is all encompassing touching all economic sectors relating to aviation. (Aviation Policy Framework – Gov.UK). It is on the web and can be purchased for £21.00. We don’t know government’s plans for aviation in Nigeria so how can the private sector or society in general participate or key into it. Perhaps we’re not meant to know and this might explain the lack of information for instance on the new terminals in Abuja and Lagos.
In Abuja, is it true that the new terminal is interrupting the line of sight of the control tower? There is no information on the annual capacity of this terminal for passenger throughput, aircraft type and this the same for Lagos where questions are asked that the new terminal can only handle narrow bodied aircraft which would seem odd for an airport that mostly handles wide bodied aircraft. Then there was the ‘Aerotropolis’ development plan for the airports which setup legal entities (see the Certificate of Incorporation) devolving ownership of the airports to an unknown consortium with FAAN owning only 15%, has this been shelved?
Then government talked of committees set up to advice on the development of our aviation sector key to which is the establishment of viable and sustainable flag carrier, a major corner stone in the development of any aviation sector but again nothing happens.
Going forward examples abound as to the need for flag carriers to develop the industry. Take Dubai /Emirates, Germany/Lufthansa and closer to home Rwanda/Rwandair. Without the establishment of these airlines as part of their plan, aviation will not grow in these countries likewise Nigeria. We need plans on the one hand to reduce our foreign exchange deficit in Aviation and also, to capitalise on aviation as a major means of transport within Nigeria, the region and across our continent.
Going back to our present reality, the closure of Abuja airport. In 2006 the Federal Government through the agency setup to privatise our assets (The BPE) along with the International Finance Corporation (IFC, transaction advisors), completed a successful tender for the Concessioning of Abuja Airport. Without going into details this tender was later cancelled but what is most relevant is that, had the winning consortium be allowed to complete its deserved and stated objectives government would not have spent the Billions of Dollars it has spent 10 years since the tender as both a new terminal and second runway were all part of the requirements under the tender.
Today we are the unthinkable, to close our capital city’s airport and move passengers to Kaduna some 210klm away. We still don’t know the overall cost can only presume this is an opportunity to rehabilitate the poor state of the road and the Kaduna airport though the use of the ‘Special intervention fund’ as it seems no budget exists for all these projects. There is nothing wrong with rehabilitating our infrastructure however it might be more prudent to have allowed the private sector pay for the terminal and the runway leaving government to spend more on roads, schools and hospitals for the general public.
In closing we would like to refer to the remarks of one foreign international aviation specialist when asked about his thoughts on closing Abuja airport:
“It’s a no-brainer. One cannot shut down the Nation’s Capital airport completely. Kaduna to Abuja is 210km and in Nigerian conditions some 3-3 1/2 hours’ drive at least”
“Julius Berger should be in the position to work through night shut-downs and operate the runway during the day. It’s done all over the world.
Wonder why no-one thought of that.”
Can we please have an independent international assessment of the runway to advice on the best course of action for the resurfacing of the airport? Possibly IATA, ICAO, FCAA, etc….
We owe it to ourselves not to throw the baby out with the dirty bath water which will cost our economy Billions
Messr R.A. Akerele, D. Olaifa & Patrick Cole wrote from, Lagos.