By Favour Nnabugwu & Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA—President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday commended the efforts of the Ministries of Transport, Power, Works and Housing, Kaduna State government, Julius Berger Plc, others who made possible the official re-opening of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, ahead of the deadline.
It will be recalled that the airport was shut down March 8 for six weeks to pave way for rehabilitation of the runway and was billed to be re-opened today, April 19.
The President was elated that the authorities met the deadline 24 hours ahead of the official date of reopening.
In a statement by his spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, President Buhari said he “looked forward to such display of inter-agency cooperation and efficiency in the operation of the entire Federal Government machinery.”
He also thanked Ethiopian Airlines for cooperating with the government during the period of the closure of Abuja airport, describing it as a good example of intra-African cooperation.
Meanwhile, Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, who spoke at the official re-opening of the airport, said government decided to reopen the airport 24 hours earlier because the runway rehabilitation was completed on schedule.
The minister commended Nigerians and air travelers for their resilience during the six weeks closure of the airport.
He said: “I also wish to thank all my colleagues who did it all and the media and the Nigerian people for standing by us.
“April 19 was the due date for us to conclude and open the airport based on our programme of work but that was not to say, we cannot open earlier.
“We are able to deliver the project earlier than anticipated, so we can open it. It is natural that we open it a day earlier. Here we are today, we set out to achieve that target and we achieved it.”
A new Dreamliner Airbus A350 aircraft belonging to Ethiopian Airlines was the first international flight to land on the runway from Addis Ababa at exactly 12.07pm
The Airline’s Traffic and Sales Manager, Mrs Firiehiwot Mekonnen, said the new aircraft would remain on Abuja route.
Mekonnen stated that the decision to celebrate the inaugural flight to Abuja was a symbol of the airlines’ commitment to the Nigerian market.
When Abuja airport was closed on March 8, Ethiopian airlines was the first to land its brand new Boeing 787 at Kaduna International Airport same day.
The airline, being the only international carrier that agreed to operate in Kaduna, had maintained consistent operation to the airport for the six weeks duration Abuja airport was shut.
Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna State had also requested that the airline maintained its Kaduna operations, even after the reopening of Abuja airport.
Hungarian Ambassador to Nigeria, Prof Gabor Ternak, who was at the airport at the re-opening, said the example set by the Federal Government was record breaking to other countries.
He said: “It was a surprise that Abuja airport was re-opened a day earlier than scheduled.
“I did not anticipate that the airport would be ready tomorrow (today), the initial scheduled date, let alone a day earlier. This is really a change government and it speaks volumes of Nigeria to other countries of the world.”
An Hungarian passenger who was aboard the Ethiopian aircraft, Dr Gabor Baranyi, said passengers were told while boarding in Addis Ababa that they would land in Kaduna but at the last minute, the aircrew announced that the aircraft was to land in Abuja.
Baranyi said: “It was a smooth journey and landing in Abuja, I must say, was least expected but it was good to land in Abuja again after six weeks.”
A US citizen, Mrs Adrienne Cox, who was elated to land in Abuja, said she could not conceal her joy of landing straight in Abuja without the hassles of landing in Kaduna before proceeding to Abuja by rail or road.
“I am so happy that the aircraft landed in Abuja, it was like a dream because we were told that it would land in Kaduna,’’ she said.
Another passenger, 18-year-old Abdullahi Aliyu said it was a surprise to land in Abuja, adding ‘’I cannot tell how happy l am to land directly in Abuja.
‘’I kept thinking of the stress of coming to Abuja from Kaduna after the journey from Addis Ababa but here we are.”