‘Why Abuja-bound foreign airlines will divert to Kaduna Airport’

Government officals at the reception of Ethiopain airline dreamliner at the Kaduna International Airport

Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, on Wednesday received Ethiopian Airlines at the new refurbished Kaduna International Airport, with optimism that more legacy carriers are on the way. He spoke with WOLE OYEBADE. Excerpts:

There is a fresh optimism that the foreign airlines will eventually fly to Kaduna. Tells us the situation of things.
What happened was that I told Lufthansa in Frankfurt and British Airways that first and foremost, we are in the time of need but not stupid, to have closed down Abuja and open Kaduna. The decision bothers on safety.

If all Abuja flights want to go to Lagos airport, I don’t have the capacity to take all of them in Lagos. So, I have to provide an alternative. Besides (by going to Lagos), they are taking the passengers one jet hour away or nine-hour of motor driving away from Abuja. It has to be somewhere close and I did everything I could do.

But were they carried along in the plans early enough?
Yes! My annoyance was that none of them came to Kaduna to inspect the airport to see what we have or don’t have. If they had done so, I would have provided whatever they need. Ethiopian Airlines are here today because they came here to inspect the airport. They (Ethiopian) said, well, ‘your fire cover is Category 7, you need to upgrade to Category 9.’ They also said, ‘your tower is obstructed where it is and not fair enough, bring in the mobile tower.’ And I said done, to prove to them that we are ready to back them.

I told them (foreign airlines) that if I were you, business-wise, I would rather fly to Kaduna. If you allow Nigerians to acquire the taste of Ethiopian Airlines, on the way to Europe, then you may be in trouble. Nigerian traveller, if you take him to Honolulu or Singapore, before taking him to London, for him, he has visited another country and even happier. The length of stay inside the airports is something he wants to do. It is only you and I that are going for meetings that want to fly straight to London and return immediately that will not want to first go elsewhere.

Ethiopian is coming with Boeing 787 dreamliner brand new aircraft, with very good food and young cabin crew. It is not like that popular airline that parades 65-year-old cabin crew that are wrinkled and angry in an aircraft with poor ambiance. I said if Nigerian acquire this new taste within six weeks, you (foreign airlines) will lose not less than 10 to 15 per cent of your passengers. And that is considerable as well as significant. And by the time Nigerian airlines will come, you (foreign airlines) will further reduce in passengers.

The reason why we are paying crazy fares to British Airways is because there is no alternative. If there is, no one will go to the airline. If the passengers know that they can go to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, before they travel, passengers will go with them.

I explained these to them and threw the challenge at them and they came on March 1 to see the airport. They visited Kaduna and saw the amount of work done. They saw the airfield lighting, runway markings and others we have done. They saw the general ambiance of the security. Because we erected the fence that went down and provided motorcycles for the villagers for them to go round the airport, because they are the ones breaking the fence in attempt to go round. We created a road round the airport and the Kaduna government still pacifying the villagers.

They saw all these and said that they will reconsider, sending reports to their headquarters. Most of them have called us with positive responses. One of the airlines has said that they will begin next week.

They said they are waiting for approval from their headquarters. If I can get one more airline in Europe, like Turkish Airlines to come, then I don’t need the rest because Ethiopia will take East-bound passengers to places like United Arab Emirates (UAE), China, India, Australia and others. And if I get, maybe Turkish Airlines, to take west-bound passengers to Europe and America and others, then we will be home and dry.

Are we going to have these facilities replicated in other airports?
There are plans to fix the whole airport and if you have been following what we have been saying on concession, you will remember that we are starting with the big-four airports. As we are concessioning the big four (Lagos, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt), the remaining ones we will gradually concession them. As we create activities around them to make them viable, attractive and bankable, then we will concession them.

In-between now and then, inclusive of the Abuja, Lagos and Port-Harcourt, we will be maintaining and improving them so that whoever is coming to take them on concession would have seen that we have added value to the airport so that we can get more from them. It is an ongoing thing. Very soon, you will see us doing a lot of things. What matters to the public and even the press is having an elaborate terminal building and the general ambiance. But in aviation, there are other very critical components that make the thing work, safe and secure. Those are the things we are working on. For instance, we will not continue to see Benin Airport without a fence. It can be a security risk. Those are what we will continue to do and also work on the general terminal building. However, they will be in phases but it will continue.

Over N2billion has been spent to improve this airport, while the last administration spent a lot more on remodelling the same airport. Are you concerned that the remodelling was not properly done?
In fairness, every government will have its own focus and things that are considered important. The amount of money spent here are not spent on terminal building alone. I just told you that we put a new Instrument Landing System in place, the terminal building itself and airfield lighting system, NIMET weather forecasting centre, runway markings and the fence among others. The reason we are in Kaduna is because the system has failed us over the years in Abuja. If the runway was attended to 20 years after it was built, we would not be here today. But it was not attended to, and took 34 years for us to come and do total rehabilitation.

In this article:
Hadi Sirika
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