All set for closure of Abuja Airport amid anxiety

Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja

• Workers Not Sure Of Deployment
• Kaduna Airport Too Small To Accommodate Landing, Parking Of Aircraft
• Foreign Airlines Remain Adamant
• FG Deploys Health Facilities On Abuja/Kaduna Road

All now seems set for the closure of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIN), Abuja and the diversion of all flights to Kaduna Airport, to enable the Federal Government rehabilitate the runway, which has of recent gone bad and pose great danger to aircraft and passengers.

The Federal Government has announced that the Abuja airport will be closed for six weeks with effect from March 8, during which rehabilitation work on the runway would have been completed.

Managing Director, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Saleh Dunoma told The Guardian that the new terminal building of the Kaduna airport has been completed and ready for operations, saying all the facilities have been upgraded to ensure passengers have seamless travel experience while flying in an out of Kaduna.

Despite FAAN’s claims, there are challenges being envisaged with the Kaduna Airport. For instance, there are fears that the airport does not have the capacity to accommodate many aircraft. The airport is smaller compared to Abuja airport.

National President of Nigerian Association of Airport Pilot Engineers (NAAPE), Mr Isaac Balami said: “If all the private jets in Abuja would have to move to Kaduna airport there may not be enough space for the landing and parking of other aircrafts, except they would have to wait for one aircraft to move, so that another one lands.”

Balami however, gave thumbs up for the runway, saying it is in perfect shape for the landing of any type of aircraft.

Also, despite efforts of the Federal Government to force a change of mind, most foreign airlines operating the Abuja route have remain adamant in resolve to shun Kaduna airport during the temporary closure of NAIA, Abuja.

The foreign airlines, which cited security and logistic challenges in rejecting the Kaduna alternative, at the weekend, confirmed that nothing has changed. Except for Ethiopian airline that has pledged to fly to Kaduna, others are either on the brink of suspending Abuja operations for the six-week period or have their Abuja-bound flights diverted to Lagos.

While the domestic airlines are preparing for the Kaduna diversion, some of their foreign counterparts are winding down operations.

A Regional Manager told The Guardian that there is no going back on the matter. He said while they recognised efforts of the government to upgrade the Kaduna airport to international status, the no-fly decision was that of its hub and the airline’s home country.

It will be recalled that British Airways has informed of plans to divert Abuja-bound flights to Lagos while the six-week closure last.

British Airways’ Country Manager, Kola Olayinka, said the Lagos alternative was the best option for its customers during the closure of the runway.

Olayinka said several factors were considered before the decision was reached, which include the safety and security of its passengers, as well as key operational issues.

German carrier, Lufthansa also told reporters of the Kaduna no-fly zone plan.

South African Airways, in a letter to the authorities, said it would be suspending Abuja operations for the period.

The airline has notified that its last flight into Abuja will be on March 6. Acting Chief Commercial Officer, Aaron Munetsi, said the operations to Abuja would resume on April 18, 2017.

According to Munetsi, “SAA commends the Nigerian authorities concerning the planned repairs of the NAIA runway. However, due to network and fleet operations planning, SAA regrets to advise that the airline will suspend its Abuja operations with effect from March 6, until the April 18, 2017.”

Sequel to the Minister’s meeting with airlines like Air France, Air Côte D’Ivoire, Asky, British Airways, Egypt Air, Saudi Air, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, among others, only Africa’s largest carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, pledged to fly it’s Dream Liner aircraft to Kaduna,

Traffic and sales manager of the airline in Abuja, Firiehiwot Mekonnen, disclosed that the airline’s team of experts had inspected the airport, with some areas already identified to enhance smooth operation in Kaduna.

Meanwhile, despite the assurances of FAAN, there is also the fear that necessary logistics for the movement of personnel to Kaduna have not been done.

Some staffers of the agency said at the time of filing this report, the computer systems that would be used in kaduna have not been installed and the staff to be deployed not yet informed on their deployment.

This development, a staffer said has undermined housekeeping preparation affected staffers would need to make concerning their families.  He said if a family man would be leaving his wife and children for six weeks, for a national assignment and he is yet to be informed three days to his departure, then something is amiss.

He also said passengers landing in Abuja airport from other countries at the moment are without return tickets. He said the situation stemmed from the fact that they do not know the airport they would be departing from.

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