Still on the closure of Abuja airport

Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport

As fears grow over the imminent closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, from March 8, 2017, for the resurfacing of its tarmac, it is imperative to, once again, reiterate to the government of the day since all entreaties before now appear to have fallen on deaf ears, that it should reconsider closing the airport, for obvious economic and safety reasons.

No airport anywhere in the world has ever been totally closed for such a long time for routine tarmac resurfacing. Airport tarmacs can be resurfaced at night or weekends without disrupting normal aviation operations. Nigeria should not be different.

Nigeria is battling with a severe recession and cannot afford to toy with anything that would worsen the situation. The decision to close the airport without following known international best practices is ridiculous and unacceptable. It portrays the country in bad light as a never-do-well, far removed from reality.

Closing the airport for six weeks, amounts to deliberately plunging the economy of Abuja the capital city, with over six million people, into crises as a large segment of the city’s population depends on the airport operations for daily sustenance.

Businesses such as ground handlers, in-flight catering companies, courier services, import and export companies, car hire services, shops, restaurants and bars at the airport will incur huge losses. Are the employees doing these jobs going to be laid off? That would compound the unemployment problem. Otherwise, who would pay during the no-work period?

Cutting off their survival lines, amid the hardship faced by people, is tantamount to sentencing a section of the population to death. It is unthinkable and, indeed, ridiculous, that government is taking this line of action.

Incidentally, government has not been able to offer any cogent reason(s) for the airport to be shut and government doesn’t seem to have explored all the options before making a decision. The huge costs, running into billions, were certainly not considered.

Think of the cost in terms of business loss to stakeholders and cost of upgrading the Kaduna Airport, which certainly was not planned for in the budget! Where would the money come from? The cost of upgrading Kaduna to serve as alternative is indeed huge and can be saved if the right approach is adopted.

There was practically little or no interaction/discussion with stakeholders before the decision was made and the interest of the citizens was not considered.

The decision of foreign airlines to shun Kaduna is a dent on Nigeria. While the British Airways has opted for the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos, as alternative to Abuja, Lufthansa and South African Airways announced suspension of flights to Abuja during the closure. How else does a country make herself a laughing stock before the international community?

It needs to be stressed that the real issue is not whether or not the tarmac should be resurfaced but the total closure that is never done anywhere.

The question being asked is why was Gatwick Airport in London, which is a one-runway airport like Abuja, resurfaced without disrupting the airport’s high demanding flight schedule? Gatwick, the world’s busiest single runway airport, reportedly handles over 53 aircraft movements hourly.

In 2011, for instance, work was carried out at Gatwick Airport that required the airport to be shut down between 2130hrs and 0530 hrs, six days in a week, without loss of business.

The same approach was adopted in repairing Frankfurt Airport’s crumbling runway. This approach has the advantage of giving the contractor a non-compromisable deadline to finish by dawn before jets start landing again.

The six weeks proposed in the case of Abuja would give the contractor and other workers leeway to default. Partial closure is the best way the world over. Abuja is not as busy as Gatwick or Frankfurt airports. Abuja’s traffic is just a fraction of what obtains in those busy airports and the low traffic at Abuja makes it easier to stagger the work at low traffic hours.

The airport closure will negatively impact Abuja’s economy as there will be reduction in hotel booking, restaurants and taxis. Private businesses and even government work will all be negatively affected.

Moreover, there will be loss of passenger revenue for international airlines with associated landing and parking fees and passenger tax.It is important to re-emphasise that Abuja Airport tarmac can be resurfaced without disrupting aviation operations and the best way to do it is a partial closure whereby the work would be done at night or weekends when there is low traffic.

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  • Segun

    I hope they listen and have a rethink. Its actually unnecessary to opt for a total closure just for a mere renovation.

  • Patrick Nrialike

    No please. Let us think safety first. It is a living person that talks about business and recession.