Abuja Airport Shutdown: Mixed feelings as Sirika lobbies stakeholders on Kaduna airport

Local and international airline operators have expressed deep concerns on the decision of the federal government to adopt the Kaduna International Airport as alternative to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International airport, Abuja during its planned shutdown for runway repairs.
The operators expressed their reservations on Thursday during a stakeholders forum organized by the Minister of State Aviation, Hadi Sirika to officially inform the sector players of the decision, and also brief them on efforts being made to ensure that the use of the Kaduna International Airport as an alternative during the six-week closure of the Abuja airport is seamless and hitch-free.
The Airport, the only access to the Nigerian capital city through the air is scheduled to be closed to traffic for six weeks starting from 8 of March 2017 during which the runway will be resurfaced.
There have been apprehensions on the proposed shut down of the facility, especially with the Federal Government’s plan to divert air traffic to Kaduna, a distance of over 150 kilometres to the capital city from where passengers will be transported to Abuja.
There are anxieties that the much smaller Kaduna airport may not be able to handle the traffic while the expressway from the Northern city to Abuja is very notorious for kidnapping and other crimes.
Speaking on behalf of the domestic carriers, the Chairman, Airline Operators of Nigeria, Capt. Noggie Meggison, while endorsing the planned repair works said it was long overdue. He however insisted that the runway should have been repaired at nights instead of completely shutting down the airport. As another alternative, he also suggested a splitting of the runways for phased repairs while still in use.
In same vein, the international airline operators represented Mr. Osho Johnson rejected the Kaduna airport as alternative for international operations.
Also the British Embassy while denying the rumoured plan to relocate its staff out of Abuja during the shutdown asked for data on the number of foreign airlines currently plying the Kaduna route. On behalf of foreign embassies present, concerns were expressed on the number of military check points on the Kaduna – Abuja highway and the safety of private travellers on the road.
The National Association of Travel Agents also raised concerns on the possible increase of travel cost that may be borne by their clients in the event of the development.
Speaking earlier, the Minister insisted that the Abuja runway was a huge disaster waiting to happen and so the need to take immediate action.
He said the decision after alternatives within the limits of wisdom and consultations were deeply considered. “The Abuja runway designed in 1982 with a lifespan of 22 years has deteriorated beyond routine repairs and unsafe for operations. The entire structure of the runway has failed and we must avoid the Port Harcourt Airport experience which led to a two years closure.”
He allayed the security fears expressed by stakeholders informing that the airport security shall be provided by the Aviation Security of FAAN recently authorized to bear arms alongside the DSS, NSCDC, airport Airforce personnel while transit security between the Kaduna airport and Abuja city shall be handled by the Ministry of Defence, Nigeria Police, FRSC, NSCDC and the Kaduna State government.
He also disclosed that arrangements have been concluded for free transportation of air travellers by road and rail while those who prefer to use helicopters will pay for it between Abuja and Kaduna.
Also, over 300 policemen may be deployed to man the about 160 kilometre Kaduna- Abuja expressway for security of passengers during the period.
Gambo Hemlet who represented the Kaduna State government at the event disclosed that 20 policemen will be deployed every 11 kilometers of the Kaduna- Abuja road to ensure security of passengers who will be transported through the road to the capital city.
There were also anxieties that the much smaller Kaduna airport may not be able to handle the traffic while the expressway from the Northern city to Abuja is very notorious for kidnapping and other crimes.
On security, Hemlet assured that the Kaduna State government will cooperate with the Federal Government to make the experience a comfortable one for passengers.
Sirika, tried to address the various concerns of stakeholders at the meeting. He added that the repair of the airport runway was scheduled for March because the weather will be favorable at that time.
The Minister however assured that the contractor that will handle the repair will work day and night to ensure conclusion of work on schedule.
He also assured representatives of the British embassy that the Kaduna Airport has been handling international flights.

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