The controversy over the proposed closure of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja for six weeks continued on Sunday as the foremost aviation industry think-tank, Aviation Roundtable (ART) tasked the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to conduct an assessment of runways of all Nigerian airports.
The group blamed the NCAA for not being alive to its responsibility of conducting safety oversight of the runway which had been due for maintenance 14 years ago.
President of ART, Elder Gabriel Olowo in a position paper made available to newsmen in Lagos said the decision as to the closure of the airport should have been taken by the NCAA which is the industry regulator and not the Federal Ministry of Transport.
He said constant political interference had stifled the effectiveness of the NCAA which should have compelled the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to adhere with the stipulated maintenance programme for the Abuja runway.
The statement said, “The Abuja Runway was originally meant to last for 20 years. However, on the balance of probability of the fact that it was underutilized judging from the number of landings on the runway, its utilization was further stretched by an additional 14 years leading to the current deplorable condition and the attendant grave safety implications as evidenced by several near fatal incidents that have occurred as a result of the bad condition of the runway.
“This could only have happened due to the fact that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), which is responsible for conducting safety oversight of the sector, was docile and failed completely in ensuring that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) religiously complies with the runway maintenance programme for NAIA, which is an operational safety requirement.
“The failure of FAAN to strictly follow the runway maintenance programme and conduct regular repairs and rehabilitation of the runway as at when due coupled with the lethargic oversight of NCAA have effectively contributed in bringing the situation to where it is today”.
The group challenged the NCAA to be alive to its responsibility and immediately conduct a safety oversight of other airport runways nationwide to avoid a repeat of the Abuja airport saga.
It added, “The decision as to whether a runway should be closed or not rests within the purview of NCAA as provided for in the Act establishing the Regulatory Agency and not the Executive arm of government. Unfortunately, constant political interference by the Executive arm of government, the Ministry, continues to usurp the role of NCAA and has hampered its effectiveness especially the current Director General.
“We therefore challenge the NCAA to be alive to its responsibility of safety oversight by conducting a thorough assessment of the status of all the runways at the various airports in the country in an effort to correct the problems immediately and give each of them a clean bill of health in order to forestall a reoccurrence of the Abuja saga”.
According to it, closure of NAIA Runway no doubt has serious safety, security and cost implications which the Federal Government must rise to the occasion.
It said, “Local and international passengers will have to face the great inconvenience of travelling by road from Kaduna to Abuja amidst several security uncertainties. Airlines, service providers, employees and the national economy will all be negatively impacted by the closure.
“In view of the pains and untold hardships the closure will inevitably bring with it, we are concerned and sincerely hope that the project will be completed on schedule within the stipulated six weeks in order to reduce the pains, burden and costs to the people of Nigeria, the economy and the international community who do business in Nigeria”.
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