Recently the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja will be closed for repairs for six weeks beginning from March 8 to April 19, 2017. According to him, the reason for the closure is to enable government carry out comprehensive renovation works on the airport’s runway, in compliance with international civil aviation standards.
The Minister recalled that the Abuja runway was constructed in 1982 and had overshot its design lifespan by 14 years, resulting in a number of distressed and failed portions.
Before now, there have been incidents of impairment suffered by aircrafts, raising tensions in national and international circles about the safety of aircrafts landing at the airport.
In the last three months, at least three wide-bodied aircrafts belonging to some international airlines have experienced severe damage on some body parts as a result of the bad portions of the runway.
Among the airlines are Emirates, South African Airways and Air France whose aircrafts suffered damages to their wheels in he course of using the runway.
Similar incidents have also been recorded in previous years. For instance, on December 4, 2013, a Saudi Arabian cargo plane damaged its landing gear in a major incident at the runway, which led to the closure of the airport for almost 24 hours.
Because of the dangerous runway and multiple incidences of landing gear damages that have been reported by operators of international airlines and private jets, some airlines like Kenya Airways were said to be considering canceling their flights to the airport.
The move to shut down Abuja airport for six weeks and to use the Kaduna International Airport as alternative has expectedly pitched the government against some stakeholders, including lawmakers. The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), which is one of the stakeholder groups with dissenting views on the closure, suggested that the airport repairs should be carried out between 6pm and 6am to prevent total disruption of activities.
Without doubt, there are serious difficulties confronting Nigeria’s aviation industry. From investigation, this problem did not develop overnight, signifying that the challenges are symptoms of a deep-seated disorder. Without prevarication, it is obvious that if this problem is not addressed with focused determination, the situation will deteriorate.
The Abuja airport runway repair was first proposed seven years ago. It was later thrown into the dustbin of bitter politicking. The current noise over the closure of the airport started when the government decided to carry out the more than overdue repair work on the runway. How serious the repair work will undergo considering our experience with rogue contractors is a matter for conjecture.
While the government has genuine reasons to fix the runway, the use of Kaduna International Airport is unnerving to many airlines considering the location and distance to the Federal Capital Territory.
However, we advise that if Kaduna must be used, the government must reassure international and local airline operators, as well as air travelers of adequate safety and security at the airport and on the road journey to Abuja. Adequate measures must be put in place to ensure hitch-free passage on the Kaduna-Abuja expressway.
The image of Nigeria is badly dented in aviation circles. The government has a duty to redeem this image starting with the Abuja airport repairs.