Barely one week after Nigeria was thrown into mourning following the crash of a Dana aircraft in Lagos, lives of passengers and crew on board at least four aircraft were put at risk, on Friday, at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, the nation's capital.
A Blackout at the airport frustrated their landing, forcing the flights to be diverted to the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.
The incident caused anxious moments especially among those at the NAIA awaiting the arrival of the passengers in the flights.
The Nigerian Airspace Management Authority (NAMA) blamed the blackout on repairs being carried out on the airport runway, saying the situation compelled the closure of the airport to air traffic between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The closure, according to NAMA was communicated to airlines.
But Sunday Vanguard could not reach affected airlines to confirm the NAMA's claim. This came just as the Federal Government said it will audit airlines in the country and review their operations.
The flights affected by the blackout at the NAIA in the Friday incident, according to aviation sources, were operated by Lufthansa, Air France, British Airways, all foreign airlines and Arik, a local operator.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that the Lufthansa flight was operated from Malabo while the Arik flight came in from Port-Harcourt.
The Arik flight reportedly arrived in Abuja around 6.30 p.m. but had to be diverted to the former federal capital when the runway flights failed to work owing to the blackout.
The diversion of the flights left several passengers waiting to board them stranded at the Abuja airport, and consequently accommodated in the federal capital by the airlines.
Blaming the blackout on repair works at the NAIA, NAMA officials told Sunday Vanguard, yesterday, that they passed a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to all airlines informing them of the development. According to them, the repairs on a segment of the runway were to begin 7 February and end June 30.
With the NOTAM in place, they claimed, it was expected that flights operating in and outside of the Abuja airport will be restricted as it would be closed from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.daily.
"The closure according to the NOTAM would allow for the apron expansion work and upgrading of the approach lighting system on runway 04/22 from Cat 1 to Cat 11 in accordance with the ICAO runway lighting system . The NOTAM advised pilots to adhere strictly to air traffic controllers' advice ,that will be in place till June 30, 2012", one of the officials said.
Aviation experts told Sunday Vanguard, yesterday, they were aghast about the development, especially coming at a time Nigeria had just witnessed an air crash that claimed scores of lives.
They were unanimous in their opinion that the nation was lucky that none of the diverted airplanes was on emergency to warrant that it had to land at all costs at the NAIA.
"It would have just been as bad that we could not stop another air crash had any of the planes involved in the diversion been caught in an emergency and became inevitable to land at the Abuja airport. We would have had another crash in a week that would have been clearly avoidable. There is no reason why there should be blackout in any airport for five minutes not to talk of being prolonged to warrant aircraft being diverted to another airport almost one hour away," one of the experts said.
FG to audit airlines
Meanwhile, the Federal Government plans to audit airlines in the country and review their operations.
Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, disclosed this at a gathering of businessmen during a town hall meeting in Kano.
Okonjo-Iweala said: "In order to streamline their operations, appropriate measures would soon be put in place to ensure safe and efficient operation of the airlines". According to her, a committee has been set up to carry out the audit.
She said that machinery had also been put in motion to support the aviation sector, adding that government's intervention was to guarantee air safety.