12 February 2017

Nigeria: Anxiety Mounts Over Closure of Abuja Airport

Photo: Abuja City

With the planned closure of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) on March 8, air travelers to Abuja and environs may be in for tough times, as foreign airlines plying the route are pulling out of the plan to divert traffic to Kaduna airport.

The foreign airlines, made up of African and European carriers, are rejecting Kaduna airport, citing security and logistic concerns.The Federal Government has, however, allayed the fears of foreign airlines, saying adequate security measures have been put in place to ensure safety of lives and property.

Kaduna State government has also called on foreign airlines to have a rethink on their position, assuring all air passengers of safety in and out of the state.Director of Publicity and Press in the Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu in an interview with The Guardian, yesterday, said adequate security has been put in place by the security sub-committee headed by the Police

He said: "there should be no fear whatsoever on the security of the Abuja-Kaduna road, because the Police is deploying 400 patrol vehicles along that road, which translates to patrol vehicles at every 2km on the road.

"In addition to that, there will be air patrol both on the rail and road leading to Kaduna and security escort would be attached to every bus and rail coach conveying passengers to the airport."

Odaudu said two weeks before the final closure of the airport, all stakeholders, including all the airlines would be taken to the Kaduna airport for on-the-spot assessment, adding that the ongoing work on the construction of the new terminal building would be completed before the closure.

He said: "Part of the complaints of the foreign airlines is that the terminal building at the Kaduna Airport is too small, however as it is now the Minister has assured that the new terminal building would be ready before the closure of the Abuja airport, but in case it is not ready the old terminal building can contain 500 passengers at a go, and should in case they exceed the 500, the VIP lounge would also be used to screen passengers."

Director Defence Information (DDI) Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar said the Defence Headquarters is equally concerned about the expressed reservations by aviation stakeholders, and has put in place measures to guarantee security to all on the road.

The Federal Government has announced diversion of flights to Kaduna airport to pave way for the repairs of the NAIN runway for six weeks.The decision of the airlines to shun Kaduna airport is already generating disquiet in some quarters, as air travellers in and out of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and environs will, besides travelling about 250kilometres by road to Kaduna, have to spend more to Lagos to catch up with foreign airlines, if their destinations are outside the country.

Also, ancillary aviation services are in for severe downturn, if not losses, on account of the development. Ground handling company, Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL) has foreseen loses to the tune of N70million for the closure of Abuja runway and decision by cargo airlines to suspend operations during the period.

All of these are coming as the Federal Government has said there was no going back on the planned closure.Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, however, assured that the Federal government would ensure the total rehabilitation of the Abuja Airport runway for smooth operations and deliver it in six weeks.

Meanwhile, some foreign airlines have informed the authorities of plans not to fly to Kaduna.British Airways on Tuesday announced decision to have its London-Abuja flights diverted to Lagos, citing inadequate facilities at the Kaduna airport and its lack of in-flight catering services.

British Airways' Country Manager, Kola Olayinka, said the Lagos alternative was the best option for customers during the closure of the runway.Olayinka said several factors were considered before the decision was reached, which include the safety and security of passengers, as well as key operational issues.

Rather than divert elsewhere, South African Airways disclosed plans to suspend its Abuja operations during the six weeks duration.The airline in a letter to the Minister of State for Aviation, signed by its Acting Chief Commercial Officer, Aaron Munetsi, said the operations to Abuja would resume on April 18, 2017.

Ambassador of Ukraine to Nigeria, Dr. Valerii Aleksandruk, yesterday has expressed worries over the closure; saying though he was not against government's move to carry out maintenance of the airport, he was afraid of the impact the decision may have on businesses and other activities.

According to him: "You don't ask me about the likely impact, ask airlines, such as British Airline, Air France and others, if they would fly to Kaduna. I cannot say how it will affect our activities for now. That will depend on airlines' operations. It depends on how they operate within that period.

"I heard some of them would fly only to Lagos. We can only wait till March 8, when the policy will take effect to know how it is going to affect our activities."

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