Abuja — It was all smiles for officials of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and staff of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, as an Ethiopian Airline aircraft touched down the rehabilitated runway of the airport at exactly 12:05 p.m. On Tuesday after six weeks of closure.
The Airbus, with registration number A350, Xtral Wide Body (XWB), Star Alliance, which took off from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopia capital, landed in Abuja to the waiting hands of FAAN and NCAA officials.
The Minister of State of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who arrived earlier at about 11:16 a.m., reopened the airport, a day earlier than the scheduled date after the successful completion of the airport's runway rehabilitation.
Sirika, while addressing journalists, said he decided to reopen the airports on Tuesday since the runway rehabilitation had been completed on schedule.
According to him, "Even though the reopening date was supposed to be today, it was not bad to reopen a day earlier."
He stated that though, "April 19 was the due date for us to conclude and open the airport based on our programme of work, it does not mean we cannot open earlier".
"We are able to deliver the project earlier than anticipated, so we can open it. It is natural that we open it a day earlier. Here we are today, set to achieve that target, and we achieved it!
"We thank God for his guidance and we are happy as well and thank the president for his support. I also wish to thank all my colleagues who did it; the media and the Nigerian people for standing by us," he said.
The minister commended Nigerians and air travellers for their resilience during the six weeks closure of the airport.
While reacting, Dr. Albert Ikolo, who flew from Addis Ababa as one of the first set of passengers to land at the airport, commended the efforts of the Federal Government of Nigeria for a job well done.
Also, Amland from India, who equally boarded the plane said: "We are happy that the airport has been reopened once again. We came off very easily and very fast today unlike before. The landing was very smooth, and the aircraft, Ethiopian Airline, was also good. I really like the way they welcomed us."
The closure was to allow total refurbishment of the runway, which was in a bad shape.
The state-of-the-art airliner, an Airbus A350-900, from Addis Ababa, touched down at the Abuja airport precisely 12.04p.m. and taxied towards the arrival wing of the terminal building for the passengers to disembark.
Among the passengers on board was the Minister of Communication, Mr. Adebayo Shittu, who was beaming with smiles as he alighted from the 343-passenger capacity aircraft.
To welcome Shittu, other passengers and officials of the airline on arrival, were the
Director-General, NCAA, Capt. Muhtar Usman; Managing Director, FAAN, Saleh Dunoma; Managing Director, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Capt. Fola Akinkuotu; and the Director-General, Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), Prof. Sani Abubakar Mashi, among others.
As Shittu disembarked, he was overheard saying: "They should be given an award," a veiled reference to relevant government officials for the record reopening of the airport earlier than April 19 earlier targeted.
Shortly after the passengers disembarked, a short ceremony was held inside the first class cabin of the A350, with all the aviation parastatals chiefs and the airline officials present to formally welcome the newest and biggest aircraft to Nigeria.
They later cut a cake and toasted to the safe arrival of the flight piloted by Captain Yared, and the resumption of scheduled flights with the newly-acquired aircraft.
As the brief cabin ceremony was going on, already checked-in passengers to Addis Ababa were seen at the departure hall waiting to board.
With Tuesday's flight in and out of Abuja, the A350-900 officially commenced scheduled flights on the Addis Ababa-Abuja route.
Commenting on the development, the Ethiopian Group CEO, Mr. Tewolde GebreMariam, said: "As a veteran pan-African airline, it has always been our source of pride to connect our beloved continent Africa together and beyond.
"Our presence in Nigeria dates back to the 1960s, same time the Federal Republic of Nigeria got independence. We have always given our best to Nigeria at all times, both at good and challenging times, and we have been part of Nigeria's historic growth and always consider ourselves as vital partners in the history and growth of Nigeria as a country."
He noted that the A350 is yet one of the landmarks in the airline's 70 years "proud history; providing exceptional levels of luxury and reliability for a totally unique passenger experience.
"Hence, with the reopening of Abuja airport, the extra features of our game-changing fleet, Airbus A350, will be awaiting for our esteemed Nigerian travellers. We shall continue to avail critical air connectivity options and connect African countries together and far beyond".
Ethiopian Airlines currently operates 20 weekly flights to four Nigerian cities -- Lagos, Abuja, Enugu and Kano -- offering connectivity to its global network spread across five continents.
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday commended the Ministries of Transport, Power, Works and Housing, security agencies, Kaduna State Government, the contractor, Julius Berger and others, for their commitment which led to the successful completion of work on the runway of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and its eventual re-opening 24 hours ahead of the time limit.
Buhari in a statement by his Special Adviser, Media, Mr. Femi Adesina, said he looked forward to such display of inter-agency cooperation and efficiency in the operations of the entire federal government machinery.
Buhari also thanked Ethiopian Airlines for cooperating with the Nigerian government during the period of the closure of the airport, describing it as a good example of intra-African cooperation.