Many passengers billed to travel from the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, in Rivers State were stranded yesterday when the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) failed to reopen the airport 24 hours after Air Peace flight skidded off the runway due to heavy flooding on Saturday.
The incident, which happened at about 3.00 p.m., forced FAAN to shut down the airport for flights and reopened it yesterday after more than 24 hours.
The delay in reopening the airport disrupted commercial flights billed to fly to the airport from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and flights from Lagos in addition to two international flights that operate to the airport.
FAAN had earlier raised hope on Saturday evening that it was preparing to reopen the airport on the day of the incident, which prompted passengers to throng the airport yesterday morning, only to be told that flights could not take off or land because the agency was still unable to remove the aircraft from near the runway where it skidded off and stopped.
Many of the passengers after waiting for several hours decided to go to Owerri by road as airlines diverted their flights to the nearest airport, which is the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri.
Passengers picked up flights to Lagos and Abuja, but travellers with heavy luggage and children could not take such quick decision and movement.
THISDAY learnt that it was difficult for FAAN to move the aircraft because it did not have the equipment to push off the aircraft without damaging it.
However, it sought the assistance of CCECC, which is working on a project at the airport, to help move the aircraft.
Confirming the removal of the aircraft and resumption of flights, the General Manager, Public Affairs, FAAN, Henrietta Yakubu, said that the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) would issue a Notice to Air Men (NOTAM) through the Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) to notify the world that the airport was now open for flights.
THISDAY learnt that officials of NAMA, FAAN and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) inspected the airport runway as at 5.15 p.m. to ensure that it was safe before NOTAM would be issued.
NOTAM was issued by 5.45 p.m. after FAAN wrote a letter of notification to NAMA, which notified the aviation sector that Port Harcourt airport could now take in flights.
THISDAY learnt that two international flights - Lufthansa and Cronos -which currently operate to Port Harcourt, could not operate because of the closure.
Domestic airlines including Air Peace, Dana Air, Arik Air, Max Air and Aero Contractors operate 16 flights daily to Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa.
However, Arik and Dana Air passengers experienced relief when the airlines successfully diverted some of their flights to Owerri.
Corporate Communications Manager, Arik Air, Banji Ola said that the airline was able to make alternate plans for its passengers to land and take off in Owerri with four of its flights.
Also the Communications Manager of Dana Air said, Kingsley Ezenwa said the airline was able to divert just two of its flights because some of its passengers refused to go through Owerri as an option due to fear of kidnapping between Isiokpo through Elele to Owerri.
A terse message from FAAN, signed by Yakubu said, "Following a skidding incident yesterday (Saturday) involving an Air Peace flight with registration number 5N BRN, flying from Abuja to Port Harcourt, the Port Harcourt International Airport runway has been cleared and the airport is now reopened for normal flight operations.
"The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) has issued a Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) to that effect in line with standards and recommended practices."