The Federal Government on Monday announced its readiness to ensure seamless operation at Kaduna International Airport as Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja closes today March 8 for runway repairs.
The Minster of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, disclosed this during a World News Conference organised by the ministry in Abuja. The news conference was attended by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika and the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris.
Mohammed said the Acting President had inspected Kaduna airport and the rail station to ascertain the level of readiness to ensure smooth operation during the six-week closure period. He said that the summary of the findings during the inspection was that even though the airport might not be 100 per cent ready, its current state was suitable enough for the operation.
The minister also disclosed that the repair work on the Abuja-Kaduna highway had been completed to ensure smooth passage for Abuja bound passengers. “As you are all aware, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja will shut from the midnight of Tuesday March 7 to the Wednesday March 8 for the purpose of repairing the failed portion of the airport runway.
“During that time, Abuja flights will be diverted to Kaduna.
“On Friday, the Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo inspected the Kaduna airport and the railway station to ascertain the state of readiness. “The summary of the finding is that while the airport may not be 100 per cent ready, by the time Abuja airport is shut, it will indeed be suitable enough,” he said.
Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said government had concluded arrangements to provide free transportation service for Abuja-bound passengers to and from Kaduna. Amaechi said that the train services would be rearranged to suit the flight schedules at Kaduna airport, adding that the train would be coming from Kaduna instead of the current arrangement.
He said the Kaduna airport runway was in perfect shape, adding that it was a portion of the terminal building that was yet to be completed as at Friday. According to him, the work was nearing completion as at that day and the contractor promised to deliver it before the deadline. The Minister of State, Aviation, Sirika, craved the indulgence of air travelers to bear with the government on the closure.
He said that the decision was for safety reasons, which is the key word in aviation sector.
The minister said the part of the Kaduna airport terminal building had been completed as at this morning, adding that much work had been done to ensure smooth operation. According to him, the ministry has provided a dedicated website (www.abujaairportclosure.info) to update airport users on the operations at Kaduna during the period. Sirika said the government had no other option than to shut the Abuja airport runway considering the level of dilapidation that had made it to fail completely.
He said that Kaduna airport would remain a seasonal international airport even after the six weeks period until it met the requirements to be a designated international airport. According to him, Ethiopian Airline is the only foreign airline that has expressed its readiness to fly the airport so far but at the end we expect more to operate the airport.
The minister reiterated the government’s plan to concession all the airports for efficiency beginning from the big four such as Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt. “We have already concluded the arrangement for the appointment of transaction adviser that will commence work in a matter of weeks,” he said.
The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, assured that the police had made adequate security plans to ensure seamless operation between Abuja and Kaduna airports. Idris said the police force had enough capacity and capability to carry out efficient surveillance on the road, the rail line and air during the six weeks. According to him, he was in Kaduna on Sunday to conduct assessment of security in the airport, on the road and the rail at Jere and Idu stations.
“In the whole, our deployment on the ground is perfect because we have the various units of the Nigeria Police Force in charge of specialized units. “We have the force Explosive Ordinance Department (EOD), we have the force animals in charge of dogs; we have the patrolling team and the mobile force as well as the air wing.
“As I stated, all the units are deployed fully on ground,” he said.
Foreign travelers planning to reach the Nigerian capital, Abuja, next month have two choices: make a 15-hour drive from the southern commercial hub of Lagos or fly to the northern city of Kaduna and ride through an area plagued by kidnappers and gunmen.
The authorities plan to close Abuja’s airport for six weeks on March 8 to repair potholes on the 35-year-old runway that have damaged planes’ landing gear. British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France and South African Airways declined the government’s suggestion to divert their flights to Kaduna, while Ethiopian Airlines says it will fly there. Kaduna’s attractiveness dimmed on Feb. 23 when two German archaeologists were kidnapped and released three days later in a village off the 234-kilometer (145 mile) road to the capital.
“This route passes through insecure territory where the convergence by criminal actors from cattle rustlers to bandits and militants has precipitated a surge in kidnappings,” said Michael Clyne, an analyst at the Lagos-based security consultant group DC Premium Logistic and Solutions Ltd. Victims of the abductions included two former ministers, a Sierra Leonean diplomat and two bankers, he said.
The closure of the airport in Abuja, which handles 3 million passengers a year, will be another shock to a country facing its worst economic contraction in a quarter century. The drop in oil prices has slashed its main revenue earner, while the naira currency has weakened 35 percent against the dollar since June, the third-worst performance globally. President Muhammadu Buhari, 74, has been receiving treatment in London since Jan. 19 for an unspecified medical condition, with no date set for his return.
Abuja is a deal-making center, frequented by executives from mobile-phone companies, retailers and energy firms including Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. that are pumping crude with the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. in Africa’s second-biggest oil producer.
Already the airport shutdown prompted the postponement of the Nigeria International Trade and Investment Conference on non-oil investment until June.
“We have talked to several participants and embassies, and it seems no one is interested in going to Kaduna,” Sand Mba Kalu, who’s helping to organize the conference for Africa International Trade and Development Trust, said on Monday.
Besides the danger of the Kaduna route, its airport probably doesn’t have the capacity to handle the Abuja traffic. It had 12 flights in December 2015 compared with 812 in Abuja, Lagos-based research house SBM Intelligence said in a Feb. 24 note, citing the latest available figures from Nigeria’s airports authority.
Aviation State Minister Hadi Sirika said the government is expanding Kaduna airport’s capacity to handle more traffic. Most airlines had little alternative but to suspend their flights, said Joachim Vermooten, an independent aviation analyst in Pretoria, South Africa. “It’s very hard to transfer the whole airline supply-chain that includes ticketing, etc to Kaduna just for a short while,” he said by phone.
The runway at Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport was built in 1982 with a 20-year lifespan and has deteriorated to the extent that it has become a safety hazard and has to be completely overhauled, according to Minister Sirika.
Construction company Julius Berger Nigeria Plc won a contract in 2010 that was then worth about $425 million to build a 4.6-kilometer second runway, but it was canceled after lawmakers said it was too expensive. It also won the bid to carry out the current repairs at a cost of 5.8 billion naira ($18.4 million), according to Sirika.
Until the work is finished, Ben Okechukwu says he’s planning to shut his clothes shop in the capital because he won’t be able to make his usual monthly trip to Turkey to buy suits, shirts and ties.
“I plan to shift to Lagos,” he said in an interview. “The biggest problem is we are not sure how long the airport will be closed. If it’s six weeks it’s OK, but if it goes for months, then it messes up the whole year.”
Nigeria’s airline industry was already reeling from shortages of jet fuel and foreign-currency as revenue from crude oil fell and the value of the naira tumbled, leaving airlines with higher maintenance bills and difficulty in repatriating ticket sales. The government was forced to take over Nigeria’s biggest airline, Arik Air, this month. The airport closure will make the situation worse, said Linden Birns, managing director of Cape Town, South Africa-based aviation consultancy Plane Talking.
It’s not only a “blow for both domestic and foreign airlines who will lose revenues, but also for the Nigerian economy,” he said.