- This is what stakeholders have to pay for closure of Abuja airport for six weeks
Finally, the Federal Government has decided to rehabilitate the runway of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. Citizens and international users of the airport must be wondering why it has taken this long for the government to arrive at this point, despite obvious danger posed by the airport’s pot-holed runway for years. Though belated, the decision of the Minister of State for Aviation to begin rehabilitation of the one-runway is a piece of good news that can lessen the anxiety of passengers and airline operators about the danger that the runway has posed in the last 10 years.
After severe damage to the landing gears of several aircraft in the last three years: Saudi Arabian cargo plane in 2013; South African Airways and Emirates Airline in 2016, the decision of the Buhari administration to close the airport for six weeks, despite all the discomfort seems to be the only logical one. International airlines are already threatening to withdraw flights to the airport with a runway characterised by uneven surface. There is need for stakeholders to show understanding about the danger in any further delay on rebuilding the runway to comply with global safety standards.
Having used it for 14 years beyond its life span, any last-minute negotiation between the government and airline operators is a luxury that none of them can afford at this point. Therefore, new arguments about restricting repair work to the night and allowing flights to continue using a dangerous runway during the day is foolhardy. Similarly, invoking the example of Gatwick airport that carried out runway improvement at night ignores the difference between electricity supply and technological capacity in London and Abuja. Nothing should delay immediate restoration of the Abuja runway before the next rainy season.
But issues raised at the recent stakeholders’ meeting by airline operators about security and safety of passengers to be transported by road between Kaduna and Abuja ought to be given full attention. The fears of passengers are not limited to having a safe terminal that can accommodate the heavy traffic from domestic flights into Kaduna airport. They include safety of passengers during travel by road from Kaduna to Abuja and vice versa. While the promise of the Kaduna State governor to provide adequate security for dedicated buses from and to Kaduna is gratifying, the Federal Government which controls all forms of security, needs to provide round-the-clock security protection to passengers, particularly in view of recent issues with security in Kaduna State. In addition to providing special buses to passengers, dedicating some coaches to passengers on the Abuja-Kaduna train should be considered as a second option.
The sacrifice that passengers and airline operators need to make is huge enough. Therefore, every effort must be made to ensure that closing any airport and subjecting passengers to travel for longer than 50 kilometres between airport and their destination does not happen in any part of the country again. Currently, apart from Abuja, there are several airports with unsafe runways in different parts of the country; immediate attention ought to be given to such airports.
The time to avoid mistakes of the past by doing the right thing at the right time is now. While rehabilitating the existing runway in Abuja, the Federal Government should add a second runway to prevent another closure in the next 10 years when the life of the rehabilitated runway expires. It is poor attitude to security and safety to have just one runway at the airport that serves the nation’s capital.
It is also a sign of poor governance to extend the life of such sensitive infrastructure beyond its 20 years, as several federal administrations had done in the last 14 years. Any delay in restoring the runway before the end of March can only further damage the nation’s economy.