Airport Runways as Death Traps



On Monday, the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika brought to the fore the lingering problem on undulating and collapsed runways at some airports in the country.

Sirika spoke emphatically about the runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and declared that it is a death threat and a tragic accident waiting to happen. In fact, he said that he was tempted at different times to shut down the airport, if not for the critical roles it plays in the politico-economic activities of the country.

In other words, the Minister has called for urgent rehabilitation of the existing runway and building of alternative one, which has been on the wings for the past eight years.

There was also similar report about the runway of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, which the pilot and operator of AOS Helicopters, Captain Evarest Nnaji recently described in an essay as death trap.

It is similar problem with the runway at the Asaba airport, which forced some airlines to withdraw their services on that route, as the rough and uncompleted runway could not take bigger single isle aircraft like Boeing 737, so airlines now use turboprop aircraft and CRJ 900 airplanes.

The Minister expressed concern about the obsolete airport infrastructure, especially the airside of the airports and noted also the obsolete airspace infrastructure like instrument landing system (ILS) and other landing aids. He pointed out that facilities at most of the nation’s airports do not meet international standards.

In the past three years, there has been continuous work on the Abuja airport runway, but like a weak, worn, old cloth, as you patch it with new material, it tears from another side. The runway is old. In fact, industry insiders said the runway had expired since over 10 years ago and that explained the concerted effort to build another runway in order to take time and comprehensively rehabilitate the existing one.

In similar vein, the Enugu airport runway is undulating and badly constructed. Ironically, expansion work was done at the runway about 2010, but from all indications, the job was badly done or concerned agencies did not pay attention to the facility.

Writing on the deplorable Enugu airport runway, Captain Nnaji said: “As my Lagos bound commercial flight charged out on takeoff roll on Runway-26 at Enugu airport, my heart jumped out of my mouth as a sudden shock jolted the airplane fuselage when the landing gears hit the macadamized portion of the runway; a shoddy construction job embarrassingly delivered by PW construction company less than six years ago.

“This frightening jolt immediately left a bad taste in my mouth as I ruminated on the circuitous route and rigmaroles the people of South East encountered to get the airport and see the light of the day both in terms of the resurfacing and extension of the runway and the actualisation of its international airport status.”

Nnaji described the runway as accident waiting to happen and called for urgent and emergency action to repair the facility.

Another operator narrated how he stopped operating to Asaba after his flight landed on the runway and rigmaroled through the rough, uneven runway.

“It was there and then that I told our chief pilot to stop the service to Asaba because that runway is a death trap. What I will gain in that airport is nothing if lives of my passengers are lost. And it is this hard operational environment that drives up insurance premium for Nigerian airlines,” the operator said.

Bad and obsolete runway can give rise to major accident during landing or take off of a flight and with lack of airfield lighting at some of the airports, a tragic accident could occur; these are some of the deficiencies plaguing Nigerian airports.

The Director of Consumer Protection Directorate of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Adamu Abdullahi said: “The Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika showed us photographs of potholes on the Abuja runway and that portends a lot of danger. Because on landing, aircraft can hit that pothole and before you know it, there will be something else. So these are things that we have to contend with. The issue is airport development is far, far beyond doing the cosmetics terminals. We know that our airsides are not really safe. We don’t have lights in most of our runways; therefore, it curtails our operations, apart from the four-five major international airports; you have only daylight operations in most of the airports. So that strains the operations of the airlines because where ever you are going to if it is daylight operations you have to ensure that you go in and out before sunset.”

It has therefore become imperative that the government tackles the challenge and also ensure that airports built by state governments do not compromise on the given standard of a good runway in order to avert any accident.