• Aviation minister to meet airlines, stakeholders on closure

Laleye Dipo in Minna and Dele Ogbodo in Abuja

The Niger State Government has asked the federal government to consider using the Minna airport as an alternative airport during the six weeks closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, when the runway will be undergoing rehabilitation.

Making this known monday, the state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Jonathan Tsado Vatsa said all that will be required was for the dualisation work on the road from Minna, the Niger State capital, to Suleja to be fast tracked.

The government said it had decided to raise the issue so that the federal government would be reminded of the existence of the Minna airport and the role it could play during the rehabilitation of the Abuja airport.

The Transportation Ministry penultimate week announced that the Abuja airport would be closed for six weeks, starting next month, for work on the dilapidated runway, and had advised airlines and passengers travelling to and from Nigeria’s capital city to use the Kaduna International Airport, about 211km from Abuja.

Vatsa said in a statement in Minna that using the Minna airport as an alternative to the Abuja airport during the period of its repairs would save air travellers a lot of man hours that would be lost if airplanes were diverted to other places.

“What is required now is for the road from Minna to Suleja to be dualised quickly to make movement to and fro smoother and safer,” Vatsa said in the statement.

He explained that the state government was confident that the Minna airport has the requisite facilities and manpower to serve as a very good alternative to the Abuja airport, adding, “Niger State is also peaceful and secure.”

“We have always said it that because of times like this, the Minna airport should be used as alternative to Abuja, and from an economical perspective as a cargo airport.
“So with the planned closure of the Abuja airport for rehabilitation, I think it is wise economically to use Minna to serve Abuja.

“You can see from here to Abuja is just about one hour plus, if the dualisation work on the Minna-Suleja road is fast tracked and completed as planned by the federal government. We therefore call on the authorities to look into this viable alternative,” he added.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently directed the construction firm handling the construction of the Minna-Suleja road to return to site immediately.

The firm had pulled out of site in the weeks leading to the 2015 general election in the country.
Preparatory to the closure of the Abuja airport, the Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, yesterday said the federal government has concluded arrangements to meet with airline operators, security agencies and the Kaduna State Government on Thursday on the planned closure between February and March.

In a statement signed by Mr. James Odaudu, Deputy Director, Public Affairs in the ministry, the minister said the decision to shutdown the airport for six weeks was to allow Julius Berger Plc complete rehabilitation of the airport’s runway.

According to the statement, Sirika and ministry officials will engage airlines, airport operators and industry stakeholders on issues that will guarantee seamless flight operations for passengers coming in and leaving Abuja.

According to the minister, the interactive session will also afford him the opportunity to officially inform all concerned of the decision, and also brief them on efforts being made to ensure that the use of the Kaduna International Airport as an alternate route during the six weeks closure of the airport is seamless and hitch-free.

Sirika said the meeting was being held to allow stakeholder air their opinions that would help in formulating and executing policies, adding that the stakeholders would also be expected to key into plans to make their operations during the period less problematic.

Government, he said, was aware of the likely high level of discomfort and inconvenience the proposed closure would cause air travellers, airline operators and other service providers, but explained that the decision was informed by safety and security concerns, saying that government would rather lose billions of dollars in revenue than risk lives.

He said: “The ministry would also invite other ministries, departments and agencies, including the security agencies, the Kaduna State government, the media and others that are expected to play critical roles during the six-week period.”