•Airline operators kick, say Kano is preferable
•Kaduna Govt: We’re ready to provide logistics in the interim
Dele Ogbodo in Abuja
The Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, yesterday said government had concluded all necessary arrangements to use the Kaduna airport as an alternative to local and international flights during the six weeks closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja.
At an all stakeholders interactive session in Abuja, he averred that the Kaduna airport remained preferable to Ilorin and Minna airports, because of its status as a seasonal international airport capable of accommodating jumbo jets during Hajj operations.
Also complementing the usage of the Kaduna airport, he added is the Nigerian Air Force base and runway in Kaduna that can be used should there be hitches in the course of landing.
While assuring stakeholders of smooth operation during the six weeks of closure, he added that government had put in place the necessary security measures both at the airport in Kaduna and Abuja to ensure that passengers can commute without hitches.
He said: “Government has concluded arrangement with the army, DSS, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), the NSCDC, AVSEC, air force personnel, FRSC and Kaduna State Government to ensure that there is adequate security and free flow in between Kaduna and Abuja during the closure.”
Sirika, who assured that the situation that led to the closure of the Port Harcourt runway for more than two years should not be allowed to happen in Abuja, adding that government has a morale responsibility to deliver the runway only in six weeks.
He acknowledged that it might come with some pains, but the safety of Nigerians and passengers remain uppermost, he stressed.
He said: “Government will increase security presence at every intersection, deploy air force and police helicopters for security with NEMA and K9 dogs to ensure that there are no hitches while travellers get maximum comfort on the road.”
Responding, the Chairman, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Nogie Meggison, while expressing reservation about the use of Kaduna airport, said Lagos and Kano airports remained the best routes for international flights.
He said: “AON is in total support of the rehabilitation of the Abuja airport which has been long over due. Today, we have seen the efforts that has gone into what he Sirika is doing at the airport especially the runway rehabilitation.
“AON’s view is that we are in total support of the rehabilitation of the runway which has been long overdue mainly because of safety issues, which should be addressed as soon as possible.
“On the flip side, AON is of the view that shutting the runway is not the immediate solution.
“The runway should either be repaired at night like what is done in other countries where repairs can be between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Examples is the case study of the Gatwick airport which was repaired and 85 years later handles 400,000 passengers yearly, while Abuja handles only 14,000 which is less than 10 per cent.
“If we have that kind of volume going through Gatwick and it was not closed, then we should look at it again before moving out of Abuja to other places because of the logistics,” he said.
Alternatively, Meggison said the runway in Abuja which is 3,900 metres, can be split into two “and with this one side can be fixed for three weeks and the other side for another three weeks.
“With a 2,000-metre runway in Abuja, a Boeing 737 can comfortably get into Abuja for a one hour flight, a CRJ, a Dash 8 and local flights can come in and domestic carriers can come in, while international carriers can go to Lagos and Kano.
“From Lagos and Kano, the local carriers will distribute for them like what is done anywhere in the world,” he said.
According to him, the Kaduna airport might not be ready for the volume of passengers that would be coming to Abuja during the closure.
The representative of International Airlines’ Committee, Mr. Osho Joseph, while expressing the same fears, said Kaduna should be used for local flights but not for international flights.
He said: “On behalf of the international operators, I want to say that we have our concern based on security issues and for us we believe that Kaduna airport might be an alternative for local operators but definitely not for international airline operators and also we are concerned about the availability of aviation fuel.”
Speaking on behalf of the British High Commission and the other foreign missions, Ms. Maria Careayo, said the British mission in Nigeria had no intention of leaving the country because of the closure of the Abuja airport.
She, however, urged the government to put in place security measures that will guarantee the safety of passengers commuting between Abuja and Kaduna.
In his remark, the Executive Secretary of Kaduna State Investment Agency, Mr. Gambo Hamzat, said the state government had taken the necessary measures to facilitate the movement of passengers between Kaduna and Abuja during the six weeks.
Hamzat said: “We see this as a prime project for Nigeria and we have taken all the steps that the minister listed out and we have done a risk matrix to ensure that all the issues on security are addressed.
“Today, if you going to Kaduna at every 11 kilometers, there are 20 policemen. Also, at the airport we are doing all that we can to assist FAAN in the project and for aviators and all stakeholders with hotels.
“This project is worth supporting, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Expressway is being fixed and we shall deliver by January ending what is expected of Kaduna State.”