By Chinedu Eze
The National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) has given support to the federal government’s plan to rehabilitate the runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja; saying for a thorough job to be done the closure of the airport was inevitable.
The Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika had announced that the airport would be closed for six weeks for comprehensive work on the runway from March 8, 2017, while the Kaduna airport in Kaduna state would be used as alternate airport.
NANTA also called for urgent construction of second runway at the airport to ensure that the issue of airport closure for such activities did not arise in future, adding that a second runway was critical at the airport.
The President of NANTA, Bankole Bernard, who addressed newsmen in Lagos at the weekend, said before the decision of government to repair the airport runway, many incidents were recorded on the facility when aircraft on landing damaged their landing gear or burst their tyres or hit patchwork left-overs.
He cited the Saudi Arabia cargo plane that hit gravels used to patch the runway about three years ago and got damaged severely.
Bankole said to avert major accidents on the runway it was expedient that the rehabilitation took place so that the runway, which exceeded its life span of 14 years ago, would be ready to serve the airport for another 20 years.
He urged the minister to put the motion in place for the building of a second runway at the airport so that one runway could be in use while the other is under construction in future, as it is happening at the Heathrow Airport, London right now.
“The rehabilitation is very necessary. The runway has existed for 34 years, 14 years older than its 20 years life span. So we are in support for a total repair of the runway. The inconvenience is something we all have to bear. For us at NANTA we feel government has to take some factors into consideration. But we also want to know whether government would provide free shuttle from the alternate airport in Kaduna to Abuja,” Bernard said.
The NANTA president commended the federal government for earmarking N1.01 billion for the completion of the passenger terminal at the Kaduna airport and said that the Minister assured that passengers would be protected while shuttling from Kaduna to Abuja.
Bernard, however, requested that government should allow international airlines that operate to Abuja to move to Lagos, noting that if this was not done the airlines may relocate their operation from Nigeria and it would be difficult to bring them back to operate in the country, adding that the foreign carriers also contribute immensely to the economic development of the country.
He also emphasised that government keep their words by ensuring that the rehabilitation was done in six weeks as promised.
“The Minister gave the stakeholders a reassurance that the repair would not last more than six weeks. He has been working at the Kaduna airport to ensure that the project is completed so that it could effectively serve as alternative airport to Abuja. The six weeks closure of the Abuja airport is just to repair the middle of the runway; it does not mean that work has not been going on at the site,” Bernard said.