Why Abuja Airport Closure May Exceed Scheduled Six Weeks

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  •   Airport closure to gulp N6.9bn
  • Senate: We prefer partial closure but FG can go ahead

Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

Construction giant, Julius Berger, tuesday expressed its preparedness to ensure the completion of the repair of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport runway, Abuja, scheduled to take off on March 8, 2017, within the stipulated six weeks.

However, the firm was quick to add that the timely delivery would only be dependent on the adequate co-operation and preparedness of Nigerian stakeholders in the repair task to live up to their respective responsibilities.

Giving this condition when he appeared before the Senate yesterday, Managing Director of Julius Berger, Wolfgang Goetsch, echoed the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, and his counterpart in Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, that there was no alternative to total closure of the runway for six weeks in view of its bad state.

He agreed that it was possible to repair a runway without totally closing it but noted that doing that would depend on the state of the runway, explaining that the state of the airport had deteriorated beyond the consideration of segmental repair.

“If there is fragmentation of a piece and pieces at the end of the runway, it will not be a monolithic structure. If a runway is to be monolithic, it needs interlocked layers and this I think is an important point. It will have a lifespan of up to 10 years. This is why we see it this way with lots of consultants. There is absolutely and unfortunately no option than to close the runway for six weeks because actually, the repair work is far beyond that. It is almost a new construction of the whole surface of the runway.

“We are very much aware of what the closure of the airport mean for Nigeria, for the public sector, for the private sector and for all individuals. It is in all our interest to make the thing happen and to solve it as quick as possible. This is from our end. We guarantee that within this six weeks, the repair work will be done subject to the fulfillment of the obligations of all stakeholders.

“I just give one very simple example. We have two choppers; two big cargo airplanes fly in materials from overseas and the offloading and the custom clearance of these cargo airplanes. Of course, it is essential because time is of essence. Under the leadership of the Minister of State for Aviation, all stakeholders are on board. As I speak today, everything is going very smoothly according to plan and we have no doubt if the obligations of other stakeholders are fulfilled. Julius Berger also guarantees after the repair work, a lifespan of this runway up to 10 years minimum subject to regular maintenance,” he said.

But the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) disagreed, pointing out that the repair could be done without necessarily shutting down the entire runway. NSE President, Otis Anyaeji, said the attempt to shut down the entire runway amounted to shutting down the entire country, noting that it is the only airport in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

He further argued that the repair could either be done in segments or by upgrading the taxi way to enable smaller aircraft take off and land.

“The Nigerian Society of Engineers having critically evaluated the state of the runway hereby observes as follows: That the total shut down of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, being the only airport that connects the capital city of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is like shutting down Nigeria. Absence of a second runway at the international airport, meant lack of excess runway capacity to temporarily closed down the main runway for repairs.

“Our recommendations are as follows: That the runway could be reconstructed without closing the airport using segmented approach and known safety risk management procedures in line with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) guidelines. Aircraft of B737 and below can therefore use part of the runway while work is going on at the other part.

“The taxi way should be upgraded to serve as a runway for aircraft of B737 and below. The appropriate study to confirm this can be carried out for visibility to be assured. This has been tried elsewhere in the world. For example, Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom. Bigger international flights can be connected to Lagos, Kaduna and Kano and other international airport and then an air shuttle can be connected to Abuja. In the long term, the NSE is recommending that action be immediately commenced on the construction of a second runway at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport,”Anyaeji said.

But Goetsch insisted that the state of the airport had gone beyond the consideration of both segmental repair as well as the upgrade of the taxi way.

Nevertheless, Sirika who had appeared before the Senate last Thursday, told senators that the repair of the runway would cost N6.9 billion including the cost of logistics. He had told the Senate last Thursday that repairing the runway would gulp N5.8 billion while the cost of logistics was not ready. But the Senate mandated him to get the cost of the logistics and return with the total cost yesterday.

Against this background, Sirika disclosed that the logistics would cost N1.134 billion.
Giving a breakdown of the cost of logistics which he had said would involve the deployment of security operatives, helicopters, trains and vehicles to protect and convey travellers between Kaduna and Abuja, the minister said N103.2 million had been allocated to the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC); Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) (N247 million), Nigeria Police (N358.5 million), Nigeria Security Civil Defence Corps (N325 million), Ministry of Transport (N84 million) and Nigeria Immigration Service (N29 million).

Also making submission at the plenary, Fashola said the reconstruction of Kaduna -Abuja road in preparation for the closure would cost N1.085 billion. This figure is however, said to have been captured in 2016 budget.

Fashola said the contractor had already notified the ministry that it had moved to the site since January 7, with a promise that the job would be delivered within 50 days, which he put at February 28.

Fashola explained that the choice of Kaduna airport as the alternative airport during the closure of the airport as against Minna Airport was predicated on a more motorable state of Kaduna -Abuja road as against the state of Abuja – Minna highway.

The Nigeria Police in its submission promised to ensure adequate security between Abuja and Kaduna, disclosing that it would provide 500 personnel in its operation team, 500 patrol vehicles and three helicopters to escort very important personalities (VIPs).

Eventually, the Senate, in its resolution, said even though it preferred segmented repair of the runway, the Minister of Aviation was free to take decision in accordance with technical advice provided by stakeholders.

While announcing the resolution, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, said: “The Senate prefers segmented repairs on the runway of the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport to avoid total closure of the Airport. However the minister of transportation could take decision based on technical advise provides by various stakeholders. Is that a true reflection of what transpired in the committee of the whole.