The announcement by the federal government that the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja would be closed on March 8, 2017 for comprehensive repair of its runway while Kaduna airport would be used as alternate, had elicited a lot of reactions from different quarters.
First, the Senate had kicked against the closure but later backed down, after realising the safety implication of the continuous use of the runway, which is in a deplorable state.
THISDAY investigations revealed that air travellers, airlines and other interest groups were sceptical about the use of Kaduna airport as alternative owing to security concerns; the facilities at the airport and the distance by road from Kaduna to Abuja, which takes about two hours.
But since the decision was taken by the federal government, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had gone to work to make sure that the airport meets international standard in terms of safety, security and comfort of the passengers.
THISDAY learnt that even the Kaduna State Government has undertaken some projects, including road rehabilitation and erection of VIP facility at the airport.
When THISDAY visited the airport on Monday, massive work was ongoing at different parts of the airport; from the terminal to the runway. Also, installation of safety critical equipment was on going.
Ideally, Kaduna is a Category 8 airport and one of the things that determine the grading of airport is the level of fire cover. THISDAY learnt that FAAN has improved the fire cover of the airport and would take it to Category 9, thus upgrading the airport to international standard.
Although many foreign carriers have declined from flying to the Kaduna airport and have arrangement schedules with their passengers for alternative choices, but there are some of the regional and international airlines that would still operate from Kaduna.
The Kaduna airport manager of the fire department, Abubakar Danladi Shebe told THISDAY that the department is fully prepared for international services and the heavy flight traffic that would take place at the airport from March 8. He said that FAAN has deployed additional fire tenders to the airport and before the given date the department would have additional 57 personnel.
“We are preparing to make sure we meet set targets for March 8. We have effective cover for bigger aircraft that may start arriving from that date,” Shebe said.
Work is still going on to improve the Instrument Landing System (ILS) and the Voice Omnidirectional Radio range (VOR) to ensure they are in perfect shape for the additional service. The other navigational aids were being worked on and the air traffic control would expect additional staff from Abuja, as the given date approaches.
Massive work is also going on at the terminal, which was abandoned for over three years. The field manager of Dari Investment Limited, the contractor handling the project, Kazeem Keji said the level of work already done was 92 percent and assured that the terminal would be ready to service travelers by February ending.
“Our target is to complete the work by end of February. We are not looking at March 8, 2017. So we are looking forward to the end of February. The critical jobs have been done; it is only the ceiling that is left,”
The Kaduna airport manager, Amina Ozi-Salami told THISDAY that the runway, which is over three kilometers in length is in good condition and the airfield lighting is being rehabilitated to put it in perfect shape for landing of aircraft in the night.
“We are right now on Category 8; we have to be on Category 9 to be able to receive international flights. This we will achieve before the end of February. On security we have held meeting with the host community to keep away from the airport and the state government is working on the perimeter road to prevent any incursion to the airport.
“The state government is also working on a road that will connect the airport to the train station. That road would be ready for use before March. The terminal has the capacity to take in 750 passengers at any time. We do not expect any problem with security because government has taken care of that. There would be deployment of security operatives to secure the airport and the passengers,” she said.
The Managing Director of Skypower Express Airways Nigeria Limited, Capt Mohammed Joji, whose operational base is Kaduna, projected that during the six weeks period Abuja airport would be closed for runway rehabilitation, there would be 8,700 aircraft movement to and from Kaduna airport, with an average daily movement of 207 aircraft.
“The passenger movement during the six weeks period will be 605, 769, which translate to 100, 962 passengers weekly and a daily movement of 14, 423 passengers,” Joji said.
He said the basic structure of the runway with a length of 3000 meters and 60 meters wide is sufficient to handle a wide body aircraft and if the need arises blast pad of 300 meters could be provided to each end of the runway.
Joji said the full complement of navigational and landing aids must be provided to at least Category 2 ILS, adding that low-level wind sheer equipment would be provided to determine weather movement in addition to full airfield lighting.
“Jet A1 (aviation fuel) must be provided round the clock and the enabling environment to be provided for additional fuel marketers coming into Kaduna,” he added.
The Kaduna airport manager said most of the things noted by Joji have been provided including the provision for aviation fuel as Conoil is already at the airport and Cleanserve has also indicated to operate from the airport and other oil marketers may also be at the airport.
Mrs. Ozi-Salami said those who may not wish to go to Abuja by road or train would have the services of helicopter, as Bristow and other companies have indicated interest to operate from the airport and hop passengers to Abuja, a flight that would take about 45 minutes.
The six weeks period the Kaduna airport would be used as alternative to Abuja airport will boost commercial activities at the airport and environs and residents would wish it continues thereafter.