Chinedu Eze reasons that federal governnent’s plan to upgrade the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, with modern facilities will attract more flights to the airports and boost the economy of the state
The Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika recently embarked on facility tour of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu and the Benin Airport as government plans to upgrade the facilities at the two airports.
The minister observed during the tour that when modernised with state of the art facilities, these airports would attract multi-billion investments in the two states, as more flights would be serviced and economic activities galvanised. Besides, more industries would be established, resulting in jobs creation.
He noted that investors consider easy air movement before locating their factories.
The Enugu airport is bedeviled by infrastructural challenges and as an international airport, there are certain facilities that must be in place for large-body aircraft to land and take off from the airport.
Also at the Benin airport, the federal government plans to extend the runway so that bigger aircraft could be landing. There is also plan by government to install airfield lighting so that flights can land and take off in the night.
At the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, flights cannot operate in the night because the airport does not have approach light, which ought to be installed at the two ends of the runway. The airport also does not have enough water supply, which means that it may not service large body aircraft because it does not have adequate fire cover, as certain volumes of water are needed for the fire hydrants in case of emergency.
Also the runway of the airport, although expanded in length and breadth had issues of water seepage underneath the pavement so it has been making the surface broken in some parts because the water and asphalt will not actually mix at all, but it was repaired late last year and hopefully would remain stable for some time.
During Sirikaâ€™s visit, he toured Enugu airport facilities and other areas beyond the airport where landing aids were installed. The minister also visited the area where the Voice Omnidirectional Radio Range (VOR) was installed. The VOR is what gives the aircraft the final guidance to locate the airport of its destination. He also visited the areas were approach light ought to be installed so that flights could operate to the airport in the night.
THISDAY learnt during the visit that the planned installation of approach light at one end of the runway had been frustrated by the host community who insisted that compensation must be paid to them before the land could be ceded to FAAN. However, the Airport Manager, Mr. Orjiako Mgbemena said the contractor engaged by FAAN to install approach light at the runway was chased away by the community. THISDAY however gathered that the former Governor of the state, Sullivan Chime might have settled the matter when he promised to compensate the people that had the initial three buildings in that area. But once it was announced that the people that owned buildings there were to be compensated multiple houses were erected there overnight and the community demanded outrageous amount of money from the state government.
â€œThe reason the lights are not there is because the local people who said they were not compensated when the land was acquired drove the contractor away. The contractor was had been engaged to install the light. He was threatened by the host community so he abandoned the project,â€ Mgbemena said.
After inspecting the facilities at the Enugu airport the minister visited the Governor of the state, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and told him how important the Enugu airport is to the federal government and how itâ€™s upgrade would galvanise economic activities if more airlines are enabled to operate to the airport.
Specifically, Sirika told the Governor that to solve the problem of water logging under the asphalt of the runway, the federal government had to assemble water consultant to tackle the problem and the solution was to draw the water from the bottom of the runway and draw rainwater through diagonal channels created by the construction company, PW.
â€œWe have issues that have to do with delayed payment and the company is willing to go back to complete the job if these issues are sorted out so that the company will mobilise to the site once and for all. What is important about the airport is not the terminal but how safe and secure an airport is for your arrival and departure; however the terminals are good but they are not as critical as the others.
â€œThe contractor has not finished because we need to acquire more land, one kilometer on each side of the runway. The past administration paid off the host community but there were about three houses at that time but later the residents started building houses everywhere and demanded for more compensation,â€ the minister said.
He noted that before more international airlines would be designated to the airport (currently only Ethiopia Airlines that operates to the airport) there are some critical infrastructure that must be installed to enable airlines land in the night and requested that the state government must assist the federal government to realise the objective of making Enugu a full-fledged international airport.
Ugwuanyi suggested that the request be made formal and there and then directed that the host community which was indiscriminately building houses around the runway and the land designated for FAAN should be stopped. He also ordered that two masts owned by the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) and the Enugu State Broadcasting Service (ESBS) that obstruct flights on takeoff should be removed immediately.
Sirika later told THISDAY: â€œWe have gone round the facilities, including the runway, terminal buildings, perimeter fence and the equipment that aids the landing and takeoff of flights. You recall that the runway was grossly inadequate. It was 2.4 kilometer runway at a time and 45 meters wide. This was not enough for majority of operations of high capacity, wide-body aircraft and not deserving of the Enugu airport.
â€œSo the federal government did quite a lot. One, it extended the runway from 2.4 kilometers to 3 kilometers; it also extended the width from 4.5 meters to six meters and we now want to install landing equipment that will permit us carry out day and night operations. Unfortunately we are having some challenges. Some of the natives of the area are being very restive and are denying us access to the land; they are resisting the expansion of the airport, which for me is unfortunate and we discuss with the state government to try and resolve the issues so that once and for all we shall finish with Enugu airport and raise the facilities there to international standard. That is regarding the runway, which is more critical.â€
The minister had projected that most of the critical infrastructure needed at the airport would be completed by December this year.
â€œThe Governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has promised to come in and ensure that the people leave the land for us to use it for what it was intended. So once that is done we will fence the airport and clear the perimeter road. Regarding the terminal building, we just last week released N1.7 billion to the contractor and hopefully also within the shortest possible time we will release another N300 million for him so that they can quickly finish the international terminal. This will bring the airport to its desired standard.
â€œThe landing aids cannot be installed, as I said previously. We need to acquire more land about one kilometer on either side and there is a river at the end of runway 26. We need to dam that river because there is no water at the airport completely. So we are seeking permission from the state government to allow us dam the river and then use the water for the airport. The Governor has agreed to that and we are going to write him to allow us leverage on that as source of water supply to the airport. The water is not only to be used by passengers and so on; even our hydrants, firefighting depends on the availability of water. May God forbid, if anything happens that could be serious threat and challenge,â€ the minister said.
Enugu Airport Runway
Mgbemena also told THISDAY that the runway has technical challenges but FAAN unrelentingly has been working on it to ensure that is effective for landing and takeoff of flights.
â€œThe runway itself has had issues of water seepage underneath the pavement and that has been making the surface broken in some parts because the water and asphalt do not actually mix at all. In the last quarter of 2017 we actually did a lot of remedial repair work on the runway surface. I know that in time to come there will be major repairs but as it is now we have checked it out and it is safe. We have finished the job and cleaned the surface to remove rubber deposits, which got deposited due to frequency of landing just to increase the frictional force of the surface,â€ he said.
The federal government also wants to upgrade the Benin airport, which even at current state still receives more flights than many bigger airports and the airport is known to be a profitable route to many domestic airlines.
According to the minister, the airport received approval for upgrade of facilities and the approval was due to the fact the Benin Airport is one of the oldest airports in Nigeria. He said that the zone needs a standard international airport to serve its growing economic interests.
He added that the airport would be fitted with necessary facilities within 12-months, as part of the plans to upgrade and provide it with facilities that meet the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
â€œPlans have been concluded to upgrade landing system with adequate radio equipment that will enable the Airport handle both day and night operations, even in adverse weather conditions. There are plans to also extend the runway at the Benin Airport to enable it handle high volume of traffic with capacity to accommodate cargo planes.
Aviation connects businesses, trade, cultures, nations and people. With a standard airport in place, it becomes easy to achieve economic growth and development. We will work with Edo State Government to ensure that within the next 12 months, Benin Airport will become an international standard airport with all the necessary aviation equipment in place,â€ Sirika said.