Last week, the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Muhtar Usman led a team from Lagos to inspect the runway and other safety critical facilities at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.
Usman, who was accompanied by the acting Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Salisu Daura, was directed by the Ministry of Transportation to inspect the airport, which the governors of the South East states described earlier as death-trap.
After the inspection, the Director-General of NCAA who spoke with journalists came to the conclusion that while the airport runway could still accommodate flights, there was critical structural improvement that must be carried out at the runway so that it could effectively serve airlines and other flights both in the day and in the night.
Presently flights cannot operate at 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.
THISDAY gathered that during several meetings with the Enugu state government, FAAN had urged the state to clear the flight paths along the runway by relocating the residents along the flight area so that critical facilities can be installed to enable flights land at the airport at night and also remove hindrances on take-off and landing of flights.
The Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika also met with the state government and stressed the need for the government to relocate the market at Emene Enugu, settle the residents that built structures on the flight path so that approach light could be installed at both ends of the runway.
Sirika also urged the governor to give approval to FAAN and also to provide the facilities that could support FAAN to pipe water from Ekulu River for the airport so that it would have adequate water cover and also to remove two masts on approach area to the airport to enable flights easily take off and land at the airport.
The Governor of the State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi during the courtesy visit, attended by journalists, assured the Minister that urgent action would be taken, but as at last week, none of those promises had been fulfilled.
THISDAY learnt that the committee established by the Governor to carry out the request of FAAN had not taken any action to remove any of the obstructions to the runway.
During the inspection last week, the acting Managing Director of FAAN, Daura made it clear that all the equipment for the approach light and airfield lighting had been procured but they could not be installed because the state government could not clear the places where the facilities and equipment could be installed.
Daura also disclosed to journalists that FAAN was willing to pipe water from Ekulu Rivers at its own expense to the airport, if the state government could give approval for FAAN to source the water.
The Director General of NCAA noted, “We saw during our tour that the instrument landing system, the approach field lighting system have been acquired by government, but the only problem is the deployment.
“As a result of the extension of the runway, you need to put all those aids in place. Also, it is not under the purview of the state government to make space available; it has to do with the state government.”
Industry consultant and the CEO of Belujane Konsult, Chris Aligbe who played significant role in the campaign to make Enugu international airport, said that the airport is of strategic importance as an international airport in the South-east.
“The leadership of the states in the South-east should realise that if they miss the present opportunity when the federal government is committed to improving the aviation sector they will be doing it at their own peril and they will not have anybody to blame. There were many struggles to make Enugu an international airport.
“Now that the federal government has accepted to improve the facilities at the airport, it behoves the states in the South East to ensure that they met all the requests of FAAN. It will create jobs because Enugu sits on business emporium. No other airport will be designated international in the South East. This is an opportunity they should not miss.
“It will hurt them if they miss it. Tomorrow they will cry of marginalisation. They have to seize the opportunity and flow with the federal government, which is determined to make a difference in the aviation sector,” Aligbe said.