By Chinedu Eze in Lagos, Christopher Isiguzo and Gideon Arinze in Enugu
The federal government has reopened the Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu and urged entrepreneurs from the South-east region to invest in the planned concession of airport facilities.
Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari at the ceremony yesterday, explained that the airport has been upgraded to international standards and soon international carriers would be landing and taking off from there.
The minister who commended the efforts of the Enugu State government in ensuring that the federal government’s objective of rehabilitating the airport was realised, said against the wishes of some stakeholders in the aviation industry to limit international flight services to only Lagos and Abuja airports, he ensured that Enugu, Port Harcourt and Kano airports were upgraded for international operations in a bid to satisfy travellers from these regions.
“Stakeholders wanted us to only make Abuja and Lagos airport international airports and use smaller aircraft to ferry passengers to their locations. I am a policy maker and look at the haves and the have-nots. It will cost an average businessman about $1,000 to book hotel and board flights to come down to these airports from Lagos and Abuja. We will serve you where you are. I made sure Enugu airport meets all international standard that it requires.
“In the next few days, most flights will commence. Ethiopian Airlines and many other airlines that receive approval to come here will come here,” Sirika said.
He thanked the Enugu State Governor, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, for ensuring that the market, abattoir and free trade zones obstructing the work were removed for safety reasons.
“I also thank the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for performing their duties and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN) for giving the project all the attention it deserves.
“FAAN management has been given the mandate to ensure that periodic maintenance is carried out diligently so that we will not have to go through a painful experience of closure again. May I ask the government and people in this region to increase their commitment by using this airport to the fullest of its capacity? This airport will be placed in concession to ensure value for money,” the minister stated.
Currently the airport is opened for daylight operations, from 6:30 am to 7:00 pm and Ethiopia Airlines, which was operating at the airport before it was closed, is expected to resume services.
Also, work is still ongoing at the airport for airfield lighting, water treatment plant, the international terminal and others.
Sirika said that by approving N10 billion as special funding for the rehabilitation of the airport, the president had shown how dedicated he is towards the infrastructural development of the South-east.
He said that though the airport was contributing hugely to revenue generation, the federal government had to prioritise the safety and the interest of Nigerians who are the primary stakeholders.
“With the airport reopening today, it is now open to local flights and on the 5th September, international flights will resume as soon as we begin to allow them into the country.
The chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, Mr. Dave Umahi, said the decision to close the airport in 2019 was difficult but was in the interest of the people and their safety.
“It was a risk worth taking. And we are happy that it is being reopened today, after series of dialogues, persuasions and negotiations with the federal government,” he said.
He added that efforts will be made to ensure that the Second Niger Bridge is given attention.
On his part, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Smart Adeyemi, said the South-east deserved the same measure of attention and a sense of belonging like other regions in the country.
Also, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, said the reopening of the airport had brought relief to the people of the South-east.