While hundreds of highly placed Nigerians and others from the South East attended the reopening of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, there were many others from the region who criticised the reopening because work was yet to be completed on the projects.
There was the runway, which has been expanded and totally upgraded. There were also other projects such as the international terminal where work has been going on; the installation of airfield lighting, which would enable flights operate in the night, the approach light that would guide pilots to the runway, water treatment plant, which would provide the volume of water needed for the airport to receive large body aircraft.
As an international airport, it should have minimum standard fire cover and water cover for the category of airport and to meet the standard that would allow for international operation.
But by the time the airport was reopened on August 30, 2020, only the runway had been completed, although work was still going on the shoulders of the runway and the technical personnel were waiting for work to be completed on the shoulders so that the runway light would be fully installed.
That the airport projects were not completed as claimed by some reports was what triggered the controversy, as some persons in the South-east expressed disappointment with the reopening of the airport.
Pictures being circulated on the social media indicated that work had been finished on the projects and that both the old terminal, which is the domestic terminal and the international terminal had been completed.
But THISDAY learnt that the pictures being circulated were that of the Port Harcourt Airport new terminal and that of Abuja airport new terminal.
But it was gathered from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) that the airport was not reopened because the projects had been completed, but because there was the urgent need for it to be reopened, as demanded by stakeholders, political leaders and others from the South- east zone.
With the runway in excellent condition, flights can safely land and take off from the airport and the airport could service daylight operations from 6:00 am to 7:00 am, as it was doing before it was closed for the rehabilitation of the runway.
Investigations showed that it was the pictures that drew up the expectations of the people who became frustrated when they saw scaffolds under the entrance gate and terminal of the airport, which indicated that work was still going on and that the projects were not completed as claimed by the photographs.
Speaking at the occasion, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo said the reopening of the airport had brought relief to the people of the South-east and expressed satisfaction that despite the fact that work was still on-going on some projects, the airport would still serve the people and thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for approving the funds for the rehabilitation of the runway.
He also thanked Governor Ugwuanyi for his efforts in making sure that the project became a reality.
Managing Director of FAAN, Captain Rabiu Yadudu explained that the runway surface suffered continuous deterioration as a result of age and this marred the confidence of those flying and so government had to take the painful but important decision to shut the airport on August 24th last year, and rehabilitate the runway.
“Akanu Ibiam International airport Enugu was closed to aircraft traffic due purely to safety concerns. It was a difficult but necessary decision to forestall unforeseen situations that were potentially dangerous and disastrous to aircraft operations. It was a big decision because this airport is a major part of our operations and revenue generation but in aviation we have to take the interest of safety and security and the economic interest of our people, our stakeholders, which is all Nigerians.
”Today we are here to confidently reopen our runway, I say confidently because ours is a confident business. We are confident because this confidence is the necessary ingredient for us to work. Far and wide, without confidence there will be no aviation and that is.
“Aviation is a confidence business and passengers have to have confidence in the systems reliability to fly. If there is no confidence, no stakeholder, no passengers, no flight, no operations, no revenues that is why everything in aviation has to be high on integrity and reliability,” he said.
The Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, Hon. Nnolim Nnaji, said the closure of the airport in the last one year affected the economy of the southeast and expressed the belief that with the recommencement of flight operations, commercial activities would pick up again.