After many years of controversies and agitations over cost and inadequate ramp space, the federal government has announced that it would complete the N92.12 billion second runway, at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja by May 29.
Airline operators have however argued that the major challenge dogging the airport was ramp space for aircraft parking.
Although operators said the second runway remained critically important, but decried a situation where the major challenge currently is about how to expand the ramp space to mitigate congestion that will likely impair seamless use of the airport in few years.
Industry stakeholders who spoke to THISDAY said that the new international terminal at the airport was located close to the runway reducing the space created for the tarmac.
The airport apron, flight line, ramp, or tarmac is the area of an airport where aircraft are parked, unloaded or loaded, refueled, boarded, or maintained.
THISDAY learnt that even with relatively low traffic compared to Lagos, the apron space at the Abuja airport becomes inadequate when wide-body aircraft like Boeing 777, Boeing 747 or Airbus A350 are parked at the ramp.
Investigation also revealed that two wide-body aircraft of international airlines could fill up the apron, leaving small space for other aircraft.
To solve the challenge, the Managing Director and CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, told THISDAY that there should be holistic approach to infrastructural expansion of the airside of the airport in order to create more space for the apron.
He recognised the fact that the airport would continue to record increase in traffic, as Nigeria continues to grow economically and as more people travel by air.
He also noted that the Abuja airport was growing very fast in terms of traffic, as more foreign airlines operate to the airport and as more domestic carriers join the market with attendant increase in passenger movement.
“There should be holistic approach in the plan to expand the ramp. It could be noticed that the new terminal building is blocking the control tower at the airport so there is a need to move the tower from where it is currently located and when removed the apron could be extended to that area and the new control tower should be built where it will have higher visibility of the airport.
“You notice also that when British Airways aircraft lands at the airport the remaining part of the apron becomes too small. So the expansion should be done towards the taxiway in order to have more space where aircraft can park,” he said.
He advised that experts who are versed in airport infrastructure should be engaged to creatively open more space for the apron, “because there is limit to maneuverability due to structures, including the Presidential Air Wing at one side of the apron, the new terminal building and the General Aviation Terminal at the other end of the apron.”
On the second runway that would be completed in few months, Sanusi said the building of the runway was a very good idea, noting that currently the airport does not have huge traffic but would have such traffic in near future, looking at the exponential growth being recorded by Abuja and Lagos airports.
Sanusi added that what makes the second runway critically important is in case that the existing runway was closed due to emergency the second runway becomes a very good alternative.
“The second runway is needed, although for now the traffic is not very high. VIP movement should be connected to the second runway and taxiway should be built to connect directly to the Presidential Air Wing so that VIP aircraft can take off without using the runway for commercial and other flights. This will ease delays caused when VIP aircraft is using the runway. So, connecting taxiway to the VIP wing and to the second runway specifically will be good. A comprehensive look at the airport in planning the expansion will help greatly,” Sanusi further said.
Speaking in similar vein, the former Managing Director of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Captain Fola Akinkuotu, who is also a seasoned pilot and aircraft engineer, told THISDAY that the second runway at the Abuja airport was important because traffic at the airport is growing and that if by any possibility, the existing runway is closed, the second one will provide service to flights.
“In 2013, I think in December of that year, a cargo plane, a Boeing 747 carrying arms wanted to land ta the Abuja airport for possibly technical stop, but there was problem on the Abuja airport runway and maintenance was going on, but the aircraft landed on the runway that was under maintenance and there was severe damage to the aircraft. The aircraft blocked the runway. Part of the aircraft was on the runway and the other part was on the grass beside the runway.
“The workers who were maintaining the runway could not evacuate it. It was Julius Berger Nigeria Plc that was contacted to come and remove the aircraft after two days. So the runway was closed for two days and when the aircraft was removed it had damaged beyond repair. For those two days the President would not have gone out if he wanted to travel. He would have been stuck. So this is what makes the second runway critical. If we can have the second runway it will be good,” Akinkuotu who was also the former Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), said.
He also observed that for an airport to have a single runway “you have to prepare for all sorts of emergencies,” noting that even till now Nigeria may not have the equipment that could be used to remove wide-body aircraft from the runway in case of emergency.
On the expansion of the apron, Akinkuotu said there was need to expand the facility and expressed hope that such expansion should be part of the second runway project, as the new runway would have to connect to the apron.