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A portion of the damaged Abuja Airport runway being inspected by aviation authorites

Abuja Airport Closure: Why government needs to rescind the decision

THE recent debate that has mired the closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Runway in controversy with professionals and experts taking either side of the divide on where air traffic be diverted to has left the layman wondering.

The recent conclusion of the stakeholders forum in Abuja saw government force its decision down the throat of everyone with the diversion to Kaduna Airport after concluding the Abuja airport will be shut down from March 8, 2017 to April 19, 2017.

Many stakeholders have aired views contrary to that of government, with most of them proposing that Minna Airport is even a better choice as an alternative airport to Abuja while others are of the opinion that the Abuja Airport needs not be shut down for repairs to be carried out as this can be done as it is all over the world, throughout the night.

Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja

In the last two months, stakeholders have come up with theories like the Kaduna airport runway is longer than Minna while others have said that Minna has no terminal facility to handle passengers.

While there are certain truths to some of the argument, a vast majority of what is touted in the public space have been outright propaganda and some blatant untruths meant to sway to either one side or another for sentimental reasons.

For the avoidance of doubt, it is pertinent to set some of the record straight by comparing some misconceptions with the facts so those in authority can draw real data which nigerianflightdeck.com feels should be at their disposal.

At the stakeholders forum, the minister had expressed government’s desire to spend N1billion to put the Kaduna Airport in order, a bill that of recent has increased to N1.1billion. According to him, Kaduna runway is about 3000/45metres with 10.5m shoulders and an apron of 400/120m enabling it to accommodate six Boeing 737 and two Boeing 747.

And many stakeholders have latched on to this stating that the Kaduna runway is better equipped to handle international flights than the Minna runway.

However, latest data obtained from Jeppesen, which most top aviators subscribe to for operations and updated before this publication was written, the Minna airport has equally good landing facilities as Kaduna if made serviceable.

The publication shows that Minna Airport runway is 11,155feet or 3,400metres a shortage of Abuja Airport’s runway of 11, 844feet an equivalent of 3, 610 metres but this is still far more than the Kaduna Airport proposed for the alternative which has a runway spanning 9, 843 fleets or 3,000metres making Minna the better landing runway.

Minna Airport exact scale at 11,155feet or 3,400metres
Kaduna Airport Runway exact scale at 9, 843 fleets or 3,000metres

Then there is the issue of navigational facilities, the Kaduna Airport has a  Very High Frequency Omni-directional Radio, VOR but according to an inside source government is expediting deployment of DVORs to the airport which could equally have been installed in Minna Airport.

There is also a serviceable Instrument Landing System (ILS) in the airport as well as a locator to aid navigation and landing.

The Minna airport also has a serviceable VOR, ILS as well as Non-Directional Beacon (NDB).

In a telephone conversation with Nigerianflightdeck.com, a source who pleaded anonymity  had said that already the Very High Frequency Omni Directional Radio Range (VOR) system in Kaduna is one of the best in the country but that as it stands the Precision approach Lighting system and ILS currently in use are both category one.

He however said the localizer in the Kaduna airport and some other facilities were not working adequately thus making a case for the Use of the Minna Airport which was supposedly built originally as the alternative for the Abuja Airport.

The source explained that Minna Airport would have been better because the airport had all the Navigational facilities , adequate VOR and an excellent ILS with one of the best runways but that the airport has a small terminal building.

Then there is also the fact that the Minna terminal, if there is any cannot handle the capacity of flights coming in as opposed to the Kaduna airport that has some investment.

Also arguments were put forward on the issue of going by road from either airports (Kaduna or Minna) to Abuja and the truth is that by road both airports are bad choices and although Minna is closer to Abuja by road it is in far worse state than the road from Kaduna to Abuja. Airport transfer cannot be that far in any case.

However, in all of these, the joint aviation unions in a letter to the president has put forward a valid argument which is tested and tenable, used all over the world and proven effective.

The unions,  Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) and the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), wrote President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) asking him the halt the proposed closure of the Abuja Airport for six weeks.

They argued that it was counterproductive and an anti- economic boost calling for repairs to be carried out from dusk to dawn as it is done everywhere in the world.

Julius Berger’s claim that they have to close it totally is an indication of weak capacity and perhaps they will not even deliver on the 6 weeks if eventually they close the airport. There are available technology to reconstruct the runway to brand without total shutdown and there is less danger than closing and diverting to a smaller airport.

“An additional runway should be effectively considered for construction as a long-term measure while the subsisting one is continued to be put in use, under some phased reconstruction; skeletal repairs of the runway could be adopted by allowing the airport for use likely between 6.00am and 6.00pm while fixing of the major damaged portions of the runway continues during the nights, as has been done in several parts of the world.”

Nigerianflightdeck.com subscribes to this argument pointing out that it has been done in Newcastle, Heathrow, Dubai  and other major airports around the world and even in areas where natural phenomenon like heavy snow falls, repairs of this nature is still carried out and so how is Nigeria different?

Why should a country shut down an entire airport to carry out repairs knowing full that airports when opened are never closed even when there is a crash traffic is suspended for a while to clear debris and after that another flight commences. The seat of Government to be isolated from quick response is equally a scary game will foreign missions feel safe to be locked in for all this while It is left for the time to come for us to see.

It is public knowledge, especially around aviation circles, that materials made for runway are quick drying and hardly needs more than an hour to dry up once used to resurface the runway and so we ask, why shut down the entire airport and disrupt the balance of things especially as that runway has been bad for almost 10 years.

If repairs and maintenance were carried out regularly on these runways, the country would never have gotten to this position where it has to close an entire airport. If the ideal thing had been done, build second runway, this could also not have been an issue. All countries with the Might Nigeria has, do have at least 2 runways in important cities like Abuja is to Nigeria.

Government should hurriedly do a rethink and reverse itself or be prepared to face a fire sale in the airport sense of the word, it is not about politicking on what airport is right or wrong for an alternative but to do the simple things that can get Abuja up and running instead of complicating the situation.

This editorial is the opinion of nigerianflightdeck.com

About NigerianFlightDeck

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Nigerianflightdeck is an online news and magazine platform reporting business stories with a bias for aviation and travel. It is borne out of the intention to inform, educate as well as alter perceptions with balanced reportage.

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