UNIONS under the aegis of the 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), have written President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) asking him the halt the proposed closure of the Abuja Airport for six weeks.According to the unions in a letter signed by Com. (Barr.) Frances Akinjole, Comrade Aba Ocheme and Comrade Olayinka OluAbioye, the Head of Secretariat, ATSSSAN and the General Secretaries of NAAPE and NUATE respectively, total closure of any international airport, particularly Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja in an ailing economy like Nigeria’s will be counter-productive at this period.
The Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja is scheduled for closure for government to commence repairs of the runway at that airport from March 8, 2017 to April 19, 2017 which has a safety implication and has also cost airlines millions in repairs.
The unions however feel “that total closure of the airport should be the last option in repairing the international airport’s runway” and being an operational issue, the onus ought to have been on the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) rather than what currently is.
Reeling out their suggestions on the way to go, the unions stated that: “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. Why should Nigeria’s case be different?”
The unions explained to Mr. President that in their view, the proposed exercise is a reactive formula and one that can be achieved without total shutdown of the International airport as the consequential effect of such total closure will impact negatively on the already dire economic environment of Nigeria, given the dependence of several low and middle-income earners on aviation business in and around Abuja airport.
“ Further to this, aviation parastatals/agencies shall be deprived of their internally generated revenue during this period while some low business operators will lose their business completely and forever. We do not wish to believe that your government will set out to jeopardize the livelihood of its citizens at such dire time as this.”
The unions also said that the roles of handling companies such as the Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL) and Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) have not been given any consideration in spite of their importance to handling operations of the airlines.
Apart from the economic implications, the unions pointed out that the minister has no control over securities in and around Kaduna as they were not within his briefs and decried the sidelining of aviation agencies in the whole process.
He said, “ It is very disturbing that it is the Minister of State, Aviation who is assuring of adequate security and good roads around and about Kaduna and Abuja and in between when these services are outside his purview and control. It is equally disturbing that the agencies in charge of airport operation (FAAN), navigational aids (NAMA), and regulation (NCAA) have been completely sidelined by the Minister. Whereas the hands-on personnel are very pessimistic about these things in private, the Hon. Minister speaks so loftily about same in public. Who should be listened to?”
“ In the final analysis, can the airlines be dictated to on operational and business issues? Will the airlines sell Abuja tickets and drop the passengers in Kaduna? How does the life assurance on the ticket cover a passenger between Kaduna and Abuja by road?”
“ Ultimately, won’t the final deciding factor be the passenger? Would one like to pay a higher fare to Kaduna and after all the usual delays in flight be subjected to another trauma of road transport to Abuja from Kaduna for about three hours when the person can set out by road and get to destination in less than eight hours overall?”