As stakeholders converge on Abuja tomorrow, January 5 to discuss the proposed closure of the Abuja Airport for the rehabilitation of its runway, there is apprehensive among them regarding the decision to diverted traffic to Kaduna Airport instead of Minna.
They are of the view that apart from being safer, Minna Airport is closer to Abuja than the Kaduna Airport.
They are also worried that the minister of state for aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, had already decided on the alternate aerodrome instead of meeting with the stakeholders first to get their input on the matter.
The managing director of Centurion Securities, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (Retd) said if the Abuja Airport runway were rehabilitated four years earlier, the situation would not be as bad as it is today.
“Must we divert Abuja traffic to Kaduna? Why can’t the Minna Airport serve the purpose for the local flights? After all it is closer to Abuja than Kaduna. The runway (Minna) will still accommodate aircraft whose takeoff and landing runs are within 1000 to 2000 metres.
Ojikutu said that the choice of Kaduna for air traffic diversion would scare most of the foreign airlines away.
“Those that will bear the consequences of the rehabilitation are the international flights,” he said.
With security issues in some part of the north, Ojikutu doubted whether American and European carriers would fly to Kaduna.
“While the domestic airlines may find Kaduna airport convenient, the current security threats in that state may not make the airport attractive to the foreign airlines particularly those from the EU and US.
“My only worry is that they want to use Kaduna for traffic and I ask the question, ‘why can’t they use Minna?’ Minna may not be as good as Kaduna, but a 737 can land in Minna.
“For them to want to use Kaduna for foreign airlines, I have my doubts that the airlines will go there. It is for security reasons. The way security is built in the north is different from how we have built it here.
“If the people that are creating problems all over the place want to draw world attention to themselves; they will go to that place and create the problem. The Americans and European airlines have their minds on that.
“They do not want a situation where they would be brought into the conflict in such a way as they will be used as scapegoats. So, they would rather go to Lagos to land,” he said.
Also speaking, the chairman, governing board of the Nigerian Aviation Safety Initiative (NASI), Capt. Dung Pam, said though temporary closure of the runway was for safety concerns, the effects would be too huge on the already troubled sector.
Pam said Kaduna Airport does not have the capacity to cope with the anticipated traffic.
“It is going to be a serious dislocation of the nexus of our air travel system. Every major airport in the country connects to Abuja and Lagos. So, to have that place completely shut down for six weeks will be a huge blow to the travelling public. They will be the ones that will be worst off,” he said.
On the runway rehabilitation Ojikutu said: “The rehabilitation of Abuja Airport runway is coming rather too late based on the initial attempt to do so about four years ago.
My worry is that the runway, like those in other airports, has no safety management programmes which should include regular surface cleaning depending on the number of landings.
“There had been and there is a proposal to build a second Abuja runway where the average landing per annum including that of Lagos is much less than 10 per cent of the landings at Heathrow Airport.
If there had been a safety management programmes for these runways, Abuja situation would not be as critical as we have been told.”