Abuja airport closure: Airlines, stakeholders in last minute rush to beat deadline

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By Louis Ibah, Uche Usim, Abuja and Sola Ojo, Kaduna

Forty-eight hours to the March 7th closure of Abuja International Airport for major repair works on its runway, airline operators, ground services providers, transporters, caterers, immigration, police, Customs and other security personnel are now in last minute rush to temporarily vacate the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) for the Kaduna Airport.

According to the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authoirty of Nigeria (FAAN), Mr. Salleh Dunoma, the Kaduna International Airport will serve as the alternate for NAIA as from March 8, till the completion of the rehabilitation on April 19, 2017.

Although the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) says it has put in place the facilities that will ensure the safety and security of all airport users and seamless facilitation at the Kaduna International Airport, investigations by Daily Sun reveal that the Kaduna Airport is still far from meeting or matching the quality of infrastructure provided at both the Lagos and Abuja airports.

When Daily Sun visited Kaduna Airport yesterday for an on-the-spot assessment of facilities put in place for the smooth running of flight operations some civil and electrical works were still ongoing at the airport. In the same way, work on the 5.1 kilometres link road from the Kaduna Airport to the railway terminal located at Rigasa, Igabi Local Government Area of the state was ongoing.

At the Abuja airport, Daily Sun found out that most of the local airlines and ground handling companies like Sahcol and Nahcol are already shuttling between Abuja and Kaduna airports as they plan the last leg of their operations into NAIA. Similarly, many of the shop owners at NAIA were winding down in preparations for relocation to Kaduna.

However, while popular European airlines like British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and others have rejected Kaduna as an alternate airport because of huge logistics challenges, Nigerian airlines are making last minute arrangements, including re-planning their schedules to fit into the new reality, which is expected to last for six weeks.

An airport taxi operator, Agwu Agbai told Daily Sun that a majority of his colleagues have moved to Kaduna Airport, leaving only few of them behind. Even as the loss of Abuja airport to repairs is huge gain for Kaduna as the Federal Government had in December 2016, approved over N1.9 billion for the upgrade of the aerodrome.

Aside that, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) has equally spent over N2 billion to fix decrepit facilities that would make air services seamless and safe for the carriers. Some of the airlines said they would reduce their flight frequencies to the alternate airport, which is Kaduna, because not many passengers travelling to Abuja would want to land there for security reasons.

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