Airport closure: Domestic carriers mull survival strategies 

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Light domestic airlines are putting  measures in place to keep their operations afloat in Abuja, as the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport will be closed from today.

Flights into Abuja will be diverted to Kaduna International Airport for six weeks while the 34-year-old runway is to undergo comprehensive repairs.

Part of the strategies being considered, according to the carriers, is to deplore medium-range aircraft in view of the expected drop in passenger traffic.

The airlines are Arik Air, Aero, Medview, DANA Air, First Nation , Overland, AZMAN and Air Peace. Scaling down of flights to avoid increased operating costs is also being considered.

A source close to one of the carriers hinted that the use of medium- range aircraft would save fuel cost, landing and parking fees, which are determined by aircraft weight and size as well as reduce crew.

An airline worker, who pleaded anonymity, said operators would study the passenger traffic to enable them deploy the right aircraft.

The Nation investigation revealed that the Airline Operators of Nigeria ( AON) was reaching out to the government to step support infrastructure, including aviation fuel dump at the Kaduna Airport to reduce the burden of airlines.

The AON, it was also learnt, has reached out to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria ( FAAN) on the possibility of waiving some charges at the airport during the period.

The Chief Executive Officer, Medview Airlines, Muneer Bankole, said the airline rolled out a special schedule of five daily flights from Lagos to Kaduna as a proactive measure. He said the special schedule would become effective on March 8 and end April 18.

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He said: ”With the schedule, all Medview Airline flights to Maiduguri and Yola will be routed through Kaduna Airport, but their departure and arrival time remain unchanged as well as flights originating from Lagos.

Bankole said the schedule was a proactive measure to ensure that all passengers going to Maiduguri and Yola have a seamless transition to their various destinations, while flying Abuja-bound passengers to Kaduna, adding that the airline has put in place all the necessary logistics to cope with the traffic expected into  Kaduna International Airport.

“This is a call to duty and we are equally duty bound to render uninterrupted services to air travellers on all our routes,” he said.

On its part, Arik Air has unveiled its special schedule for Kaduna Airport. Its new Chief Executive, Captain Roy Ilegbodu, said the airline will operate three daily flights between Kaduna and Lagos and one daily flight between Kaduna and Accra, Ghana.

He said Arik Air will also use Kaduna Airport to feed into other routes, including Port Harcourt, Ilorin, Sokoto, Gombe, Yola and Enugu, which will have one daily flight each. He added that the new schedule would be operated for six weeks until the  Abuja Airport is ready for flight operations.

Investigations showed that Arik Air was working hard to return some of its aircraft that were abroad for major maintenance to cater to the needs of passengers into Kaduna Airport.

Captain Ilegbodu said Arik passengers will be greeted with many more amazing customer-centric engagements in the months ahead, adding that its management was working hard to expand coverage.

He said:“Arrangements have been concluded to return five of the grounded aircraft to service shortly and this will enable us add more flights to our network. We, therefore, welcome back our loyal customers and promise them a great flying experience.”

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But new entrant in the scheduled jet operations, Bristow Helicopters, said it would not divert its flights to Kaduna. The airline said it will connect Lagos passengers meant for Abuja into Minna Airport.

The airline said effective from March 8,  it will operate a daily flight from Lagos to Minna, utilising an Embraer 135 aircraft with 37-seat capacity, saying  from Minna Airport, it would operate a helicopter shuttle service to and from Abuja airport for its customers.

“After several safety and operational reviews, we are pleased with the state of the runway and conditions of the Minna Airport, located in Niger State, North Central Nigeria.

“We will use Minna to continue the provision of seamless charter air travel to Abuja for corporate and business organisations. We want to assure our clients of continuous impeccable flight service for which the Bristow brand is synonymous,” Bristow’s  Head,  Business Development, Mayowa Babatunde, said.

He added: “From the Minna Airport, Bristow will provide helicopter shuttle services to the VIP wing of the Abuja International Airport. Two Bristow helicopters, a Sikorsky S-92 and S-76, with the capacity to fly 19 and 12 passengers respectively, will provide shuttle services between Minna Airport and Abuja International Airport.”

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