By Favour Nnabugwu & Emmanuel Elebeke
Abuja—The federal government yesterday officially announced the closure of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
Disclosing this at a joint world press conference, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said all was now set for flight operations at the newly rehabilitated Kaduna airport.
The Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja,
The Minister, who spoke in company of his colleagues from the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi and Senator Hadi Sirika, as well as, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, insisted that the temporary closure of the airport was in the best interest of the country.
He said the closure would help to save lives, adding that there was no alternative to the closure of the airport when compared to the risk of losing lives.
He said: “As you are all aware, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, will be shut from the midnight of Tuesday March 7, 2017 to Wednesday, March 8 for the purpose of repairing the failed portion of the airport runway.
‘’During that time, Abuja flights will be diverted to Kaduna. On Friday, the Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, inspected the Kaduna airport and the railway station to ascertain the state of readiness
“The summary of the finding is that while the airport may not be 100 per cent ready, by the time Abuja airport is shut, it will, indeed, be suitable enough.
“You are also aware that repair work has been completed on Kaduna-Abuja road to ensure a smooth passage for Abuja bound passengers who land at Kaduna airport.”
In his remarks, Rotimi Amechi said: “What we are doing is rebuilding of Abuja runway and not rehabilitation. The runway has damaged due to long years of neglect. For us, there is no alternative to the closure and reconstruction of the airport to allow for proper reconstruction within the specified period of time.”
On logistics, the Minister of transport explained that adequate transportation arrangement had been put in place to ensure a seamless movement of passengers on the road, rail and air transportation.
Asked about the increase in the rail transport fare and provision of additional coaches to ease the anticipated traffic, Amaechi said: “We increased the train fare because we spend over N50 million per month . If we cannot get another source of subsidising the fare, it will be difficult to run the system.
The Federal government had on January 7, announced an increase of the train fare from Abuja to Kaduna from N600 to N1,050 for economy passengers, while VIP passengers now pay N1,500, against the initial N900.
It had earlier announced plans for temporal closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja from midnight of March 7 for a period of six weeks, after which the airport will be re-opened for operation again. Due to the temporal closure, it announced that Kaduna International Airport will serve as the alternative from 8th March, till the completion of the rehabilitation. Normal operation is expected to commence at the Abuja airport on the 19th April, 2017.
Also speaking on the closure, the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Sirika, said all pending works at Kaduna airport had been completed as at Monday, including the ceiling of the protocol and VIP lounge and lighting works.
On the number of airline operators that have agreed to fly to Kaduna, Sirika said only Ethiopia Airline had so far agreed, while discussions with the British airline and Lufthansa were still ongoing.
He said: ‘So far, only Ethiopia Airline has agreed to fly to Kaduna after assessing the airport and confirmed the standard of the upgrade. They only asked us to put lighting facility which we did.
‘’We are still talking to Lufthansa and British airlines and by evening, we will know how many international airlines that will be flying the Kaduna route.”
On the cost of reconstructing the runway, he said the contract was in excess of N5 billion,, adding that no amount to be spent in the course of closing the Abuja airport could equate the loss of any life.