FREEPRESS – Ahead of the planned closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport runway, Abuja for repairs in February and March, there is a looming loss of revenue by the aviation sector.
Concerned stakeholders, who faulted the alternative provisions that include diversion of traffic to Kaduna airport, said the move would bring much discomfort to air travellers and foreign airlines especially, forcing many to temporarily quit air travel to the northern part of the country.
With airlines and passengers quitting the region, revenue accruing to the regulatory agencies and ancillary services will drop, making required operations further difficult.
The Abuja runway of 4000 metres-plus has been in a bad shape in the last couple of months and was in December 2016 penciled for repair at the cost of N1billion. At least three foreign airlines, including South African Airways, have had their wide-body aircraft damaged in the process of landing on the runway.
While the repair would last for at least six weeks, the Minister of State for Aviation announced that the runway would be closed and traffic diverted to Kaduna airport, from where buses will take passengers back to Abuja in a two-hour road journey.
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 that the Kaduna airport would not be able to cope with the traffic that would be coming in, in terms of all the fixed-wing aircraft.
He said: “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 travelling public. They will be the ones that will be the worst of.”
The chairman recalled that the John F. Kennedy in New York, United States, one of the busiest airports in the world, does its maintenance at night when the traffic is least and never completely shut down a runway.
Aviation Security Consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu, said that the choice of Kaduna for air traffic diversion would scare most of the foreign airlines away.
Ojikutu said that with the security issues in the northern parts of the country, none of the American and European airlines will fly to Kaduna.
“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 conflicts, in such a way as they will be used as scapegoats. So, they would rather go to Lagos to land,” he said.
The Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika, will on Thursday engage the industry’s stakeholders on issues arising from the proposed closure of the airport.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Sirika, who disclosed this in a statement issued in Abuja yesterday, said the meeting would afford him the opportunity to officially inform the sector’s players of the decision.
Meanwhile, despite the challenges facing the nation’s aviation sector, it has attained a higher level of rating which now places it among the world leaders in terms of safety.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) yesterday said that the country climbed to Level 3 in State Safety Programme (SSP) Implementation Process, and is now on the same rating with the United States of America, United Kingdom and other countries.
The development will boost stakeholders’ confidence in the industry, thereby increasing the business of the sector and bringing more revenue to airlines and government agencies.
The Spokesman of the apex regulatory body, Sam Adurogboye, explained that the categorisation was dependent on the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) that tracks the SSP implementation process of member states via its Integrated Safety Trend Analysis and Reporting System (iSTARS).
“Member states in tandem, therefore, deploy this platform to undertake gap analysis, define their action plans and benchmark their progress. Only two member states–Australia and Sri Lanka–have achieved a full implementation of the SSP according to ICAO records. Nigeria is striving to achieve Level 4, which will be 100 per cent, by the end of 2017,” he said.
The SSP process is inaugurated in member countries in compliance with the ICAO requirements as contained in Annex 19 on Safety Management. Nigeria’s advanced level has put its SSP implementation process among those of states that have defined an action plan for all non-implemented gap questions.
Adurogboye said Nigeria had completed its gap analysis and implemented 43.6 per cent of the required SSP tasks.
“In addition, the country has developed a detailed action plan for the accomplishment of the outstanding tasks with an established and approved timeline.
“In pursuant of the above, Nigeria has commenced the implementation of the SSP processes and has achieved several milestones. These include the completion of the SSP gap analysis and the establishment of the Implementation Plan approved by the Director-General (DG) of NCAA.
“Other completed SSP tasks are the official authorisation of the D-G of NCAA as the accountable executive of the SSP and the designation of the NCAA as the placeholder organisation of the SSP in Nigeria by the Minister of State (Aviation), Hadi Sirika.”
Adurogboye said that with this achievement, the NCAA would continue to ensure that air transportation in Nigeria is seamless and secure at all times.
He, therefore, urged airline operators to adhere to all safety regulations as contained in the Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations (Nig.CARs).