After six weeks of closure, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja came alive yesterday as airlines, ground handling, catering and other aviation industry allied logistic firms, mobilised personnel and equipment for the resumption of commercial activities. To make it better, the airport’s runway rehabilitation was completed ahead of schedule. This reality has no doubt elated a lot of stakeholders including the travelling public who were not completely hopeful about timely completion of such project by government considering perennial underperformance.
Media reports suggest that local and foreign airlines had commenced the sales of air tickets to passengers about two weeks ago ahead of the airport resumption on April 19. An industry official on Sunday confirmed that airlines and ground handling companies like Nahco and Sahcol had begun the relocation of staff and equipment from the Kaduna Airport, which had served as the alternate to the NAIA for the past six weeks.
This is coming just as some local airlines announced and resumed scheduled flight on Wednesday. For example, one of the airlines in a statement said, “Air Peace is pleased to announce resumption of all our flights into and out of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport with effect from Wednesday, April 19,” said the airline’s spokesman, Mr. Chris Iwarah. Also, another company stated thus “as Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, reopens on Wednesday to air traffic, Medview Airline is resuming with six daily flights to the nation’s capital,” the airline’s Chief Operating Officer/Accountable Manager (COO/AM), Mr. Lookman Animashaun, said.
“Besides the six daily flights, the flights to Yola, Kano, and Maiduguri will now be routed through Abuja, which has been the practice,” it added. A top official of South African Airways, one of the foreign airlines that ply the Abuja route but refused to fly into the Kaduna airport, told Daily Sun that the airline would only announce its resumption of flights into Abuja Airport after the Easter holiday. Of course the first international flight to land in Abuja is the Ethiopian airline which flew into the airport a day ahead of schedule. It must be noted that Ethiopian airline has cooperated with Nigeria admirably. It was the only international flight that landed in Kaduna when Abuja was closed.
Meanwhile, the Aviation Round Table (ART) has lauded the Federal Government for the timely completion of the rehabilitation of the Abuja airport runway. “We in ART salute the Minister of Aviation and his agencies for living true to its promise to deliver Abuja run way on schedule…,” said the ART President, Mr. Gabriel Olowo. “It is our prayer that such purposeful actions is sustained in the sector as we demand that Aviation delivers one per cent of Nigeria GDP by 2020 as against the present meagre 0.4 per cent,” he added.
Surely like the ART has stated, Nigeria must take advantage of its size and resources to invest in aviation with a view to sustaining growth in the sector. There are still employment opportunities in their thousands waiting to be activated or tapped. The speed with which the runway was concluded ahead of schedule should be replicated within and outside the sector. Nigeria is deficit in delivery of infrastructure across all sectors. The embarrassment is massive. For Abuja airport, it is important for the government to immediately commence the construction of a second runway. The same way it should begin the construction of a third and fourth runway in the Lagos airport.
There is no way we should name an airport international without such facility having at least two runways. This is the time, therefore, to upgrade the international airports in Port Harcourt, Enugu, Kano and Kaduna. Just like the government took advantage of the runway repairs to upgrade facilities in Abuja, this is the time to select international airports and upgrade the aesthetics, ambience, terminal building and other facilities within these airports. An airport is supposed to be a tourist haven; ours should not be an exception. Indeed, tolls could be collected from tourists if the airports are well built.
We commend the minister of State Aviation who in fact put his job on the line to ensure that this runway is reconstructed. Recall that the Federal government had shut down the airport for six weeks March 8 – April 19, 2017 to allow for the rehabilitation of the runway which had been posing serious threat to safe landing and take-off of aircraft for almost a year.