By Wednesday March 8, Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport Abuja will be closed for six weeks so that the Federal Government can begin the repair work of the decrepit runway.
During this period, the Kaduna International Airport will serve as alternative for Abuja bound flights, and of course additional two-hour-journey for passengers to get to their destinations.
This is a decision stakeholders in the aviation industry have vehemently criticized, saying it is an awkward arrangement to close the second busiest airport in the country for six weeks.
Aviation experts are of the views that the repair work could be done in the midnight while flight activities go on during the day.
Some even suggested that the repair of the runway could be divided into two sections so that when one is under repair, the other could service the airplane.
However, it appears that the stakeholders’ suggestions will not change the decision of the Federal Government as it has concluded arrangement to move in heavy equipment to site for the repair work.
Beside the fact that the cost of travelling to Abuja will rise, which obviously would be shared between the passengers and airline operators, both local and international, there are so many factors experts believe the government has failed to consider.
While considering, which airport could be the best alternative for the NAIA, the government had considered Plateau, Kwara and Niger States.
Ordinarily, one had thought that Minna Airport would serve the purpose better, judging by his proximity to Abuja but findings showed that the Minna-Abuja Road was in deplorable condition and would not serve.
Now passengers will have to travel two hours from Kaduna to Abuja and this is so because the Kaduna/Abuja Road is the best among other options.
But to many passengers, the problems that come with the choice of Kaduna go beyond distance; it encompasses how they will get to their destinations without facing the menace of banditry and kidnapping that have pervaded the Kaduna-Abuja Road recently.
It asks the questions of what effort the government has put in place to secure the lives and property of heavy traffic of people who will be plying this road on a daily basis.
Like other roads across the country, Kaduna-Abuja Expressway is unsafe with records of banditry and kidnapping.
As a matter of fact, communal and religious crises have permeated the peaceful existence of the city in the recent time, making it imperative for government to take security in the area very serious now that it will receive thousands of passengers in the next six weeks.
But as it is, there are no indications that the Federal Government is taking steps to check the imminent robbery, murder and kidnapping that the repair of NAIA might bring to Kaduna-Abuja Road.
Shortly after she was conducted round the NAIA runway, Abuja a few months ago, the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika said that safety and security is a priority of the present administration and that the government would have to repair the runway to save many lives.
She explained that the government had since met with all stakeholders and that they are cooperating to ensure that the repair work is done.
As she put it, “We’ve held a meeting with all stakeholders and we all agreed that partial closure wouldn’t address the rut on ground. So, it’s total closure. We’ve looked at it critically.
The four levels of structure for that runway are gone. All I can assure airlines and other users of the NAIA is that the closure won’t exceed an hour on the scheduled day of reopening. All what we need for the repairs will be on ground.
But the position of the National Assembly is that the government should partially close the runway to allow for skeletal operations.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Hope Uzodinma made this suggestion to agree with Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) and many aviation consultants, who insist the major repairs, can be done at night without complete closure of the airport.
AON Chairman, Capt. Noggie Meggison, advised the government to carry out the rehabilitation in a manner that only about half of the runway would be closed allowing smaller airplanes to land on the other half.
In all these, nobody has raised the question of passengers’ security against banditry, kidnapping and probable road accident, which comes with this kind of arrangement.