The Federal Government has approved N1 billion for the repair of the runway at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.The runway of the second busiest airport in Nigeria has been a source of embarrassment to the country, hence the need to immediately resurface it for the use of wide-body aircraft.
The Guardian yesterday learnt that the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, has set up a committee to oversee the rehabilitation, which would have traffic diverted to Kaduna aerodrome.
It will be recalled that stakeholders in the last couple of months had appealed to the government and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to fix the runway and save foreign airlines the trauma of using the facility.
About two months ago, a South African Airways aircraft damaged its engine as it landed at the Abuja airport. Airlines with wide-bodied aircraft have since avoided the facility. Among them are Emirates and Kenya Airways.
FAAN said the runway was in a bad state due to over-use, adding that efforts to build an alternative were underway.The committee is expected to schedule the maintenance dates, which will run for some weeks. Bidders for the project are Gilmore, Julius Berger and PW. The awardee might be decided this week.
A director in FAAN said: “Government is making urgent effort to start the rehabilitation of the runway at the Abuja airport and government has provided funds for the work, which could start anytime from now.
“After the committee’s final presentation to the minister, he would be expected to discuss with the National Security Adviser (NSA) to agree on the date work would start on the runway.”The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) will certify the project in 2017.
FAAN’s Acting General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Henrietta Yakubu, confirmed the rehabilitation plan, noting that all efforts were being made to ensure the runway was restored to international standards.
The Federal Government, meanwhile, is set to float a new national carrier. It will also concession four major airports. Both are expected to attract a yearly passenger flow of 60 million.According to experts, the traffic target, which quadruples the current air travellers yearly figure of 15 million, is enough to attract new jobs and huge revenue for the ailing industry.
Meeting with various workers’ unions, operators and regulators of the aviation sector in Lagos, late Saturday, Sirika said the projection was the motivation behind the Federal Government’s plan for a national carrier and invitation to private investors to transform the fortunes of the airports.
In a related development, Sirika has dismissed claims that Ghana, through its transformation of Kotoka International Airport in Accra and slash in aviation fuel price, has beaten Nigeria to the position of West African aviation hub.
Addressing the stakeholders, Sirika said: “Nigeria is currently doing a total of five million passengers from Abuja and 15 million nationwide. But if we have the best airports, very strong carrier out of Nigeria, and a very good leasing company to fund it, and a very good financing system to augment the insurance and give confidence, then we will have a new aviation sector.”
He added: “Figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and other experts including the World Bank, show that the sector is growing at the rate of five per cent per annum and doubling at every 15 years. But because the potential in Nigeria has not been harnessed, the fact is that the figures will quadruple; multiply four times, which means that from the outset, once these airports are in place and the carrier is flying, we will multiply 15 by four and that is 60 million passengers. That is what is waiting to be tapped.”