Stories by Louis Ibah
The Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja, will begin major repair and restoration work on its runway spanning the whole of February till March 8, 2017. This means the main runway of the airport which caters to both domestic and international flights, will be shut down completely throughout the six weeks duration scheduled for the rehabilitation project.
What is a runway
According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a runway is a “defined rectangular area on an airport used for the landing and takeoff of aircraft. Most runways are man-made surface (often asphalt, concrete, or a mixture of both).
In recent months, the Abuja runway of 4,000 metres-plus has been in in a very bad shape destroying the landing gears of several aircraft and posing safety concerns to crew and passenger lives, thus prompting the government to pencil it down for repair at the cost estimated at over N5billion.
According to plans unfolded by the Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, while the rehabilitation on the Abuja airport runway is on, FCT-bound traffic would be diverted to Kaduna airport, from where heavily guarded buses will convey passengers back to their destination by road in a journey of about two hours.
But that decision has been received with mixed feeling within the industry. While some stakeholders say the Minna airport would have been a better alternative in view of its nearness to Abuja and recent security issues in Kaduna State. Many are still wonering what informed the Kaduna option.
The runway of the Minna airport can accommodate aircraft whose takeoff and landing runs are within 1,000 to 2,000 metres. Others including foreign airlines that fly into Abuja insist they won’t fly into either Kaduna or Minna, but will instead, utilise the Lagos airport (which has dual runways and has served for decades as Nigeria’s hub) as their alternate airport.
According to them, all Abuja-bound flights would take-off and land at the Lagos airport, while passengers who hitherto flew out and arrived at Abuja would under the new arrangements be ferried to and from Lagos to Kaduna by local airlines of their choices. However, the outcome of this muscle flexing arrangement are yet to be seen as the airport is billed for closure next month.
The Abuja airport records an average of 4.3 million passenger traffic yearly and analysts estimate that shutting it down for about two months could result in about N20 billion loss to workers, airlines, service providers like ground handling firms, food vendors/caterer, cleaners, cab and bus drivers among others. After the Lagos airport, it is the Abuja airport that records the highest number of traffic. The large number of passengers that fly that route daily from other airports within and outside the country comprise people who visit Abuja either for commercial, socio-political, diplomatic, academic or tourism engagements on a daily basis. It therefore follows that the closure of the Abuja airport and the diversion of flights to Kaduna – or Minna airport if that option was to sail through – would cause the maximum inconveniences to passengers.
Tips to cope for passengers
Opting to travel by road while the Abuja airport rehab is going on is not really a bad idea as many have suggested they would do rather than use the Kaduna airport. But then, six weeks is indeed a long period for the hundreds of passengers who pass through the Abuja airport to contemplate a total boycott of air travel into Abuja.
As inconveniencing as it would be to enter Abuja en-route Kaduna airport, it still remains a better and faster travel option to a lot of Nigerians, especially those coming from extreme or boarder states of the country like Lagos, Bornu, Sokoto, Zamfara, Ogun, Rivers, Taraba, Akwa Ibom, and Kano.
No one can promise a real smooth flight under an emergency situation, especially one that involves a stopover where passengers have to undertake the last leg of a supposedly air trip via a 2hour bus or taxi drive. However, with the right attitude, the preparedness, and few adjustments made here and there, those passengers can still cope and keep their appointments in Abuja via the alternate airlport in Kaduna with some ease.
Book and pay early enough either at airline counters or by online platforms. For travelers who wish to catch early morning appointments, a flight that arrives Kaduna between 7.30am and 8.30am would be the most appropriate if you have to journey the next two hours into Abuja FCT. That already gives an idea of a rush for those early morning flights. Knowing your actual travel date and booking early enough is therefore very critical. Know what time your flights take off.
It may sound like the most obvious travel advice in the world, but it’s amazing how many people don’t actually bother to check the exact departure times of their flights. This time, particularly for passengers who would have to make the journey first from Abuja to Kaduna, it is adviceable for them not to base their airport travel plans on hazy recollections of what was obtainable at the Abuja airport.
Instead, make sure you keep your flight tickets in a safe and easily accessible place so you calculate appropriately and know what time to reach Kaduna airport for the onward journey to your final destination either within or outside the country. On a similar note, make sure you get to the airport in good time, leaving plenty of allowance for possible check-in delays or long queues going through Customs and Immigration.
Book an airport transfer well in advance.
Once you’ve sorted out the exact time of your flight departure, make sure you also have a definite plan on how you’re actually going to get to Kaduna airport. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend or family member who can drive you then that’s fine. But if you’re going to rely on one of those shuttle buses the government says would be made available, make sure you confirm their departure time and that it fits perfectly with your departure time too so that you don’t miss the flight. Or you can book a taxi well in advance of your flight day.
This is the first time that the Abuja airport would be shut down with an alternate airport being utilised. And for such a novel experiment, passengers must not fail to anticipate emergency situations and as such must make extra budgetary provisions. For instance, a delayed departure on a flight heading from any of Nigeria’s airport to Kaduna could create safety or security situations that warrant spending a night in a hotel in Kaduna. And there could also be emergency situations like dealing with a broken down cab or taxi along the Kaduna – Abuja road and having to get to hire another vehicle. Both emergencies would certainly come at extra cost.
New AIB boss pledges better staff training
Newly appointed Commissioner/CEO of Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Mr. Akin Olateru, has pledged to invest massively in the training and retraining of staff to boost their capabilities and competences on the job. Olateru who was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari, a fortnight ago, takes over from Dr. Felix Abali who was recently remove by the presidency. In a speech at the handing-over ceremony at the AIB’s headquarters at the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos Olateru lauded the achievements recorded by the immediate past Commissioner, Dr. Felix Abali, noting that he improved the quality of infrastructure at the parastatal more then he met it.
Olateru said that his vision as the AIB’s new boss would be to strive to make it the biggest and the best parastatal in the nation’s aviation industry. He also promised to make training a priority for all staff, stressing that through this, their technical know-how would improve greatly. He said I have heard a lot about AIB. I know it is the smallest in the ministry, but, before the end of my tenure, I will ensure that the agency becomes the biggest of all. That’s my mission,” he said.
“However, for that to happen, I will require the maximum cooperation of all staff. I can’t do it alone, but we are here to make it happen. It is for the benefit of all staff of AIB if we can make this organisation to work. It’s not about size sometimes, but about efficiency and effectiveness.
“This is a new dawn and I am begging everyone to give this new administration a chance. Whatever that has happened in the past, let it be in the past.
Aviation is highly technical, very expensive and the most regulated in the world. At the end of the day, we are all going to be happy because everyone will go on training and more opportunities would be given to people,” he added.
Earlier, Abali commended the entire staff for their support towards him as the Commissioner of the agency and called on them to support the new administration.
He also appealed to management and the entire staff to cooperate with the new CEO in order for him to achieve his vision and propel the agency forward.
AON lauds appointment of operators as CEOs of regulatory parastatals
The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has lauded the Federal Government for its recent appointments of two top airline Managing Directors/CEOs to head regulatory agencies in the nation’s aviation sector. The two operators turned regulators in a major shake-up announced a fortnight ago by the government include the erstwhile Managing Director/CEO of Aero Contractors, Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, a pilot and aeronautical engineer who was named the new Managing Director/CEO of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).
The other is the new Commissioner/CEO of the Accident and Investigation Bureau (AIB), Mr. Akin Olateru, an aircraft maintenance engineer, who until his appoitment was the Managing Director/CEO of Omni-Blu Aviation Limited, a private airline granted an Air Operators’ Certificate by the NCAA in December 2015. With dwindling government revenues, the two CEOs are expected to bring the wealth of experience from the private sector to assist in re engineering the two agencies and making them better managed, more profitable and efficient in service delivery to the public, especially the airline industry where they hitherto were operators.
Chairman of AON, Capt, Nogie Meggison, in a statement thanked the Federal Government and the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, for appointing the two members of the AON to serve as Chief Executive Officers of the two important parastatals in the industry. “Their appointment is quite encouraging and a display of government’s confidence in the ability and experience of these fine gentlemen to take the two agencies to greater heights,” Meggison said.
Meanwhile rising from its 2016 Annual General Meeting and Elections held recently at its Secretariat in Lagos, the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has announced that it has inaugurated a new Executive Council to pilot the activities of the association for the next two years.
The Chief Executive Officer of Jedidiah Air Limited (JedAir), Capt. Nogie Meggison, was once again elected as Chairman for a second term having served out his initial first term. Alhaji Abdulmunaf Yunusa Sarina, Chairman of Azman Airlines was unanimously elected as Vice Chairman, while Capt. Chimara Imediegwu, Director of Flight Operations with First Nation Airways was returned as the Financial Controller of the AON.