Uche Usim, Abuja
Following reported plans by the Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika to downgrade the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu over safety breaches by various stakeholders, players in the Enugu Free Trade Zone (EFTZ) at the weekend said they have met all certification requirements to attain safety compliant status.
They also expressed willingness to work with the Ministry of Aviation in addressing all concerns over the proximity of one of the units of the free zone to the airport.
In a statement to the media, the Enugu Power Free Zone Company (Enpower FZC) which manages the free trade zone called for cohesion among stakeholders not only to address fresh safety concerns at the airport, but to clear misconceptions over the well-conceived aviation facility development and growth plans that informed location of the free trade zone close to the airport.
The statement came in reaction to media reports crediting the Minister of Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, with statements that federal government was considering downgrading the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, to local status and subsequently shut it down on safety concerns.
Mr. Sirika is reported to have listed major safety concerns at the airport to include bad runway, state radio mast on landing approach to the runway, location of EFTZ at the end of the runway, and threats of bird strikes from an abattoir at a nearby market.
Chairman of Enpower FZC, Mr. Emeka Ene, who stated that the reports of the minister’s comments have already triggered panic among international investors that have already staked interests in the free trade zone, said the company and Enugu State government are already working to address all concerns raised by the minister, including mast removal and market relocation.
He however clarified that the EFTZ which is the only such facility in the South East zone of the country is eminently certified compliant to Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 14 regulations for Aerodrome Safety and Height restrictions.
Independent checks showed that the Enugu Free Trade Zone was approved by the Federal Government in 2015 and the registration and operating licenses issued by Nigerian Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA) to operate as a free trade zone following a rigorous evaluation process spanning over 7 years.
“The EFTZ, situated on two sites at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport and at the Ninth Mile Area, was established since 2015 by the Federal Government and not the State Government as reported by the media, after rigorous engagement with NEPZA, the Ministry of Investment, and regulatory authorities under the Ministry of Aviation to ensure compliance to international Free Zone best practices and aviation regulations,” Mr. Ene said.
He said safety and quality audits conducted on the facility by federal government regulators recognized the importance of aviation safety and international compliance to proximity of the Free zone.
“As a result of this engagement, the Free zone provided for all relevant specifications of Aerodrome Approach distances, setbacks, RESA, height restrictions in compliance with NCAA and ICAO Annex 14 international aviation regulations. Although the Enugu Airport is not a Category 2 airport, Enpower FTZ provided for setback and Aircraft inner approach distances in compliance with a more advanced Category 2 airport,” he explained.
In providing details of safety compliance considerations taken for location of the free zone, he explained that Inner Approach length provided at the Enugu airport surpassed all existing lengths at other airports in the country, including Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt airports.
Independent checks showed that inner approach lengths at Kaduna Airport are 817 meters and 880 meters; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, has 840 meters and 880 meters; Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, has 1000 meters and 1290 meters; Port Harcourt International Airport has 969 meters and 832 meters; while the Enpower FTZ, working with FAAN and NCAA, provided for over 1000 meters on the free zone side of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.
EFTZ says it has been part of a committee set by the Enugu State government to address all issues of encroachment related to the Enugu airport, adding that other members of the committee include FAAN, NCAA, Ministry of Aviation, NEPZA, and agencies of the Enugu State Government.
The company stated that it has also worked closely with the Enugu State government and FAAN to remove all obstructing masts and relocate the market on the Emene side of the runway.
Beyond domestic regulation, the Commercial Attaché to the US Embassy in Lagos, Brent Omdahl and his team had on a visit to the site of the Free zone in 2017 commended the efforts of the State and Federal Governments in approving the EFTZ and pledged to attract US companies to invest in the Free zone.
The MD of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), Ms Yewande Sadiku, who paid physical inspection of the facility had commended the efforts of the investors to develop industrial activity and assured EFTZ of the support of her agency to attract investors to the zone.
Following diligent drive to attract global investment funds for infrastructure and facility development to the country as part of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Economic Recovery and Growth Programme (EGRP), EFTZ has successfully secured foreign direct investors in aviation maintenance, aviation academy and avionics from Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the US.
Modeled after the Dubai Airport Free Zone (DAFZA), EFTZ is conceived and has started to attract industrial activity in aviation, exports and health care facilities to augment the efforts of the Enugu State and Federal governments in realizing full objectives and economic benefits of the Special Economic Zones Program championed by President Buhari.
Following the comments credited to the minister, the Enpower FZC and other investment stakeholders are willing to meet with all relevant authorities to collaborate, benchmark and clarify standards in the establishment and location of the EFTZ with a view of resolving all misconceptions and differences regarding the business models that support proximate location of the facility to the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu and that way continue to encourage foreign direct investment into Nigeria.