By Louis Ibah
Nigerian aviation stakeholders, yesterday, raised fears of a massive loss of revenue by investors in the industry as the Federal Government announced it would be shutting down the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, for about six weeks for maintenance of its runway.
Located in Nigeria’s bubbling Federal Capital Territory, the airport is approximately 20 kilometres west of Abuja, and has an international and a domestic terminal sharing its single runway. It currently ranks as Nigeria’s second busiest airport (after the Lagos airport) with about 22 airlines operating an average of one flight daily into the airport from the other airports within and outside the country.
Industry sources told Daily Sun that most airline owners are already jittery that the runway closure could come with low passenger patronage on the route especially with the government’s decision to divert traffic to the Kaduna Airport during the period of its rehabilitation.
In recent months, the Abuja runway of 4,000 metres-plus has been in in a very bad shape, prompting the government to pencil it down for repair at the cost of over N1 billion in December 2016. The 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.
“There will certainly be massive financial losses. In fact, there is no investor in the airline business today that is not afraid of these revenue losses that will come during the period of the airport closure,” said an airline official who wouldn’t want to be named.
“After the Lagos airport, it is the Abuja airport that sustains most of the local airlines. The large number of passengers that fly that route daily from other airports in the country comprise people who must visit Abuja either for commercial, political, diplomatic, conferences or academic engagements on a daily basis. And so whatever happens to the airport has dire consequences in the revenues of the airlines, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), and others who carry out commercial activities in the airport,” added the official.
According to 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 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 feelings within the industry as some stakeholders say the Minna airport would have been a better alternative in view of recent security issues in Kaduna State.
“Must we divert Abuja traffic to Kaduna? Why can’t the Minna airport serve the purpose for the local flights? After all, it is closer to Abuja than Kaduna. The runway (Minna) will still accommodate aircraft whose takeoff and landing runs are within 1000 to 2000 metres,” said the Managing Director of Centurion Securities, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (Retd).
With security issues in some parts of the North, Ojikutu doubted whether American and European carriers would want to fly to Kaduna.
Meanwhile, Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, had convened a stakeholders meeting in Abuja today to discuss the planned closure between February and March, including the use of the Kaduna Airport as an alternative during the six-week closure.
This comes even as the Niger State government urged the Federal Government to divert flights to Minna International Airport instead of Kaduna airport given that it is the closest to Abuja FCT. (The Sun)