• Saturday, May 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

One month after shutdown, FG yet to begin Enugu airport repairs

Enugu airport

More than one month after the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) shut down Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu for runway repairs, work is yet to commence, BusinessDay’s onsite visit to the airport shows.

FAAN had on Saturday, August 17, announced its intention to close down the runway of Akanu Ibiam International Airport on August 24 to effect repairs and maintenance that would enhance safety operations.

“This move is aimed at resolving the existing safety/security concerns to flight operations,” Henrietta Yakubu, general manager, corporate affairs of FAAN, said at a press conference in August.

FAAN subsequently shut down the airport on August 25.

But a visit to the airport last Tuesday and subsequent follow-up phone calls on Wednesday revealed that no maintenance repairs were going on and officials at the airport did not even know when resurfacing of the runway would begin.

The projects going on at the airport when BusinessDay visited were the installation of closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) and the construction of an office building by Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).

“So, if you are not ready for the repairs, why would you shut it down indefinitely?” Emeka Okaro, a businessman who lives close to the airport, asked. Four days after the shutdown of the Akanu Ibiam Airport, Olumide Ohunayo, head of research and corporate travel, Zenith Consult and Travel, had wondered why contractors were yet to report at the airport, which is critical as the only international airport in the South-East part of Nigeria.

Read Also: NAMA takes delivery of CAT 3 ILS for Lagos, Abuja airports

“As at the time they closed the airport, I expected all the necessary materials to be in place. What was the rush to close it when the contractor was not ready?” Ohunayo queried. By facilitating tourism and trade, airports and air travel often generate economic growth, provide jobs and increase revenues from taxes, which is something that the Enugu metro area is now being deprived of, analysts say.

According to 2018 figures from FAAN, Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu is the sixth busiest airport in Nigeria after Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Owerri. The airport processed an average of 273,000 local passengers and 41,000 international passengers annually.

During his ministerial screening at the Senate in July, Hadi Sirika, who was the minister for aviation for four years and reappointed to the ministry in August, said the Enugu airport had a lot of problems and should be ideally shut down for major repairs.

Currently, only Sam Mbakwe Airport in Owerri, Imo State, is available for the South-East. Roads in the region, including Enugu-Onitsha, Aba-Ikot Ekpene, among others, are in terrible condition, making mass transit difficult.

The situation of the Enugu airport is in sharp contrast with what transpired during the closure of the Abuja airport for repairs. The Federal Government shut down Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on March 9, 2017 and work began the following day by Julius Berger. Flight operations began a day before the six-week deadline given by Sirika.

In February 2017, navigational facilities at the Kaduna airport were upgraded by NAMA ahead of the closure of Abuja airport. The runway was also repaired to absorb the increased volume of traffic to be diverted from Abuja to Kaduna airport, said Mathew Pwajo, NAMA general manager, safety management systems/quality assurance.

“Toward this end, we are deploying both equipment and personnel to strategic areas of need to ensure seamless flow of traffic at the airport during the six-week period,” he said. He disclosed that NAMA had commenced the installation of a digital Instrument Landing System (ILS) at the Kaduna airport.

“This facility would undergo flight calibration along with Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Radio Range (VOR) already installed to ensure accuracy,” he further said.

In a communiqué read at the end of a stakeholders’ meeting with Sirika on September 1, Dave Umahi, governor of Ebonyi State and chairman of the Southeast Governors’ Forum, had said that with the closure of Enugu airport, flights would be diverted to Port Harcourt and Owerri airports.

Even though the Port Harcourt airport is up to international standard, it was expected that Owerri airport, which is closer to Enugu, should have been upgraded as was done to Kaduna to absorb the increased volume of traffic to be diverted from Enugu airport.

But a visit to Sam Mbakwe Airport Owerri showed no signs of upgrade, with some sections of the airport requiring weeding.

“It is not proper to close down a critical airport like Enugu indefinitely without plans to start work on it,” Ike Ibeabuchi, an Enugu-based manufacturer, said.

He explained that those who live in Enugu and Abakiliki are mostly affected as they have to move down to Asaba or Owerri or even Port Harcourt to board aircraft.

The cost of the repairs of Abuja international airport was N5.8 billion, Sirika said in January 2017 ahead of the shutdown.

However, no cost has been quoted for Akanu Ibiam airport and the Federal Government has not given any specific date to re-open the airport, unlike Abuja whose six-week date was announced ahead of time.

Read Also: Enugu airport to be opened before Christmas – Sirika

Ohunayo said the Federal Government should seize the chance to improve the poor state of South-East roads.

“I expected that before the shutdown of Enugu airport, the Enugu-Port Harcourt Highway, Owerri road and Enugu-Onitsha Expressway should be in motorable condition,” Ohunayo said.

“Sadly, these have not been done. Adequate security has not been provided for travellers that will be landing at Owerri, Port Harcourt or Asaba,” he said.

“The road networks are not in good shape. This will have a huge effect on South-Eastern states and businesses there. We hope the government can fix the runway with the same dedication it had during Abuja runway repair,” he further said.

As Christmas approaches, many Nigerians from the South-East part of the country would be happy to fly through the airport in the face of poor state of roads and insecurity on land. But this hope is getting dim as the Federal Government fails to show seriousness on the repair of the Enugu airport.

 

ODINAKA ANUDU