Airlines want Abuja airport shut, count losses over outage

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The creeping fear of a fresh air disaster, coupled with losses occasioned by the incessant outages at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, have made airlines in the country to ask the Federal Government to shut down the facility.

According to a source from the Ministry of Aviation, the minister of aviation and all the aviation agencies’ chiefs are aware of this development and they met in Abuja at the weekend.  The outcome of the meeting was not known. The source said the meeting was part of efforts to sanitise the industry.

The ongoing maintenance at the airport, according to airlines, has led to the shortening of the runway from its original 3,600 metres to 3, 200 metres and just last week, it was further reduced to 2, 200; a situation that makes it not too long enough for wide-body aircraft like the B747, A340, A330 and B777.

An operator of a foreign airline said that a Lufthansa aircraft with passengers could not land on Friday following the blackout and the shortening of the runway outage and decided to do that at another airport.

The inability of most of them to pick their passengers gave them no option than to lodge them in hotels in Abuja and Frankfurt. Those who were trying to connect their flights from all over the world on the Frankfurt-Abuja-Frankfurt flights also suffered, while the carriers had to pay additional costs on accommodation for passengers.

The Assistant Secretary of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Mohammed Tukur, explained that the operators including foreign carriers were worried over the losses incurred, warning: “If care is not taken, they will end up crashing planes.”

Tukur said there was no issuance of Notice to Air Men (NOTAM) to inform them of the terrible situation of the runway that he said had been shortened as a result of ongoing airports repairs. He warned them not to jeopardise the lives of passengers.

His words: “We are worried that both international airlines and domestic airlines are losing money. If care is not taken, they will end up crashing planes. The agencies should not jeopardise the lives of people.

“If care is not taken, we will lose our cherished aviation category one status. The minister needs to sit down and map out her strategy on how to reposition the industry.”

Blackout at the Abuja airport has become commonplace, as there have been at least three such incidents this year alone. The airport has been disconnected from the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) supply and runs 24 hours on a generating set.

In February, a British Airways flight from London landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja in darkness. The Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji, was onboard the B777 aircraft.

There was a similar occurrence the following month.  The authorities failed to fully convince passengers on whether the blackout was due to outage from the PHCN, or from a malfunctioning generating set, or internal faults with the airport’s lighting system.

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