Long wait for 2nd Abuja airport runway

by Daily Trust

The Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja (NAIAA), the second busiest airport in Nigeria and a potential aviation hub in West Africa has just one runway, a situation aviation experts say is embarrassing and dangerous.

Five years ago, an effort was made to build a second runway for the NAIAA. Indeed, a contract for the project was awarded to the Julius Berger Construction Company through selective tendering and agreement on February 5, 2010. The contract was initially valued at N64 billion, but was later review downward to N13.5bn by a panel, following an allegation of contract scam. The entire process was later terminated because of the controversies that soured the contract sum.
The directive to terminate the project, which was scheduled for completion in 24 months, was issued by Yayale Ahmed, then Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) in response to the resolution passed by the House of Representatives after a motion raised by Dino Melaye, now a senator, on the subject.
Five years after the runway contract was terminated, another is yet to be awarded. The absence of a second runway in Abuja, experts lament, is costing the country huge revenues in economic losses and even national embarrassment. It is also costing airline operators losses in huge sums as they are forced to land in other airports each time the only runway is closed for maintenance or an accident occurs on it.
A case was when, on the night of Wednesday July 4, 2013, a Saudi Air cargo plane ran into runway repair machines at the Abuja airport. The incident forced closure of the airport for 17 hours, causing air travel chaos around the country.
Thousands of air passengers travelling to and out of Abuja at the time were stranded, leading to losses of various kinds for them, while airlines also lost huge revenue as most of their flights were grounded.
The airport was closed while the plane was being evacuated, thereby forcing in-bound international flights that were already airborne to divert to Lagos. For instance, the British Airways flight scheduled to arrive in Abuja around 5.30am that day was diverted to Lagos.
Local flights, which were to begin arrivals and departures from about 7am, except Arik’s 7am flight to Lagos, were cancelled, affecting thousands of travellers. Also, international flights, including Ethiopian Air scheduled for Addis Ababa and Egypt Air to Cairo were also cancelled.
In all, about 78 domestic flights which were operated daily from Lagos to Abuja and from Abuja to other destinations suffered, according to the official schedule of the airlines.
With an average of 100 passengers per flight, the airlines may have lost some 7,800 passengers, amounting to a loss of about N140m in revenue at that time when Lagos-Abuja or Abuja-Lagos cost an average N18,000 per seat.
In July 2014, the same Abuja airport was shut down following the need to fix some ruptured part of the runway. During the two weekends in July, the airport was shut for about 60 hours altogether. An estimated N500m was lost during the closure.
Also lost was Nigeria’s pride. The first closure which occurred from Saturday July 5, 2014 to Monday July 7, 2014 affected delegates arriving in Nigeria for the 1st World Pension Summit held in Abuja. In fact, the co-chairman of the World Pension Summit (WPS), Mr. Eric Eggink, openly complained at the summit about the closure in the presence of former president, Goodluck Jonathan.
Following that complaint, Dr Jonathan directed his Coordinating Minister for the Economy (CME) and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Bala Mohammed and the Supervising Minister of Aviation, Sam Ortom, to ensure the commencement of work on the second runway for the NAIAA.
It has been over a year since that directive was handed down by the federal government, yet no contract on the runway has been awarded. It was just recently that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), placed advertorials in some local dailies calling for the expression of interest for bids to follow.
Confirming the development, Mr. Yakubu Dati, the General Manager, Corporate Communications, (FAAN) said, “The process has commenced and the date for bidding will soon be announced. It has been advertised in the local papers. The international component is undergoing due diligence due to the foreign currency component.
The Assistant Director, Corporate Affairs, Federal Ministry of Aviation, Mr. James Odaudu, added “The information I have is that the process (second Abuja runway contract) is on and the bidding date will be announced in due course.”
Aviation experts advise that the Abuja second runway must be built independent (parallel) of the first one for the new project make any impactful sense.
Engineer Sheri Kyari, the Chief Executive Officer, Finum Aviation Services said it is critical the project be done at once. “Look at the challenge we had in Abuja when the Saudi Airline crash-landed. Assuming it was a serious crash and the runway had debris on it, only God knows the number of weeks it would have taken us to clear the debris and rework the runway for use again. Thus, the new aviation minister must focus on the runway. Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt all need additional runways. This is a safety critical item in the industry,” Kyari said.
Other stakeholders also told our correspondent that a delay in constructing a second runway may cost Nigeria much more in the future.

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