All appears set for the reopening of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, after six weeks of runway rehabilitation exercise. While workers are busy with finishing touches on the critical infrastructure, local airlines and their foreign counterparts have reopened sales and bookings on the Abuja route.
With the cheering development, air travel activities and businesses in and around Abuja can return to normal. The Guardian learnt that the operators, including those that suspended operations while the temporary closure lasted, were motivated by the Federal Government’s claim that the new runway was 96 per cent ready.
Recall that the Abuja airport was on March 9, temporarily shut for repairs of its only runway. The runway has been in use since the airport was built in 1982, and expired some 14 years ago. After much debates for and against, the rehabilitation exercise was awarded for the sum of N5.8 million, while Abuja-bound traffic is diverted to recently upgraded Kaduna International Airport (KIA).
The Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, while inspecting the final lap of asphalt laying on Monday, confirmed the 96 per cent completion of the rehabilitation, with the assurance that the airport will reopen for operations come April 19.
An elated Sirika said: “This is runway 22 where the work terminates. Remember work started from the other end which is 04. You can see that we have finished asphalting and we are at 96 per cent completion. The marking of the runway and lightings are going on simultaneously. This is three to four days’ work and we still have about eight days to go. We are happy and we are on course,” he said.
The minister said notwithstanding the pressure to deliver on schedule, the construction team spared no resources to ensure standards in line with modern technology.
Sirika gave assurance that the runway will not retain rain water with the introduction of new technology. “There is a new technology where glass glide is put in the process of constructing the runway to reinforce it, to give it extra strength and prevent cracks. That is what we have done at the Abuja airport runway.
“This is the first time any Nigerian runway is being treated with such material and that material is a 50 tonner. We had to fly it into Nigeria to ensure that it comes in time for this job. I am very happy and I thank Nigerians for bearing with us and also thank President Muhammadu Buhari for believing in us that we can do it,” Sirika said.
A lot of activities have, however, resumed ahead of next Wednesday’s reopening of the airport. The Guardian observed operating local airlines already making bookings on the Lagos-Abuja, Sokoto-Abuja-Lagos, Abuja-Kaduna, Port Harcourt-Abuja among others for next week flights.
Spokesman of Dana Air, Kingsley Ezenwa, said the airline started selling ticket to Abuja after the minister’s declaration that the airport would reopened as scheduled.
Ezenwa said: “We have started selling tickets for Abuja. We started receiving booking demands for Abuja and we have started selling, starting from April 20 a day after the reopening date. We are hoping that government would fulfill their promise and reopen the airport on 19th,” he said.
Foreign airlines, including those that suspended operations during the closure are also not left out in the reopening plan. President of foreign airlines association in Nigeria, Kingsley Nwokoma, told reporters that foreign airlines have opened booking for tickets and cargo flights to Abuja.
Nwokoma said: “After the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Sirika staked his job and seconded by the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, some foreign airlines have started selling tickets to Abuja. Everyone believes that the ministers will keep to their words. Even cargo booking has started for Abuja airport. That one is easier because it is not as sensitive as passenger service. Let us see how it plays.
“In a civilised country, if they give you a date people will work with that date. But since the minister has put his job on the line, we are confident that flights will start in Abuja after next week,” Nwokoma said.