By Ifeanyi Nwoko
Further investigation into the proposed closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja has revealed that there is no alternative to its total shutdown.
The revelations were made when the Minister of State for Aviation Sen. Hadi Sirika appeared before the senate along with the Acting MD of Julius Berger, George Marks.
The stakeholders were invited by the Senate to explain the proposed closure of the only airport in Nigeria’s Capital City for six weeks.
The Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) were also present at the briefing.
In his explanation, the Minister insisted that there was no alternative to the closure of the airport as the runway was already bad enough.
Sirika said that the ministry had conducted adequate research and consultation and concluded that there was no way other than to close the airport.
He said that concrete plans were already on ground to relocate the operations and logistics of the Airport to Kaduna.
The minister disclosed that the logistics implication of the relocation would cost over N1.1 billion.
He further stressed his position last week when he appeared before the Senate that further consultation had been made and shows that there was no other alternative than to shutdown.
The cost of the maintenance work is currently put at N5.8 billion. This is aside from the N1.1 billion cost of relocating operation to Kaduna.
The Managing Director of Julius Berger, Mr Wolfgang Goetsch said that the runway was completely bad and as such it was not possible to repair the runway in segments as suggested by the Nigerian Society of Engineers.
He stressed that if the segmental repairs were to be considered, it would take about two and a half years to complete the repairs on the runway.
“Actually the whole runway from both end to the other end is damaged that means if the method of repair is used you start on one side of the runway working in the night and in the morning you open it up for traffic, it would mean that this up repair will take two to two and half years.
“So that means if you start on one side there is a very high risk that on the other side the runway shutdown itself.
“This is why in principle I agree with the statement of the society of engineers but the test or state and the extent of damage of the runway that does not allow that.
“This is why the way we see it, there is absolutely unfortunately no option than to close the runway for the six weeks.
“From our end we guarantee that within this six weeks the repair work is done subject to the fulfillment of the obligations of all stakeholders,” he said.
However, he expressed grave concerns that operating the runway while repairing it posed a great risk to the aircrafts and they could pick up debris with their turbines.
He stressed that such debris could completely destroy an aircraft and place the lives of passengers at risk and therefore advised that the closure plan be sustained.
Earlier, the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) while alluding to the great extent of damage on the runway said that smaller crafts could still be allowed to land while the maintenance work was ongoing.
The society’s President, Mr Otis Anyaeji said that the runway could be repaired in segments and as such would not require the shutdown of the airport.
He added that there was an urgent need to have alternative runway in the airport to avoid such similar situations in the future.
“The Society held a meeting with the relevant agencies yesterday, the outcome of the meeting confirms that it is possible to carry out the proposed reconstruction without shutting down the airport.
“The Nigerian Society of engineers is insisting that the state of the runway presently required that it should be constructed immediately.
“The runway could be reconstructed without closing the airport using segmented approach and knowing safety risk management procedures in line with ICAO guidelines.
“Aircrafts of B737 and below can use part of the runway while work is going on on the other part.
“The taxi way should be upgraded to serve as a runway for aircrafts of B737 and below.
Meanwhile, the lawmakers continued to kick against the proposed closure insisting that there must be an alternative to the closure.
Sen. Bala Na’Allah who is a pilot queried the position of Julius Berger that flights would pick up debris.
He said that the repair work on the runway could begin from one end of the airport while flight operations will continue on the other end.
Na’allah wondered how the construction company intends to take delivery of the good which it said it was expecting from two cargo aircrafts if the runway was as bad as it is being presented.
Other senators who contributed suggested that the maintenance be done at the weekends while normal flight operations be done during the week.
Sen. Magnus Abe however said that he feared that the decision had already been made and there was no need to act like the intervention of the senate would make any difference.
He however appealed to the minister of state to also look at other alternatives with open mind so as to either reduce the time or find an alternative means.
As at the time of filing this report, the senators were still grilling the relevant stakeholders seeking an alternative to the complete shutdown of the airport.