OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT ON THE MISADVENTURE OF THE PLANNED SIX WEEKS CLOSURE OF NNAMDI AZIKIWE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, ABUJA FOR REPAIRS
On behalf of the leadership of our Unions, the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) and the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), we bring you and members of your cabinet the warmest felicitations of the season. As we continue to be thankful to Almighty God that 2016 was air-accident free for us in Nigeria, we pray fervently that year 2017 shall be a harvest of good fortunes for our aviation industry and the nation at large.
Be that as it may, Your Excellency, we hasten to use this open medium to draw your attention to the proposed closure of the NnamdiAzikwe International Airport, Abuja for turnaround maintenance of the runway for SIX WEEKS out of the SIX Months that work shall continue at the said airport. The necessity for the proposed exercise could not only be due to the audit findings against our country, but more importantly, as a long overdue safety measure, which we appreciate.
While we accept that the Abuja runway has turned bad and requires a quick fix, our Unions are of the opinion “that total closure of the airport should be the last ineluctable option in repairing the international airport’s runway” and being an operational issue, the onus ought to have been on the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) as owners and managers of Federal Airports, to so suggest and carry stakeholders along in the decision making process of the intended repairs of the Abuja runway, rather than the colossal waste of taxpayers’ funds and time of stakeholders as observed at the just concluded “stakeholders meeting” where organized bodies officially invited were neither recognized nor allowed inputs into the discussions.
Notwithstanding the irreconcilable disposition of the organizers of the said event, it is our considered suggestions that instead of a total closure of the Abuja airport,
1, An additional runway should be effectively considered for construction as a long term measure while the subsisting one is continued to be put in use, under some phased reconstruction;
2, Skeletal repairs of the runway could be adopted by allowing the airport for use likely between 6.00am and 6.00pm while fixing of the major damaged portions of the runway continues during the nights, as has been done in several parts of the world. Why should Nigeria’s case be different?
Your Excellency, our opinion is premised on the fact that the proposed exercise, being a reactive formula, can be achieved without total shutdown of the International airport as the consequential effect of such total closure will impact so grandiosely negatively on the already dire economic environment of Nigeria, given the dependence of several low and middle income earners on aviation business in and around Abuja airport. Further to this, aviation parastatals/agencies shall be deprived of their internally generated revenue during this period while some low business operators will lose their business completely and forever. We do not wish to believe that your government will set out to jeopardize the livelihood of its citizens at such dire time as this.
We make bold to state that as the representatives of the critical stakeholders in the industry (the workers who were not taken into consideration in the entire discourse), we owe this country a duty to offer workable suggestions in tandem with international best practices rather than political talk shop which will do our industry no good.
In this regard, we aver that:
1. Total closure of an international airport, particularly NnamdiAzikwe International Airport, Abuja in an ailing economy like ours will be counter-productive at this period;
2. It is obvious that the volume of operations at the NnamdiAzikwe International Airport, Abuja cannot be accommodated by the size and facilities of Kaduna Airport (Domestic and International);
3. The roles of handling companies such as the Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL) and Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) have not been given any consideration in spite of their importance to handling operations of the airlines;
4. It is very disturbing that it is the Minister of State, Aviation who is assuring of adequate security and good roads around and about Kaduna and Abuja and in between when these services are outside his purview and control. It is equally disturbing that the agencies in charge of airport operation (FAAN), navigational aids (NAMA), and regulation (NCAA) have been completely sidelined by the Minister. Whereas the hands-on personnel are very pessimistic about these things in private, the Hon. Minister speaks so loftily about same in public. Who should be listened to?
5. In the final analysis, can the airlines be dictated to on operational and business issues? Will the airlines sell Abuja tickets and drop the passengers in Kaduna? How does the life assurance on the ticket cover a passenger between Kaduna and Abuja by road?
6. Ultimately, won’t the final deciding factor be the passenger? Would one like to pay a higher fare to Kaduna and after all the usual delays in flight be subjected to another trauma of road transport to Abuja from Kaduna for about three hours when the person can set out by road and get to destination in less than eight hours overall?
Therefore, Sir, it is our candid submission that the whole hoopla about Kaduna being an alternate airport to Abuja is all but a hoax. In reality, most persons, especially international travellers, but also senior important local personalities, will simply shelve all activities in Abuja for the six weeks of closure. Then the whole investment in Kaduna airport will be in vain. The Airlines, aviation agencies like FAAN, NAMA, NCAA, and other businesses around aviation will lose colossal sums of money. And some businesses will fold up and be unable to recover. This situation must be avoided by all means in our considered view.
It is, therefore, the Unions’ expectation that our patriotic suggestions would be positively considered in view of the proposed turnaround maintenance of the NnamdiAzikwe International Airport, Abuja runway, while we commend the “courage” of the Minister towards addressing one of the fundamental failures of our maintenance culture.
We shall continue to add voice to the stability, peace, harmony and growth of our industry as it remains the engine room of the economy. We remain resolute in the indivisibility of our nation and shall continue to support your administration as partners in her greatness.
Accept as usual, our profound solidarity and best wishes while we remain, Faithfully yours,
Com. (Barr.) Frances Akinjole
Head of Secretariat
Comrade Aba Ocheme
Comrade Olayinka Olu Abioye