The National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) has urged the federal government to allow foreign carriers the option of flying their Abuja-bound passengers to Lagos instead of Kaduna, which had been suggested as an alternative to Abuja airport while it undergoes renovations.
NANTA President Bankole Bernard said that allowing foreign airlines to fly their Abuja-bound passengers to Lagos would be the best option since some of the foreign airlines have expressed reservations about Kaduna Airport.
Mr. Bernard feared that rerouting planes to Kaduna might lead some airlines to withdraw their Abuja-bound flights altogether.
He explained further that Kaduna Airport is still under renovation with the N1.1 billion recently approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), saying that if the March 8, 2017 deadline is not met for the commencement of work on the runway, it would add more pressure on airlines and passengers.
Mr. Bernard declared that the proposed six weeks would be enough to fully repair the Abuja runway.
“We are recommending that the government can direct all the international airlines to operate from Lagos within that six weeks that the Abuja runway will be under renovation, and that will give our local carriers the opportunity to partner with the international carriers by moving their passengers from Lagos to Kaduna,” Mr. Bernard said.
He also cited insecurity in Kaduna State as a concern for international airlines.
“When it was first mentioned that Kaduna Airport would be used as alternate airport to Abuja, what came to mind immediately was the civil unrest in that state and the safety of passengers transiting from Kaduna to Abuja knowing fully well that this is a highway and people can easily be harmed.
“Though, the Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, made us understand that a lot of preparations have been made, even at that, a lot of us are still not convinced knowing fully well that in Nigeria there is always a last-minute failure in some of these things.”
He however agreed that the runway repair was overdue, stressing that the lifespan of a runway is 20 years while that of Abuja has been in use for 34 years non-stop.
The NANTA president explained that the continuous usage of the runway could endanger air travellers’ lives, noting that the runway had damaged several aircraft in the past one year.
He also called on the government to, as a matter of urgency, embark on the implementation and construction of a second runway for the airport, maintaining that this would prevent the current total closure of the airport.
Mr. Bernard proposed the construction of a second runway for Abuja Airport to be on Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.