Adjusting businesses as Abuja airport closes on Wednesday

The gainers, the losers, questions over N174bn airport remodelling

The time is here. Airlines are putting preparations in top gear to relocate their activities to Kaduna airport as repair works are expected to begin at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on Wednesday March 8, 2017.

While many of the popular European airlines like British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and others have indicated that they are not ready to operate to Kaduna because of huge logistics, Nigerian airlines are making last minute arrangements, replanning their schedule to fit perfectly into the new reality, which is expected to last for six weeks. British Airways’ Country Commercial Manager, Kola Olayinka, said several factors were considered before the decision not to fly to Abuja was reached, which include the safety and security of its passengers, as well as key operational issues.

“We are currently evaluating all options for our customers planning to travel at that time and we will be reaching out directly to them for information about their trip,” he said. Olayinka explained that the lack of inflight catering services as well as the inadequate technology at the Kaduna airport, including simple technology like the Common User Terminal Equipment, among others, made the Kaduna airport a difficult option for BA.

The Country Manager, however, lauded the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, for the stakeholders’ meetings he convened to intimate airlines and other stakeholders on the deterioration of the Abuja airport terminal, admitting that the facility poses danger to aircraft and passengers.

He said his explanation helped to douse tension and allowed people to see the desirability of shutting the runway for total rehabilitation. He noted that that is the best way to go, to fix the problem. Olayinka said British Airways had assured the Federal Government that it would return to Abuja immediately after the completion of work on the project. The loss of Abuja airport to repairs is huge gain for Kaduna as the Federal Government had in December 2016, approved over N1.9 billion for the upgrade of the aerodrome.

Aside that, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) has equally spent over N2 billion to fix decrepit facilities that would make air services seamless and safe for the carriers. Some of the airlines said they would reduce their flights to the alternate airport, which is Kaduna, because not many passengers travelling to Abuja would want to land there.

“So, we expect drastic reduction of passengers to Abuja and we are also going to reduce our frequency to Abuja, now Kaduna,” an airline official told Sunday Telegraph. But despite the fact that they would lose revenue, virtually all the domestic airlines have backed the decision to repair the runway once and for all. FAAN said it would lose an estimated revenue of over N2 billion from international carriers and domestic operations. Foreign airlines that operate to Abuja airport include Egypt Air, Air France, British Airways, Ethiopia Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, South Africa Airways and Middle East Airlines.

FAAN generates about N800 million and $180,000 (N64,800, 000), totalling N1.44 billion monthly from foreign carriers in Abuja, which means that if they refused to move to Kaduna, as they have already stated, the agency would lose the aforementioned revenue. These revenues include fees, which contributes about 30 per cent of FAAN revenue.

FAAN sources said Abuja airport contributes about 40 per cent of the agency’s total revenue. “If the airport is closed for six weeks, it means that FAAN will lose two months’ revenue. This will aggravate the current recession and it will be worse for the agency, which is already struggling to earn money to carry out major infrastructural projects at the airports. Foreign airlines have made it clear that they won’t go to Kaduna; rather, they would move to Lagos, but government refused. “We just pray that the duration of the closure will not last more than the six weeks,” a FAAN official told Sunday Telegraph.

Meanwhile, some domestic carriers have estimated that they would lose heavily during the closure but gave support to the closure for safety reasons. Some of the airlines said that they would reduce their flights to the alternate airport because not many passengers travelling to Abuja would like to land in Kaduna. Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, has said that the country would rather lose money than lose lives-a reason that propelled them to come to a painful conclusion to shut the facility for six weeks to allow for a total rehabilitation of the bad Abuja airport runway.

According to the minister, the stakeholders’ forum afforded him the opportunity to officially inform the sector’s players of the decision. He said government is aware of the likely high level of discomfort and inconvenience the proposed closure of the airport would cause air transport passengers, airline operators and other service providers. Sirika explained that the decision was informed by safety and security concerns.

The planned closure of the Abuja airport could also provide business diversification for helicopter operators. Many helicopters are lying fallow, following the lull in the oil and gas industry. For the high end customers, law makers and stupendously wealthy Nigerians, who are security conscious, helicopter services are now for them to patronise. Bristow Helicopters and other chopper operators have also indicated plans to position their aircraft in Kaduna to take people to Abuja.

Wealthy Nigerians, whose private jets cannot land in Abuja during the six-week period when the airport, in Abuja would be shut down, are seeking help on how to make their journey from Kaduna to Abuja seamless. Executives of oil and gas companies, top officials of blue chip companies and other extremely rich people are scrambling for the few available seats to shuttle between the two cities. For these travellers, some aviation agencies are swift to the rescue.

The companies have begun advertising various options for travellers. One of such seen by Sunday Telegraph offers a 45-minute trip for passengers via the Agusta Westland AW139 and Sikorsky 92 helicopters at N49, 999. The offer, which was made by Maple Aviation Logistics Limited, offers to pick passengers at the Kaduna International airport and drop them off at the National Stadium in Abuja. Some firms are said to have entered into agreement with some of the operators to cater for their top managers within the six weeks that the aerodrome would be closed to traffic.

The sad news is that some of them with few numbers of helicopters are said to be turning down offers as they do not have the capacity, staff strength to do shuttle services and at the same time maintain their lucrative oil and gas contract in the Escravos with minimal equipment.

The planned closure of the aerodrome has put high end travellers in a tough situation as many of them are said to dread the twohour drive by road from Kaduna to Abuja. Base Manager, Nigeria, Africa Region for Bristow Helicopters (Nigeria) Limited, Capt. Ayo Stilo Oni, said the airline would promote the service to their clients who usually are from the oil and gas industry, top business moguls and other affluent customers.

His words: “There will be dedicated service by us from Abuja to Lagos. Like you know, the airport is going to be closed in March. The Federal Government has made Kaduna available. “Kaduna to Abuja by helicopter is about 45 minutes. “We have gone to Kaduna. We have also gone to Minna.

We will make a choice of where to go that will be convenient for our passengers. Helicopters don’t need runways. The Abuja runway is the only thing that will be closed. “The airport is not going to be closed. If the airport is closed, there won’t be any communication. Helicopters will still be flying.

We will use our helicopters to transfer passengers to Kaduna or any other locations that are safe and convenient for our passengers.” In explaining government’s decision, Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation, said that the runway had exceeded its life span, clarifying that it was built to last 20 years but has been in use for 34 years.

The deterioration of virtually all the airports in Nigeria has raised questions over the N174billion spent by the Federal Government in 2013 on upgrading and remodelling airports, supervised by former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah.

However, despite the money spent, stakeholders believe that the job done so far does not compare in any way with the amount pumped into the project. When compared to similar projects in other countries of the world, Nigeria’s is way below global standards. Nevertheless, Africa is quietly going about improving and upgrading its airport infrastructure, as the host of development projects going on across the continent appear to have gone almost unnoticed by the rest of the world.

While both political and economic progress has played out very unevenly across the continent, an increasing number of African countries have reformed their administrative processes in order to foster economic development and to become more competitive on the world stage. Airports, of course, play a key role in meeting the aspirations of progressive nations, perhaps more so on this continent than elsewhere, owing to underdeveloped road and rail networks in much of Africa.

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