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The airport was in a total mess. The many years of patched job on the decaying facilities gave way to total overhauling of Enugu airport that is very strategic to the people of South-East and commerce, writes WOLE SHADARE
The wait is over
The wait is over. The Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, is ready. Airlines have resumed services to the aerodrome. It is a year since massive construction work started on the very important airport situated right in the heart of South- East Nigeria.
The reopening of the airport came after about 370 days of intensive rehabilitation and extensive works on the runway. The runway was shutdown on August 24, 2019 for complete rehabilitation.
The rehabilitation works would have been completed earlier but was interrupted by the outbreak of coronavirus disease.
Enugu airport is so strategic that it could relieve Owerri Airport as well as provide an opening for international cargo and passenger operations, even if limited, to cater for South East passengers and great many who engage in international trade.
The airport was before now number four behind Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt airports, accounting for about 17 per cent of the total passenger traffic.
Again, Buhari, Sirika deliver
President Muhammadu Buhari achieved the feat. His quick release of N10 billion for repairs of the strategic airport is heart-warming.
Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika’s desire to see to the quick completion of work on the airport really showed how dear the completion of the facility was to him. He supervised, monitored and ensured that it was not a fail project.
The destruction of the perimeter fence by a so-called land owner dampened morale and almost jeopardise the reopening of the airport. Perimeter fences are one of the requirements for certifying an airport by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in line with provision of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
The airport before now was in a a total mess. It is common knowledge that the deplorable state of public facilities in Nigeria poses great concern to stakeholders. Facilities at Nigeria’s airports, hospitals, schools and roads among others, would give indication that the society lacks an agent that would have helped manage and ensure effective and efficient functioning of the facilities as well as fostering national development. Such was the precarious state of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.
The closure of the ‘international’ airport was welcomed by many people. It was long overdue to forestall accident. Infact, the Enugu airport should long have been closed for renovation. In true sense of it, the aerodrome had nothing to qualify it as an international airport despite billions of naira that were reportedly spent between 2008 and 2014 that many believed went down the drain. The aerodrome lacked adequate fire-fighting cover, night landing facilities, undulating, pot- hole riddled runway and decaying terminal facilities. The airport was badly managed.
Dubai-based Emirates was said to have declined operating to the airport because of lack facilities mentioned. Emirates does not joke with security and its officials once said they would never fly to an airport where they could not guarantee safety of passengers, crew and equipment. The runway represented a clear danger to flight safety.
The airport lacked many safety facilities including Doppler Weather Radar used for real time detection and tracking of hazardous weather systems such as thunderstorms, wind shear, turbulence, dust storms.
The runway was always flooded whenever there was rainfall and many times passengers had to remove their shoes, fold their trousers to walk up the tarmac for boarding.
Huge sums of money running into several billions of Naira was reportedly spent by the Federal Government supervised by a former Minister of Aviation without remarkable improvement aside a hurriedly built terminal.
The stench of wastage of funds on airport infrastructure she left behind during her tenure as minister of aviation remains mind boggling. During the tenure, the airport was closed down for over two years to allow for its upgrade into a real international airport. To that end, a contract was allegedly awarded for repairs that truly did not last.
The airport runway, built in the 1970s, stretches over a distance of 2.6km, which was to be extended to 3.6km to meet the global international runway standards. The old 2.6km runway was riddled with pot-holes, making it risky for landing.
Palliative works were occasionally carried out on the runway at night to arrest further deterioration of the runway, but they did not eliminate the risk until the Federal Government last month announced closure of the facilities for a comprehensive reconstruction of the runway and other decrepit facilities
Many summarised the Enugu Airport project as a scam on the country. This airport was huge risk to international airlines especially those from Asia, Middle East and Africa because it was international in propaganda and not in facilities. The ‘international status; has now been restored. Egypt Air and South African Airways once rejected overtures to use the airport.
Aviation consultant, Mr. Chris Azu Aligbe, said: “But today, we must along with Sirika applaud Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Nnoli Nnaji, House of Reps Aviation Committee Chairman and all present governors of South-East and the President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo, for their unity of purpose in securing from President Buhari the N10billion for the repair of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.
“It is an evidence of what burying personal hatchet for common interest can achieve. It should serve as a prolegomenon for future common interest political action.” Aligbe, however, prescribed concession as the future for sustaining infrastructure at the airport.
According to him, the Akanu Ibiam International Airport is not part of the four international airports under concession, stressing that the South-East must immediately engage the minister for a programme to concession the airport as the government is not likely to expend any more money on it. In doing this, he stated that the South-East must ensure a transparent and global standard concessioning that will deliver an airport of 10-15 million passenger capacity at the end of the concession.
A member of the Ministerial Committee on the inspection of the airport about three years ago, Mr. Ayo Obilana, said that the closure of the airport was necessitated by the need to repair the runway out of safety concerns.
He maintained that the runway had outlived its lifespan based on its history and age of the airport. He lauded the shut-down of the facility for grave safety or security concern, maintaining that it would be irresponsible of any government or institution to ignore such concerns, which could lead to fatalities.
One hopes that never should the Federal Government allow any of the country’s major gate ways degenerate to a level that would put the lives of Nigerians in danger as the Enugu airport was a disaster waiting to happen until the government took the bull by the horn by shutting the airport for a total overhaulGoogle+