Contrary to minister’s claim, Enugu airport unlikely to be ready December - BUSINESSDAY
by Ifeoma Okeke
Contrary to the claim of Hadi Sirika, minister of aviation, the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, may not be ready for operations by December.
Sirika last month promised the airport would be ready for operations by December, but with the yet-to-be-approved special grant request of N10 billion from President Muhammadu Buhari for the completion of the reconstruction of the runways, this may be a tall dream.
John Ojikutu, a member of the aviation industry think tank group, Aviation Round Table (ART) and CEO, Centurion Securities, raises the doubts as to whether the airport will be ready by December, especially as the proposed money is yet to be approved by the presidency.
“With these additional constructions, which I believe must include taxiways that the runway had none originally, the N10 billion is very reasonable. If Abuja that has taxiways and with no reason to extend the runway took six weeks to repair its runway, we should expect more weeks and possibly six months to reconstruct the Enugu runway, extend it and construct taxiways to bring it to a standard of the global practice for an international airport,” Ojikutu says.
However, he explains that the closure was about safety, not politics, and pleads with the South Eastern governors to work closely with the minister in the interest of the regular air travelers from their states.
“I have said it several times that the opening of the airport for regular flight operations to heavier aircraft than the runway was built for was political with no safety consideration by whoever in authority then.
“Enugu runway was built for aircraft in the B737 categories and not for heavier ones like 767, 777 that the Ethiopian Airlines is flying into the airport now; that explains why in four years of opening it to such operations, the runway has been repaired twice,” Ojikutu notes.
The airport runway needs an upgrade to carry large or heavier aircraft not repairs like Abuja’s, and the runway will also need to be extended from some of the information available, which makes the expected work to be done to be completely different from the Abuja’s, he states.
The airport closure has since seen airlines diverting traffic to the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, Imo State, and Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), Rivers State, as an alternative to the Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu, currently closed for repairs.
However, frequent air travelers to the region who are already feeling the impact of the closure have expressed worry over the delay of the airport repairs.
“Since the airport closure, it has been very difficult to get to Enugu because of the bad condition of the roads, which will get worse by Christmas. Our fears have worsened since the silence of the Federal Government over the repair of the airport.
“It is so bad that the repair of an airport very significant to the South East region is being neglected. Those responsible need to wake up to their responsibilities and stop playing politics,” Obi Amos, a frequent traveler, says.
Already, ticket prices to Port Harcourt and Owerri during the Christmas season are seeing a slight increase.
A one-way ticket booked as of today for December 24 and 25 from Lagos-Owerri or Lagos-Port Harcourt flight is currently selling between N53,000 to N55,000, as against N30,000 to N35,000 average cost of the air ticket.
Aviation experts say for prices of tickets to be this high three months before Christmas smells doom for travelers, as these prices may increase by 50 to 100 percent during the period.
A few days ago, Sirika said the Ministry had made a special grant request of N10 billion from President Buhari for the completion of the reconstruction of the runways of Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.
He said there were structural damages at the airport that required the reconstruction work, noting they had negotiated with the contractor and made payment of the initial bill of quantities for the contract sum. He said the presidential grant was required to complete the repairs.
The minister said Exim Bank had been contacted for the reconstruction of the airport and work would be completed before the end of December 2019.