As the nation celebrates the commissioning of the reconstructed Runway at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, Aviation Correspondent looks at the necessity of a second runway.
It’s embarrassing that a nation will shut down the airport to its capital city – the gateway. It was unthinkable and almost unconceivable. But it happened and in Nigeria. Perhaps the first country, that wasn’t in a war, to do that in modern times.
Nigeria had shut down the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja from March 8, to April 18, 2017 for runway repairs that cost the taxpayers more than N10bn. The runways has been fixed but that isn’t a permanent solution to the looming crisis at that airport. Prior to the repairs, the existing Abuja airport runway superstructure had completely failed after a decade of decay without significant maintenance history as a runway built to last 20 years, survived 34 years.
This suggests that the closure was avoidable if the facility was maintained according to specification. No thanks to official corruption.
At the height of the runway failure, the cracks on the runway began damaging aircraft wheels and tyres. Lufthansa, Emirates, Air France and South African Airline all fell victims, with thousands of dollars lost besides the several hours downtime.
Foreign airline operators in Nigeria complained to government about the state of the Abuja runway. Some threatened to pull out. Emirates was the first to execute the threat, it pulled out October 2016 and other airlines where to follow suit, as crashes were eminent on the runway.
Beyond the failed runway, the airport had just one runway, another embarrassment to Nigeria. Recall in 2013, when Saudi Cargo aircraft crash landed on the Abuja runway, it was shut down for over 17 hours for the aircraft to be evacuated.
Precisely, on Wednesday July 4th, 2013 night, an Saudi Air cargo plane ran into runway repair machines at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
Thousands of air passengers traveling to and out of Abuja at the time were stranded. That action led to lost of their appointments and the airlines lost huge revenue as most of their flights were grounded.
The airport was closed while the plane was being evacuated, thereby forcing in-bound international flights that were already airborne to divert to Lagos at the time. For instance, the British Airways flight scheduled to arrive in Abuja around 5.30am that day was diverted to Lagos instead and that was a huge loss to the airline and passengers.
Local flights which were to begin arrivals and departures from about 7am, except Arik’s 7am flight to Lagos, were cancelled, affecting thousands of travelers.
International flights, including Ethiopian Air scheduled for Addis Ababa and Egypt Air to Cairo were also cancelled. In all, the about 78 domestic flights which were operated daily from Lagos to Abuja and from Abuja to other destinations, according to official schedule of the airlines, at the time were cancelled.
This suggests that, even with a well-done runway, if an accident happens on it, the Abuja airport will be shut to traffic, until all the debris are evacuated. That is pretty dangerous, let alone a terrorist attack on the facility.
The shutting down of the Abuja airport reverberated the agitation for a second runway for the airport, at least to avoid a situation where the Abuja airport will be shut just because a runway is bad. A second runway for the Abuja airport, the second busiest Airport in Nigeria, is inevitable. If only the airport had a second runway, the nation would have been saved huge financial loses, estimated in excess of N15bn, following the closure of the airport for six weeks.
The National Assembly had a proposal for the construction of a second runway for the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, in the 2017 Appropriation Bill which was recently signed into law by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. The provision of N20bn in the budget will be will be sufficient to build the new runway, according to officials and some experts who spoke to DAILY ASSET.
Suffice to say, the cost of a runway construction is defined by such variables like the topography of the location, the length of the proposed runway, the capacity and category of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) that will be provided, the navigational aid system, the thickness of the runway based on the type of aircraft it would take and other considerations. The existing runway was rehabilitated for N5.8 billion. Building a new one will cost several times over.
The ILS, one of the most critical compenets in runway construction comes in categories I,II, IIIA, IIIB and IIIC.
Category 2 ILS could cost about $5million to procure while category 3 could cost between $10 million to N50 million depending on the scope of work, the runway length, and other variables. The current Abuja airport has category II.
In fact the procurement processes hasn’t even begun by the Ministry of Transportation.
Industry watchers say, even though the budget hasn’t been signed into law, the bid for the second airport should have been advertised for bidders to express interest. If this occurs, and the preferred bidder known, once funds becomes available, the process will commence without further delay.
Also for Nigeria to become an aviation hub in line with the nation’s strategic intent, the second runway for Abuja airport is not negotiable.
In the original design of the Abuja airport, a second runway was to be built for the airport after about 10 years of operations. That never happened. Also a second airport was to be built at Kwali Abuja to complement the existing airport that too hasn’t happened.
This is not the first attempt Nigeria will be procuring a second runway for the Abuja airport.
But this is not the first time Nigeria will be making an attempt to build a second runway as seven years ago, Nigeria began the process that would later be marred in murky waters of contract scams.
Recall in 2010, a contract for the project was awarded to the Julius Berger Construction Company through selective tendering and agreement on February 5, 2010. The contract was initially valued at N64 billion, but was later reviewed downward by a panel, following an allegation of contract scam. The entire process was later terminated because of the controversies that soured the contract sum.
The second attempt was during the tenure of President Gooodluck Jonathan. In July 2014, the Abuja airport was shut down following the need to fix some ruptured part of the runway. During the two weekends in July, the airport was shut for about 60 hours altogether. An estimated N500m was lost during the closure.
Also lost was Nigeria’s pride again. The first closure which occurred from Saturday July 5, 2014 to Monday July 7, 2014 affected delegates arriving in Nigeria for the 1st World Pension Summit held in Abuja. In fact, the co-chairman of the World Pension Summit (WPS), Mr. Eric Eggink, openly complained at the summit about the closure in the presence of former president, Goodluck Jonathan. Following that complaint, Dr Jonathan directed his Coordinating Minister for the Economy (CME) and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Bala Mohammed and the Supervising Minister of Aviation, Chief Sam Ortom, to ensure the commencement of work on the second runway for the NAIAA. Chief Ortom later resigned to pursue his gubernatorial ambition and Mr. Osita Chidoka was appointed the Minister of Aviation. He took up from there. The project was top priority on his list of to do items but before the project could get traction, Mr. Jonathan lost his reelection bid and the effort died naturally.
Now that the nation agrees Abuja airport needs a second runway, we hope the procurement processes will commence in earnest to save the nation further embarrassments and end the nightmare of international travelers into the Abuja Airport.