Monday, 27 March 2017

Abuja airport runway ‘not extended by 18 weeks’

The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and Julius Berger, the contractor handling the repair of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja runway, said yesterday that the work is 40 per cent completed. They spoke in Abuja yesterday when members of the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, led by its chairman, Mrs. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, inspected the project. Resident Engineer, FAAN Mr. Yemi Ayelesan, told the committee that the hardest part of the work, which is mailing of the 3.6 kilometres runway, had been completed. He explained that the laying of fibre glide rubber’’, which prevents water from going deep underground and also prevent runway from cracking has also been completed. Ayelesan told the committee that the contractors are working to specifications and would deliver on schedule, expressing confidence that the six weeks period for reopening of the airport was feasible. According to him, the contractors are working round the clock to ensure that they meet the deadline. He said the repair work was a total reconstruction and not partial rehabilitation, explaining that the entire runway had been excavated for laying of asphalt. He said there were isolated areas that were so bad that required digging deeper beyond mailing and laying of asphalt, stating that the entire surface were mailed to a certain depth. According to him, there is nothing like partial rehabilitation, even the taxi way is being repaired. “Laying asphalt does not take time; it is the easiest part of the work. “The lighting system is the next step, and the cable can be fixed within two days. As things are now, we will start fixing the light cable on March 29,’’ he said. Project Manager, Julius Berger Dr. Lai’s Richter said the work was being done in line with the programme of work. Richter said the fixing of the lighting cable would commence on Wednesday, restating that the runway repairs would be completed before April 19 deadlines. The Chairman of the House Committee said their visit was to seek explanation on the level of work done so far in line with the project agreement. Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed and his Aviation counterpart, Hadi Sirika, yesterday clarified that the Federal Government has not extended the deadline for the completion of the Abuja Airport runway by 18 weeks. The ministers said the first phase of the runway repairs will be completed on April 19 as promised by the government. They spoke yesterday at a stakeholders’ conference in Lagos, where they met members of the Aviation Roundtable Safety Initiative (ART). Sirika said he would tender his resignation, if the contractors fail to meet the deadline. He stressed that the airport runway was scheduled to be completed within a six-month period and that the airport must be opened for flights to land safely after six weeks of closure. He said: “We chose Julius Berger because they have been in the site already. We have tested them before. Nigeria will not forgive us, if we fail to meet up the six weeks period. I will resign, if I don’t meet the deadline of six weeks.” According to the minister, the ongoing work has incurred extra N150 million, which was used by the contractors to charter planes that was used to ferry some of the equipment used in the repair works. Sirika said when completed, the Abuja runway will be used in excess of 10 Years. He said President Muhammadu Buhari has a soft spot for aviation. “PMB has a soft spot for Aviation. He takes it very seriously. During the transition period, he always asks of aviation. Even during his political campaigns, he was interested in aviation. “The president believed I will not be that stupid to take such huge commitment that concerns over 180 million people. Many people, including the National Council of Engineers, believed we can do it and they gave us all the necessary supports,” Sirika said. He noted that the Federal Government has done everything possible to ensure the comfort and safety of passengers. “Transport to and from Abuja and Kaduna is free. The expressway has been rehabilitated. Life is paramount and guaranteed,” he said. On maintenance plans for the runway, the minister added: “There will be periodic maintenance. We have directed NCAA and FAAN for a manual for the periodic maintenance. We will come out with programmes because the ones they had before is not satisfactory. All other runways will also be taken care of. Each and every airport or landing strip is very important and that is why they need to be done so that it can be safe.” Speaking at the event, Mohammed said: “We are here today in continuation of our interaction with major stakeholders in the aviation sector, designed primarily to keep them, and by extension all Nigerians, informed on all issues surrounding the closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja and the temporary diversion of all Abuja flights to Kaduna International Airport. “What we are doing here today is in continuation of the efforts to carry Nigerians along and to keep them adequately informed about this whole issue of Abuja airport closure and the operations in Kaduna. We are here because we believe that members of the Aviation Round Table are major stakeholders; knowledgeable stakeholders, whose opinions are based on empirical evidence rather than sheer emotions.” Mohammed said the Federal Government has done everything possible to ensure the comfort, safety and security of the travelling public during the six-week closure of the Abuja airport. “Transportation from Abuja to Kaduna and vice versa is free for air passengers, security along the Abuja-Kaduna expressway is such that there is a presence of security agents at short intervals. The expressway itself has been rehabilitated to ensure a smooth ride and, I can tell you, having travelled on that road at least twice since the relocation, that the ride is smooth. The safety and security of passengers at the Kaduna airport are paramount and guaranteed, as attested to by many,” he said. The Information and Culture Minister said reconstruction of the Abuja airport runway is nearing its halfway mark and indications are that we are on course to re-open the Abuja airport for flight operations on schedule. “Kaduna airport is not the same as Abuja Airport. During this relocation, there is no way that the travelling public will not experience minimal discomfort. But, as a caring and responsible government, we have taken all the necessary measures to ease such discomfort. Thankfully, the efforts have paid off because operational disruptions have been minimal, despite the massive logistics involved in the relocation. “We lay no claims to perfection. That’s why we are here to meet with experts. We are ready to listen to them on what other measures they think we can put in place to make the operations in Kaduna smoother and, in the long run, to avoid this kind of total airport shutdown in the future. “Finally, finally, let me use this opportunity to debunk the erroneous report making the rounds that the closure of the Abuja airport has been extended by 18 weeks. This is not true. The six weeks’ time line for the closure remains. After six weeks, the Abuja airport will be reopened. The remaining work on the runway will not necessitate the closure of the airport.”

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