In this era of change, you must forgive stakeholders like us who insist that we must do things differently in order to achieve better results. We have condemned the kleptomania of past years and the lack of vision that led to the dilapidation of our national assets. So, let’s fix the problems. But first, let’s not just throw money at problems; let’s deploy intellect.
The plan to close the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport for six weeks to effect repairs on the runway is a very bad idea. It smacks of intellectual indolence. I am totally in agreement with the President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Engr. Otis Oliver Anyaeji that an airport doesn’t have to be closed to effect repairs on the runway. One wonders why Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika has not considered saddling the NSE with the task of overseeing the rehabilitation of the runway considering that they have the expertise in all areas of engineering. Why does the aviation minister insist on washing his face with spittle when he is living beside a flowing stream?
In other climes, airport total closure is anathema. At the Dubai International Airport where extensive re-carpeting of the tarmac was required, the southern runway was closed for 31 days and the northern runway 60 days. The number of flights was reduced but the airport was not totally shut down. Airlines were offered large discounts to shift operations to Al Maktoum International.
One of the arguments marshalled by Mr. Sirika and fellow pro-closure advocates was that the Abuja runway has so completely collapsed that nothing short of a total shutdown was required. Not true! Nigeria’s is not the worst case of runway dilapidation. In the case of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Sri Lanka, runway repair was 30 years overdue. The authorities decided on a partial closure of the airport. Flights could take off and land only from 4.30 p.m. to 8.00 a.m. until throughout the duration of the repairs.
At the Devi Ahilya Holkar Airport, Indore, India where the runway had developed pits and craters, the airport was closed in the morning hours for three months. Airline companies were told to schedule their morning flights around mid-night. The old Instrumental Landing System (ILS) was replaced with a new one and the glide path at the runway was upgraded as both ILS and glide path would help reduce chance of errors, especially in low visibility.
At another airport, the Chandigarh International, the facility was shut by the Airports Authority of India on ONLY five consecutive Sundays for runway repairs. A total of 20 direct flights each depart and arrive the airport daily. There were flights from Monday to Saturday.
Ahmedabad, another key metro city airport has also had to stagger airline schedules as it embarked on runway repairs occasioning partial shutdown. The airport was closed from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for 15 months while Indore Airport was shut from 6 a.m. to 12 noon for six months. A single runway was in operation at the Netaji Subhash Chandra International Airport, Kolkata, while the second one was undergoing repairs.
In the UK, the East Midlands Airport (EMA) was shut for seven consecutive weekends to resurface the runway. It closed to all traffic at 20:00 GMT and reopened 48 hours later, each weekend. During the works, about 50,000 tonnes of material was laid on the 2.9 km runway. Airport authorities said completing the refurbishment over several weekends rather than all at once was the best way to avoid major disruption.
So, what is so special about our case that we have to completely shut down air access to our capital city to fix the runway? This fixation with “there is no alternative” belongs in the past. (In the late 80s, Babangida said there was no alternative to SAP. More recently, Obasanjo said the only way to prosperity was to empty our savings and pay all our debts in one fell swoop while infrastructure decayed). A thinking government cobbles out alternatives. And the blackmail over possible crashes if the airport is not completely closed down is outright childish. It is like saying that the National Hospital, Abuja should be closed down for repairs for six weeks while all patients are transferred to Kaduna.
On this score, the Nigerian Senate is right to have advised the minister to rethink his plan. The plan to ferry passengers from Kaduna to Abuja by busses or by train will prove a logistical nightmare. Now, to pull that off on a daily basis by a ministry not famous for efficiency would be a tall order.
Has the minister held a consultative meeting with armed robbers, kidnappers, car snatchers and the captains of the crime industry to go on break during the period? Can the police be omnipresent? What are the details of the associated costs? What juicy contracts are popping up?
Minister Sirika should not behave like many public officers who think their pronouncements are cast in stone and that they lose face if they make a U-turn. Closure of Abuja Airport has too many unsavoury economic, political, diplomatic, social and security implications. It is also a step that is guaranteed to demarket, nay -‘ unmarket’, Nigeria. I ask, why not split the job among several tested contractors working for eight hours every night under NSE’s overall supervision? That way, planes can take off and land between 7am and 7pm. Sirika should reach out to Nigerian engineers to help him with what is essentially an engineering problem, not rocket science.
While we are still on this subject, is there any kind of research going on to increase the lifespan of our tarmacs and highways? There are ongoing efforts in Bangladesh and Bahrain to strengthen asphalt with polymer with the hope that if successful, it could stretch the lifespan of runways to between 30 and 40 years. These are the serious matters that should be engaging us as a nation, not airport closure.
Source: Wole Olaoye - Daily Trust