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Necessary renovation work closes Abuja airport

Airline passengers traveling to the Nigerian capital of Abuja will be facing delays as Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport is being shut down for the next six weeks to enable repair work on its runway.

While the airport is closed, Abuja-bound planes will be diverted to Kaduna from where passengers will be transported to Abuja by bus on a three-and-a-half-hour journey. Passengers will be guarded by security provided by the government as the route to the capital goes over a pot-holed road where accidents, hijackings, and kidnappings have taken place over the last few years.

Stanley Achonu flies weekly between Lagos and Abuja but has chosen not to go to Abuja via Kaduna.

“It is a long trip to go to Kaduna and I don’t think I can do the stress of coming to the airport in Lagos and then doing another three hours drive from Kaduna to Abuja. It’s totally not worth that stress,” he said.

Too far a drive

Many airlines, including Air France, British Airways, KLM and Lufthansa, have refused a government proposal to divert flights to Kaduna and then bus passengers the 250 kilometers (155 miles) to Abuja and have instead canceled all Abuja-bound flights.  Besides security concerns, the airlines say that Kaduna Airport is too small and poorly equipped to take the large number of flights being diverted there.

In December 2015, the last month for which Nigeria’s airport authority has figures, Kaduna’s international Airport handled 12 flights daily compared with 812 at Abuja International. Ethiopian Airline is the only international airline that has agreed to fly to Kaduna for the next six weeks.

Dr. Sylvester Odion Akhaine from Lagos State University said that the refusal of the foreign airlines to fly to Kaduna has implications for Nigeria’s image.

“It gives the picture of a country that is not working, which I think Nigerian government actors should worry about,” he said.

Economic effects

The cancellation of flights and the reluctance of many passengers to fly to the Nigerian capital will seriously affect many whose business take them in and out of Abuja. Stakeholders had earlier urged authorities not to completely close the airport but to carry out repair work at night and keep it open in the daytime.

Nigeria’s minister of state for aviation, Hadi Sirika, said at a meeting with stakeholders that the runway has to be shut down completely because of its very deplorable state.

“The runway was designed for twenty years to cater for not more than hundred thousand passengers per annum. Today, it is doing over five million passengers per annum and it has been there for thirty four years,” said Sirika. According to the government, German construction giant Julius Berger will carry out the repairs on Abuja’s damaged runway.

The government has launched a website, where information about the closure of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport can be found. It also offers information on Kaduna airport and about flight schedules and the status of repairs.

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