Four years ago, the Federal Government realised the need to have a second runway at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, but the project was later cancelled. Now, that need has become critical as the airport records higher aircraft and passenger traffic. Chinedu Eze writes that Nigeria and airlines lose huge revenues anytime the airport is closed for repair of the existing runway.
The Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport was closed for 30 hours last weekend. It would also be closed this weekend for the same number of hours. This is due to repair work on the runway as pot holes are developing at the base of the runway. The single runway has become busier than the international runway (18R) of the Lagos airport because it receives all the flights, including international, local and private aircraft.
Loss of Revenue
It is estimated that both international and domestic airlines would lose over N2 billion for the 60 hours that the airport would be closed for two weekends. The international carriers like Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM, Ethiopia Airlines, Kenya Airways, Egypt Air and others that have scheduled flights to the airport would not fly to that destination and that means loss of revenue. Arik Air for example operates over 40 fights from the Abuja airport. It operates to Sokoto, Gombe, Calabar, Owerri, Asaba, Enugu and Port Harcourt from Abuja daily in addition to its numerous flights from Lagos to the Federal Capital Territory.
The Deputy Managing Director and Head of Flight Operations of the airline, Captain Ado Sanusi, said the closure of the airport leads to loss of millions of naira in revenue. “Besides our domestic flights, we also connect passengers to our international destinations from the West Coast to Johannesburg, New York and London, so we lose huge revenues when the airport is closed,” Sanusi said. Travel expert, Ikechi Uko, confirmed that the airlines and passengers lost money because of the shabby way the announcement for the closure was done.
THISDAY learnt that the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) was not issued in time so the booking system of international airlines were still on without the NOTAM notice on them and the passengers were still booking their flights. “The closure was shabbily done. Flights to Abuja were still open on the Internet and you know, people booked flights three months in advance. I was in London when the closure took place and in the travel circles people were complaining that the NOTAM issued did not reflect on the booking system of airlines. It was highly embarrassing, although the closure and repair was for the good of the country but it should have been announced early enough,” Uko said.
It was not only Arik Air that suffered losses among domestic carriers. It is also the fate of other Nigerian airlines as Abuja is the most lucrative route from Lagos and other destinations. But the flight cancellations and inconveniences to passengers wouldn’t have been if the plan in 2010 to build a second runway at the airport was carried through. That plan was frustrated by the House of Representatives which accused the Ministry of Aviation of inflating the cost of the project
The former Nigerian President, late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was said to have decided to cancel the project while he was in France and after meeting with the Contractor, Julius Berger, due to so much pressure from the House and severe criticisms from the media despite the project’s desirability. The existing runway was built in 1981.
It is now 33 years. The lifespan of the runway was 20 years, so it has exceeded its lifespan by 13 years. No wonder why it yields to disrepair so often. Last year a Saudi Arabian cargo aircraft was damaged when it taxied though a section of the runway under construction and it led to the closure of the airport for almost 24 hours impacting on passengers and airlines. The establishment of another runway is long overdue and now that President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered for the immediate development of another runway, it would still take 36 months to complete one. So the present hiccups and closure would continue till 2018; that is, if spirited effort is put in completing the second runway in time.
The Planned Second Runway
THISDAY spoke to the former Minister of Aviation, Babatunde Omotoba, who conceived and designed the second runway for the Abuja airport. He said he was happy that the President had directed that the runway should be built. Omotoba said his happiness is derived from the fact that the runway would be of immense service to Nigerians and commended the determination of the Jonathan administration to give Nigerians better infrastructure at the airports.
The former minister said that if a woman sees a snake and a man comes to kill it, the important thing is that the snake is killed; therefore, it does not matter who built the runway but the important thing is that the airport needs another runway and that there is hope that the present administration would build one. “What is important to me is that the project will eventually be built. It gives me joy because it is for the progress of Nigeria and I commend the government of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for its concerted effort to reposition the aviation sector,” Omotoba said. The House of Representatives and other Nigerians kicked against the project because of its high cost, at N64 billion, but those who designed the project and Julius Berger justified the cost because of the quality of work and expansiveness of the runway.
THISDAY learnt that the second runaway was conceived and designed to handle the biggest aircraft in the world, Airbus A380-800F with Category three Airfield Lighting (AFL). The body length of that aircraft is 73 meters, with a body height of 24 meters. The wings span is 79.8 meters and the maximum take-off weight is about 569,000 kg, about 600 tonnes, which is equivalent to packing 30 trailers with full load of cement. “That is the weight we were expecting to land on that runway,” said a source who is well detailed on the project. The runway length was estimated at 4.5 kilometres, with a width span of 75 meters and its strip, which should be free from any obstacle on both sides, was 150 metres on both sides.
“The basic length of the runway is about 3.4 kilometres and because of the altitude of Abuja, which is about 1000 feet above Lagos, about 267 meters was added to the runway. Equally, because of the temperature, we used 35.6 degree centigrade to design the runway. When you have high temperature it takes aircraft longer distance to stop, making for the additional 753 meters to the runway,” the source explained.
THISDAY gathered that the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport has area of about 710 hectares of land and a hectare is about 10, 000 square meters. This huge expanse of land was coveted for the airport because of the future development of Abuja, the construction of new terminal building, and so many other things that would be there, so that all of them would be within the two runways, the old and the new runways.
There was also a parallel 4.5 kilometres taxi way with five links to the runway and one of them is a rapid turnoff. The width of the taxi runway was supposed to be 65 meters. There is also a one kilometres crash road from each of the thresholds that is from each end of the runway and two connecting taxi way both 1.5 kilometres each from the old to the new runway. Addition to the runway is a 14.5 kilometres perimeter fence around the runway with essential security and lightening features, the entire 710 hectares of land is supposed to be landscaped with all the sand filling, also there was an existing river that is to be diverted in that project.
“We have perimeter road of 14.5 kilometres, inside the fence that is paved and another 14.5 outside the fence that was added. The perimeter fence is about 200 meters away from the runway shoulders. We have another 3.6 kilometres service road to link to the existing facility and we will have a new fire and rescue station plus fire hydrant because of the distance of the new runway from the present one in case if anything happens on the runway and you have the fire station at the present location, disaster would have happened even before we get there. “The pavement structure has 6 cm wearing course, 7 cm as 40 concrete course, 8 cm as 40 concrete binder course, 30 cm cross stone based course, 50 laterite based course, total of 101 cm,” the source explained.
Cost of the Project
PW, a construction company was said to have quoted N32 billion but eventually the job was given out at N64 billion to Julius Berger. The reason given was that PW did not conform to the specification given to them; they designed a 3.5 kilometre runway. “By the time we engaged consultant to do independent review, design and cost the runway for us, the overall came to N65 billion. The company came back and told PW to go back and conform to the design given to them.”
THISDAY learnt that on December 4th, 2009, PW wrote a letter to the Ministry of Aviation, saying that it’s been asked by the consultant to conform to the specification given and said that it had done its estimate and if it was to conform to the specification handed to it, the cost would more than double the previous 32 billion it quoted; that is to say, it would cost more than N64 billion to construct. “They also confirmed to us that because their yearly revenue was less than half of that, and that the company has a policy of not taking a job that was more than two years its revenue because any mistake on such a job could lead to bankruptcy; they decided to say that the company cannot do the job. That was what gave the Bureau for Public Procurement the comfort to give the job to Julius Berger,” the inside source said.
No one knows whether the federal government would stick to the original design of the project and also award it to Julius Berger at the initial cost or whether it would be reviewed; thereby adjusting downwards the quality of work that would be done. But a source told THISDAY that the work should not be given to Chinese company because if the next runway in Abuja was not well constructed, in the next 10 years there would be a clamour for the building of another runway. But from the unfolding events, what is not in dispute is that Abuja Airport needs another runway.