The Senate on Tuesday backed down on its opposition to the planned closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja for six weeks in order to effect the repair of its only runway.
The closure is scheduled to start on March 8, 2017. While the airport will be reopened after six weeks, the rehabilitation will last six months.
While the lawmakers expressed their reservations for the diversion of flights from Abuja to Kaduna, they called on the Federal Government to put all pieces of advice into consideration.
The Senate made its position on the matter known after its plenary on Tuesday.
The Nigerian Society of Engineers and the contractor, Messrs Julius Berger Nigeria Limited, were, however, sharply divided over the total closure of the airport during the rehabilitation work.
While the NSE called for a segmented repair model to allow landing and take-off on the runway, Julius Berger stated that it would be dangerous to work on the runway while it was in use.
At the continuation of a public hearing on the planned closure of the airport and diversion of flights to the Kaduna airport, stakeholders appeared before the Senate on Tuesday.
The lawmakers had summoned the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika; the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mohammed Bello; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar; and heads of aviation agencies.
Amaechi and Sirika had appeared before the Senate on Thursday when the hearing began.
The Senate also invited the Nigeria Police Force, the NSE and Julius Berger.
Members expressed concerns over the financial and security implications of the temporary relocation to the Kaduna airport at a time the country was in economic recession.
After the presentations, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, noted that although the Senate was opposed to the total closure of the Abuja airport, the Minister of Aviation can take decisions based on technical advice by stakeholders.”
The President, Mr. Otis Anyaeji, stated that the society was against the total closure of the Abuja airport, adding that the repair work could be modified to allow flights.
According to him, the issue is not technical but managerial.
Anyaeji said, “The society held a meeting with the relevant agencies yesterday (Monday); the outcome of the meeting confirms that it is possible to carry out the proposed reconstruction without shutting down the airport.
“The issue raised by the aviation agencies is that the procedure is challenging and fraught with risks. Therefore, the issue is not technical but managerial, since aviation has known recommended procedures to manage this type of activities and the expertise can be learned.
“The Nigerian Society of Engineers is insisting that the state of the runway presently required that it should be constructed immediately.”
But Julius Berger dismissed the NSE’s recommendations as dangerous and unrealistic.
Its Managing Director, Mr. Wolfgang Goetsch, insisted that the runway should be shut down for safety reasons.
He said, “A runway can be repaired without closing, but it depends on the scale of the repair. If there is only ups damage, then, it can be repaired in a localised manner; that means it can be shut down in the night, a spot can be repaired and in the morning it can be temporarily given edge for usage. But not with the state of the runway here in Abuja with the extent of damage and deterioration.
“Actually, the whole runway from one end to the other end is damaged. That means if the method of repair (recommended by the NSE) is used, you start on one side of the runway in the night and in the morning you allow or open it up for traffic, it will mean that this repair will take between two and two and a half years.”
Goetsch also said Julius Berger would guarantee that the repairs would be completed within the stipulated six weeks.
Sirika, while also dismissing NSE’s proposals, said it would be dangerous for aircraft to take off and land where there were debris and construction equipment.