Tongues have continued to wag over why the controversial Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport (NAIIA) runway at Abuja was used for over 20 years without been made to undergo the required stipulated years of maintenance policy.
In a detailed position paper made available to journalists yesterday by the president of Aviation Round Table (ART), Elder Gbenga Olowo, the group of aviation professionals said after taking a holistic assessment of the debates the Abuja airport runway has gathered, blamed the failure to overhaul the airport runway for over 30 years on the negligence of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
According to ART, the failure of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to strictly follow the Runway Maintenance Programme and conduct regular repairs and rehabilitation of the runway as at when due coupled with the lethargic oversight of NCAA have effectively contributed to bring the situation to where it is today.
“For the purpose of our assessment and as key stakeholders and custodians of the legacy of fairness, truth and integrity in addressing safety critical issues in the sector, we need to ask the salient question: ‘How did we get here?’ The Abuja runway was originally meant to last for 20 years.
“However, on the balance of probability of the fact that it was underutilised judging from the number of landings on the runway, its utilisation was further stretched by an additional 14 years leading to the current deplorable condition and the attendant grave safety implications as evidenced by several near fatal incidents that have occurred as a result of the bad condition of the runway.
“This could only have happened due to the fact that the NCAA, which is responsible for conducting safety oversight of the sector, was docile and failed completely in ensuring that FAAN religiously complies with the Runway Maintenance Programme for NAIA, which is an operational safety requirement.”
While insisting that the decision as to whether a runway should be closed or not rests within the purview of NCAA as provided for in the Act establishing the Regulatory Agency and not the Executive arm of government, the group lamented how constant political interference by the Executive arm of government, the Ministry, continues to usurp the role of NCAA and has hampered its effectiveness especially under the current Director General.
“We therefore challenge the NCAA to be alive to its responsibility of safety oversight by conducting a thorough assessment of the status of all the runways at the various airports in the country in an effort to correct the problems immediately and give each of them a clean bill of health in order to forestall a reoccurrence of the Abuja saga.
The closure of NAIA runway ART said will no doubt has serious safety, security and cost implications as local and international passengers will have to face the great inconvenience of traveling by road from Kaduna to Abuja amidst several security uncertainties while airlines, service providers, employees and the national economy will all be negatively impacted by the closure.
“In view of the pains and untold hardships the closure will inevitably bring with it, we are concerned and sincerely hope that the project will be completed on schedule within the stipulated six weeks in order to reduce the pains, burden and costs to the people of Nigeria, the economy and the international community who do business in Nigeria.
“Judging from the proviso given by the Managing Director of Julius Berger to the House of Senate that the project will be completed on schedule: “ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL,”ART is highly uncomfortable with such a conditional statement and seriously doubt that the project will be completed on schedule to once again allow for flight operations within the stated time frame.
Our submission is that it is of outmost importance and highly desirable for Julius Berger to be compelled to issue a Performance Guarantee rather than hide under a blanket condition.”