5 years af­ter up­grade, Akanu Ibiam Air­port still below stan­dard

Sunday Trust - - PAGE 3 COMMENT - From Tony Adibe (Enugu) & Ab­dul­la­teef Aliyu (La­gos)

Five years af­ter the Akanu Ibiam In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Enugu, was up­graded, its fa­cil­i­ties, and in­deed, the en­vi­ron­ment, are yet to con­form to in­ter­na­tional stan­dard .

Find­ings by Daily Trust on Sun­day re­vealed that the air­port is rid­dled with pot­holed run­way, poor tar­mac, lack of run­way light, no radar sys­tem and stink­ing toi­lets. Sev­en­teen agen­cies con­duct se­cu­rity checks on trav­ellers while there’s lack of lounge and tele­vi­sion sets for pas­sen­gers wait­ing for their flights. This is even as 30 sets of Chigo air con­di­tion­ers have bro­ken down, fur­ther sub­ject­ing trav­ellers to un­told hard­ship as they sweat pro­fusely. They go through se­ri­ous stress be­fore em­bark­ing on their flights.

In Septem­ber 2018, the South­East Gov­er­nors Fo­rum (SEGF) raised the alarm over what they called the in­cred­i­bly bad con­di­tion of fa­cil­i­ties at the air­port, declar­ing it un­safe for trav­ellers.

The chair­man of SEGF, Gover­nor David Umahi of Ebonyi State, who read the com­mu­niqué af­ter their meet­ing at the Gov­ern­ment House, Enugu, ap­pealed to the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to, as a mat­ter of ur­gency, re­ha­bil­i­tate the run­way and other vi­tal fa­cil­i­ties in the air­port.

Speak­ing on the con­di­tion of the air­port, an of­fi­cial of one of the air­lines said, “There are pot­holes. At 7pm the air­port closes be­cause the run­way light is not there. The air­port op­er­a­tion is between 7am and 7pm. There are no evening flights here. Big­ger air­craft can’t land here be­cause of the poor fa­cil­i­ties.

“The gov­er­nors are the spokes­men of the peo­ple of the zone; they should get the air­port au­thor­i­ties to put the fa­cil­i­ties in or­der.’’

He said it’s not enough for the gov­er­nors to is­sue state­ments and go to bed, adding, “There has been con­spir­acy against this place since the death of Yar’adua.”

Daily Trust on Sun­day was in­formed that an ex­pa­tri­ate con­struc­tion firm was awarded the con­tract to fix the run­way light, but be­cause it did not spe­cialise in elec­tri­cal mat­ters, it re-awarded the con­tract to a Chi­nese com­pany, which re­port­edly left the work at 80 per cent level. It was gath­ered that the work has not been fully com­pleted, com­mis­sioned and pow­ered be­cause the Chi­nese firm said they had not been paid.

An­other of­fi­cial of an air­line asked: “Why can’t the gov­er­nors dig deep and find out the real is­sues at stake and push fur­ther to get things prop­erly done?” In the SEGF com­mu­niqué, Gover­nor Umahi told news­men: “We are aware that the con­tract was given to the com­pany that resur­faced the tar­mac but we don’t know whether the tar­mac is worse. So our de­mand is that the min­is­ter should come with ex­perts to look at it.

“Some of you also trav­elled and you saw very stiff ef­forts made by pi­lots to land. It is not safe for our peo­ple at all. So we have to ask the min­is­ter to come as a mat­ter of ur­gency.

“Also, run­way light was re­cently in­stalled, but it is as good as noth­ing be­cause the bright­ness is not there at all. And you have a case where, as an in­ter­na­tional air­port, no flight can land from 6:30pm. That’s not ac­cept­able.”

An­other air­line of­fi­cial also said, “First of all, fa­cil­i­ties here are not for in­ter­na­tional op­er­a­tion stan­dard. When peo­ple travel, they don’t want to be stressed; they want a good en­vi­ron­ment. For us, the area is not suitable for op­er­a­tion. It is very con­gested and peo­ple clus­ter ev­ery­where. You were here in the morn­ing and you saw how con­gested the place was. There are no chairs for our pas­sen­gers. We need a place like a lounge to keep pas­sen­gers, but we don’t have such place in an in­ter­na­tional air­port.”

“It is sur­pris­ing that 17 agen­cies are check­ing pas­sen­gers here. They con­sti­tute an ad­di­tional bur­den to pas­sen­gers. An x-ray ma­chine should be enough for screen­ing.”

He fur­ther said the num­ber of se­cu­rity per­son­nel at the air­port of­ten scare pas­sen­gers. “We wanted to get a cargo air­craft, but it can’t come here be­cause the run­way is below stan­dard. Things will im­prove if the new ter­mi­nal is com­pleted.’’

Daily Trust on Sun­day re­calls that at the 5th an­niver­sary of in­ter­na­tional flights to the air­port on Septem­ber 13, some lead­ers in the South-East zone called on gov­ern­ment to fix the fa­cil­i­ties. The event was put to­gether by a des­ti­na­tion brand­ing and mar­ket­ing com­pany, i-Tour Africa, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the SEGF. Among those who at­tended the cer­e­mony, tagged, “Ala-Igbo Amaka”, were the pres­i­dent­gen­eral of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who was the chair­man of the event; for­mer chair­man, Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Avi­a­tion, un­der whose watch the air­port was up­graded, El­der Anyim Ude; for­mer avi­a­tion min­is­ter, Am­bas­sador Fidelia Njeze; for­mer manag­ing di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Airspace Man­age­ment Agency (NAMA), Mazi Nnamdi Udoh.

Ad­dress­ing the gath­er­ing, Nwodo ac­cused the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment of deny­ing the South-East an in­ter­na­tional air­port be­cause of “the skewed fed­eral struc­ture” in the coun­try. He said re­struc­tur­ing the coun­try would en­able states de­velop at their own pace and pro­mote healthy com­pe­ti­tion and de­vel­op­ment.

Sen­a­tor Anyim Ude blamed the prob­lems in the Enugu air­port on the fall­out of the Bi­afra saga, which he al­leged made the fed­eral au­thor­i­ties to marginalise the Igbo. He said it took the col­lec­tive re­solve of Na­tional As­sem­bly mem­bers from the South-East zone for the Enugu air­port to be ap­proved for up­grade in 2007. He lauded the Deputy Pres­i­dent of the Se­nate Ike Ek­w­ere­madu for his strate­gic lead­er­ship role in the en­tire process.

“For­mer Pres­i­dent Yar’adua was shocked that a re­gional cap­i­tal did not have an in­ter­na­tional air­port. At the end, he ap­proved that steps be taken to im­ple­ment that di­rec­tive,’’ he re­called.

Also speak­ing on the con­di­tion of the air­port, an­other air­line of­fi­cial said, “My pre­de­ces­sors told me that the prob­lems were even worse be­fore I came. A lot of cus­tomers have re­lo­cated to other air­ports.”

A trav­eller who said he re­turned from South Africa said, “Sure, this is the most stress­ful air­port in the whole world. I have trav­elled world­wide, but what I ex­pe­ri­ence here is hell. The ear­lier your gov­ern­ment sit up, the bet­ter be­cause no one knows to­mor­row.”

An­other trav­eller said: “A first time trav­eller com­ing here will be tor­tured, and the per­son won’t like to come here again. When you go round the world, air­ports are like a recre­ational place, but you can’t get a wi-fi here; no tele­vi­sion sets for peo­ple to watch, as­sum­ing there’s break­ing news.

“Even the toi­let is stink­ing. It does not give a good im­pres­sion about Nige­ria and Enugu State.” When our cor­re­spon­dent con­tacted the of­fi­cials of the Fed­eral Air­ports Au­thor­ity of Nige­ria (FAAN), one of the fe­male of­fi­cials who didn’t dis­close her iden­tity said, “You have to write our of­fice in La­gos. This is a fed­eral es­tab­lish­ment. You can’t get any an­swer or re­ac­tion from any­one here. Some print me­dia, in the past, messed up the sit­u­a­tion at the air­port. ” The man­ager, De­part­ment of Cor­po­rate Com­mu­ni­ca­tions of Air Peace, Chris Iwara, ac­knowl­edged the re­ceipt of email mes­sages con­tain­ing ques­tions on the state of fa­cil­i­ties in the air­port, but said he would take his time to re­ply. But up till the time of fil­ing the re­port, he didn’t send any re­ac­tion. Also, the me­dia di­rec­tor, Arik Air, Ola Ade­bajo, said his email was faulty, but he did not send a cur­rent ad­dress.

How­ever, it was learnt that the FAAN and the Nige­rian Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity (NCAA) are mak­ing ef­forts to ad­dress the chal­lenges at the air­port.

The FAAN had, in No­vem­ber 2017, tem­po­rar­ily shut down the ter­mi­nal for re­pair of the run­way amidst com­plaints from pi­lots.

But de­spite the re­pair, the run­way has fur­ther de­te­ri­o­rated; hence stake­hold­ers are sug­gest­ing that the air­port should be closed com­pletely for re­pair. It was also learnt that au­thor­i­ties have been in­un­dated with com­plaints about the state of the run­way. The Ethiopian Air­line, which op­er­ates in­ter­na­tional flights to the state, has com­plained about the state of the air­port.

An avi­a­tion an­a­lyst, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (retd), said the run­way re­quired to­tal re­con­struc­tion. “I have said it many times that the two re­pairs car­ried out last year and this year were wastages of scarce funds. Enugu run­way does not need those re­pairs. What it re­quires is to­tal re­con­struc­tion to up­grade its load clas­si­fi­ca­tion num­ber from car­ry­ing B737 to car­ry­ing big­ger air­craft of the weight of B777 and above.

“The air­port may have to be closed and the traf­fic di­verted to Ow­erri or As­aba as was done dur­ing the re­con­struc­tion of the Port Har­court run­way in 2006/2007. Al­ter­na­tive is to build a se­cond run­way; but would the gov­ern­ment have that money?”

It was, how­ever, learnt that the air­port would be closed down for re­pair as it was done at the Nnamdi Azikiwe In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Abuja. But at the time of fil­ing this re­port, it was not clear when the shut­down would be car­ried out.

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