5 years after upgrade, Akanu Ibiam Airport still below standard
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.