FG denies plans to shut Abuja airport for 18 weeks

The Federal Government yesterday denied that the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) runway repairs would last for 18 weeks, contrary to the six weeks earlier announced.The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed and the Ministry of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, dismissed the claim as a misinformation, re-assuring that all was on course to reopen the airport on April 19 as planned.Both ministers, at a parley with the Aviation Round Table (ART) group in Lagos yesterday, said work was half way through and NAIA is due to reopen within six-week, after which other maintenance work would continue at night.Sirika told the think-tank aviation group that he was surprised over a newspaper report yesterday that a Federal Government’s committee had extended the duration of the repair exercise.He said: “I can tell you for a fact that no committee has extended the repair time frame. Our six-week plan remains.”According to the minister, “It was a tough decision to close the airport, but it was the best after all options were considered. A lot of planning, discussions and consultations were done. So, we believe that we are doing the right thing.”Sirika also disclosed that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) would certify the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, in May and the NAIA in December.He said the certification of both airports was well on course, maintaining that no stone would be left unturned to actualise it.Responding, ART raised concerned over security of night-time landing and takeoff at the international airport, while repair work would be ongoing around the runway.Doyen of the aviation industry, Capt. Dele Ore, recalled a similar incident at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in 2003 when a cargo plane crashed into equipment stationed on the runway during night repairs.Yesterday too, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and Julius Berger, the contractor handling the repair said work is 40 per cent completed.They made this known when members of the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation led by its Chairman, Mrs. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, were inspecting the project.Resident Engineer of FAAN, Mr. Yemi Ayelesan, told the committee that the hardest part of the work, which is mailing of the 3.6 kilometres runway, had been completed. Ayelesan explained that the laying of “fibre glide rubber,” which prevents water from going deep underground and also prevent runway from cracking has also been completed.He told the committee that the contractors were working to specifications and would deliver on schedule, expressing confidence that the six weeks period for the re-opening of the airport was feasible.Ayelesan said the repair work was a total reconstruction and not partial rehabilitation, explaining that the entire runway had been excavated for laying of asphalt.Project Manager, Julius Berger, Dr. Lai’s Richter, said the work was being done in line with the programme of work.Richter said the fixing of the lighting cable would commence on Wednesday, assuring that the repair would be completed before April 19 deadline.

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