The unions in the aviation sector on Friday kicked against the plan by the Federal Government to close the runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, for repairs.
The unions said the planned closure of the airport scheduled to begin from March 8 for a six-week period would be counter-productive for the nation’s economy.
They made their position known in an open letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari and obtained by the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, in Lagos.
The letter was signed by Olayinka Abioye, General Secretary, National Union of Air Transport Employees, NUATE, and Frances Akinjole, General Secretary, Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association of Nigeria, ATSSSAN.
It was also signed by the General Secretary of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, NAAPE, Aba Ocheme.
“Your Excellency, we hasten to use this open medium to draw your attention to the proposed closure of the Abuja airport for turnaround maintenance of the runway for six weeks out of the six months that work shall continue at the said airport,” the unionists said in the letter.
“The necessity for the proposed exercise could not only be due to the audit findings against our country, but more importantly, as a long overdue safety measure, which we appreciate.
“While we accept that the Abuja runway has turned bad and requires a quick fix, our unions are of the opinion that total closure of the airport should be the last ineluctable option in repairing the international airport’s runway.’’
According to them, stakeholders were not carried along by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) before the decision to close the airport was taken.
The unions suggested that instead of a total closure of the airport, an additional runway should be effectively considered for construction as a long term measure while the subsisting one continues to be put in use, under some phased reconstruction.
They said: “Skeletal repairs of the runway could be adopted by allowing the airport for use likely between 6.00am and 6.00pm while fixing of the major damaged portions of the runway continues during the nights.
“This has been done in several parts of the world. Why should Nigeria’s case be different?
“Our opinion is premised on the fact that the proposed exercise, being a reactive formula, can be achieved without total shutdown of the international airport.
“The consequential effect of such total closure will impact so grandiosely negatively on the already dire economic environment of Nigeria, given the dependence of several low and middle income earners on aviation business in and around Abuja airport,’’ the union leaders said.
According to them, the aviation agencies will also be deprived of their internally generated revenue during this period while some low business operators will lose their businesses completely and forever.
The unions said: “we do not wish to believe that your government will set out to jeopardise the livelihood of its citizens at such dire time as this.
“Total closure of an international airport, particularly Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja in an ailing economy like ours will be counter-productive at this period.
“It is obvious that the volume of operations at the Abuja airport cannot be accommodated by the size and facilities of Kaduna Airport (Domestic and International).’’
They further argued that other issues such as operational cost to airlines, sales of tickets to passengers as well as passenger insurance have not been well thought out.
“Therefore, sir, it is our candid submission that the whole hoopla about Kaduna being an alternate airport to Abuja is all but a hoax.
“In reality, most persons, especially international travellers, but also senior important local personalities, will simply shelve all activities in Abuja for the six weeks of closure.
“Then the whole investment in Kaduna airport will be in vain. The airlines, aviation agencies and other businesses around aviation will lose colossal sums of money.
“Some businesses will fold up and be unable to recover. This situation must be avoided by all means in our considered view,” the unions said.