The federal government on Sunday reopened the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, for flight operations.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, during the official opening ceremony in Enugu, said that domestic flight would start immediately while the international flight would begin on September 5.
Mr Sirika said that the project had cost the federal Government N10 billion.
“It is a great pleasure for me to be in Enugu for this August occasion in the mount of August for the reopening of Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu for flight operations.
“The local flight can come to start from today and the international flight on September 5, once the COVID-19 Presidential Task Force has opened the gate to come in.
“We are proud to say that this project is indeed a testimony to Mr President’s commitment to infrastructure development in the country.
“You may recall that the runway of this essential airport, which is vital to economic development of the region and the whole country at large, was in a very dilapidated stage and worse condition.
“This raised serious safety concern. It was on this basis that I approached President Muhammadu Buhari on the urgent need to reconstruct the runway and other associated works,” he said.
Mr Sirika commended the president’s instant approval of N10 billion to undertake the rehabilitation of the runway and some associated works.
According to him, the project consists of taxiway, linkway, emergency operation centre, car park, entrance of the gate, perimeter fence, perimeter road, terminal building rehabilitation, pilot lounge, instrument landing system that will allow landing during bad weather.
Others, he said, are communication device, new DHF radio and rescue equipment among others.
The minister said the focus would now be on delivering the Cargo terminal, the international terminal building and many more in the airport soonest.
He said he had approved N1 billion to continue the terminal building expansion being done by the Chinese.
“Some of the challenges encountered include, lack of bitumen, COVID-19 lockdown, and even change of hands of company handling the project, removing of abattoir and radio masks among others,” he said.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Smart Adeyemi, commended Mr Buhari for carrying out infrastructural developmental projects all over the nation.
According to him, such move by the president will greatly improve the socio-economic status of the country.
Mr Adeyemi said the feat achieved in rehabilitating the runway at the Enugu airport would improve safety in the airport.
He urged all stakeholders in the region to further work together with the federal government to achieve more developmental goals.
“Kudos to Mr President for doing this great work from limited resources available to him in order to ensure sense of belonging in the country.
“I believe we will soon come back again to commission another important project,” he added.
In his remark, the Director-General, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), said it was a tough decision to close the runway on August 24, 2019, as the airport was crucial part of FAAN operation for revenue generation.
“But it was a decision we had to take in the interest of safety, security and economic interest of our people, our stockholders and all Nigerians at large.
“Today, we assemble here to confidently reopen the runway to flight operations. I say confidently because we work with confidence in the business.
“This confidence is a necessary ingredient and component of aviation. It runs far and wide in each and every aspect of aviation. Without confidence there will be no aviation,” he said.
The director-general said FAAN acted fast when it realised that the confidence started going down regarding the Enugu runway.
“Everything about aviation has to be of high integrity. That is why we worked to restore our integrity here in Akanu Ibiam International Airport runway as it stands today.
“This is a land mark achievement,” he said.
Meanwhile, the South-East Governors Forum has appealed to Mr Buhari to allow more international flights to the airport.
The forum’s chairman, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi, made the appeal during the reopening ceremony of the airport in Enugu on Sunday.
Mr Umahi said that adequate international flight operations would improve the socioeconomic activities in the region.
The governor also commended the president for the reopening and recommencement of flight operations into the airport after the rehabilitation of the runway.
Also, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State thanked the president for approving N10 billion to start and fast track the rehabilitation of the runway and other critical infrastructure at the airport.
He said: “The Enugu State Government, in a bid to ensure a levelling environment to help the project along, completely removed all obstacles and projects, including Emene Market, which attracted birds and was a safety concern.
“We completely removed all encroachment at the airport environment. We totally removed the Radio and Television masks from the airport; we constructed a 1.3 kilometres asphalt road.
“We removed five units of two-storey houses, 14 units of houses, one church cathedral, 438 shopping malls along Eleme among other things.
“We did a number of sacrifice for the Enugu Airport, and now it is a sacrifice that is worth it.”
Also, former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, demanded for three things from the federal government for the hub of the South-East.
According to him, they include immediate commercial flights, approval of more international flights and completion of the cargo section of the airport.
He said: “We want immediate commercial flights to start coming into Enugu.
“We also seek the approval of more international flights into Enugu Airport, Emirates and others and we want the president to finish the cargo section of the airport.”
Mr Ekweremadu also expressed gratitude to four individuals for their outstanding works to ensure Enugu International Airport became a reality.
Mr Ekweremadu expressed gratitude to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, who granted approval for Enugu to be designated as an international airport.
He also thanked the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan for ensuring that the airport was gazetted as an international airport and the start of operations.
The former Deputy Senate President expressed gratitude to Mr Buhari for approving N10 billion to see the project through to its conclusion.
He also thanked the aviation minister for keeping to the promise he made to deliver the project within a year.
The first aircraft, a turbo prop with registration marks 5N-FCT landed at 12:50 p.m from Abuja, while another aircraft, an Air Peace Embraer 145- with registration marks 5N-BUV landed at 1:40 p.m. (NAN)