Foreign airlines are considering suspension of their services over government’s decision to close down Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja runway for six weeks due to planned construction work.
The Guardian learnt that the option by some of the major European and American carriers was in lieu of the plan to divert air traffic to Kaduna Airport considered as “very unsafe for foreigners.”
And should the airlines carry out their threats, concerned stakeholders said that inbound and outbound travellers would be faced with lesser flight options, hike in fares and loss in revenue to government agencies.
President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, said the “avoidable” development would portend a bad omen for the sector, with effects that could last far longer than the six weeks duration.
Bankole said instead of foreign airlines suspending operations, the Federal Government should rather divert foreign traffic to Lagos, while domestic operators go to Kaduna airport.
Head of Operations at the Abuja office of a popular European carrier, who preferred not to be mentioned, said their consular office was already working out a better option.
The operator said: “All I can say is that safety is paramount to us and I’m sure it is a primary consideration for our counterparts too. From what I heard from our home country, our aircraft would not fly to Kaduna, come what may.
“In some days to come, the final decision would be taken on the matter. A temporary suspension of Abuja operations is tough, but it will be a sacrifice for the safety of crew and passengers,” the source said.
Aviation Security Consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd.) had said that with the security issues in the northern parts of the country, none of the foreign airlines would want to fly to Kaduna.
Ojikutu said: “For them (FG) to want to use Kaduna for foreign airlines, I have my doubts that the airlines will go there. It is for security reasons. The way security is built in the north is different from how we have built it here.
President of NANTA, Bankole said that the civil unrest in Kaduna worries the foreign airlines and their affiliated travel agencies, leaving none satisfied with the said security arrangement of the Federal Government.
In a related development, Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, has disclosed government’s plan improve on electricity and fully address power outages in all the Nigerian airports with 2017 budget.
This is against the backdrop of the increase power outages witnessed in most of the airports in recent times, disrupting airline operations.
Sirika said that government was exploring alternative power supply for the airports and ensure improved power generation.