Former Minister of Aviation, Babatunde Omotoba has said that the incident few weeks ago involving Saudi Arabia cargo aircraft, which overshot the runway leading to the closure of traffic to the airport for several hours, was one of the reasons why the federal government should have built another runway at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
It was estimated that over N5 billion worth of business was lost during the closure of the airport that lasted for over 14 hours, which barred hundreds of passengers from arriving the airport from several local and international destinations to the airport.
Omotoba who spoke to THISDAY on his way to the United States at the weekend said that the existing runway at the airport was built in 1982 and was meant to last for 20 years, adding that the runway expired in 2002 “and that explained why there is continuous patching of the runway because it has become weak and would sag under the pressure of aircraft landings.”
Planned runway was truncated in 2009 by the House of Representatives which said that the cost of the runway put at N63.5 billion was outrageous, Omotoba said that although the runway was important for the airport, considering the fact that it is rising to become one of the busiest airport in West Africa, but “the Ministers who came after me are afraid to make any move to build another runway because of the criticisms of that effort to build a second runway.”
The former Aviation Minister said that the amount projected for the building of the runway may appear outrageous, hence the criticisms but noted that the project was multifaceted and every detail was imbedded in that cost.
“It has become very clear that second runway is needed in Abuja because of the Saudi Arabia cargo aircraft incident that caused the closure of the airport for hours. We have two runways in Kano; we have two runway in Lagos and of course, Abuja being the capital of Nigeria where effort is being made to develop it as aviation hub for West Africa deserves another runway,” Omotoba said.
He disclosed that the planned second runway at Abuja airport was designed to handle an Airbus A380, the biggest aircraft in the world, with Category 3 airfield lighting, “the body length of that aircraft is 73 meters, body height 24 meters, windspan is 79. 8 meters and its maximum take-off weight is about 569,000 kg; that is about 600 tonnes. That is like packing 30 trailers with full load of cement. That was the weight that was expected to land on that runway.”
Omotoba said that it was the type of airport runway and ancillary projects that was requested that led to the seemingly high cost of the infrastructure and that it was wrong to compare it to the runways already existing in Nigeria, adding that the project was truncated due to lack of sincerity and ignorance.
“The current runway that we have was built in 1982. It is 31 years old now. It was designed to last for 20 years. It has exceeded its useful life and that is why every now and then it is closed for repairs. So we saw the need for a second runway and wanted to build one,” Omotoba also said.