The Federal Government has approved the operation of private and commercial helicopter services at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja which was shut down last week for the rehabilitation of the runway and other facilities. The work, which costs N5 billion, is to end on April 19.
Following the stress associated with the over three-hour trip by road to Kaduna where in-and-out bound Abuja flights have been directed in the wake of the closure, this approval of chopper shuttle would ease the many troubles put in the way of air travellers.
The Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who broke the news to reporters yesterday in Abuja, said the permission was given by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno. He recalled that the same office had earlier banned all flight services pending the completion of the repairs.
His words: “The NSA has the constitutional responsibility vested in him to advise the president on national security matters. Within his wisdom, he had earlier issued out letters banning helicopter operation in the airport.
“But the National Security Adviser early yesterday approved that helicopters will of course continue to fly to Abuja airport from wherever.” The minister, however, noted that the procedure for landing was being worked out.
He went on: “This means that helicopters can come into Abuja and out bearing in mind that within the metropolitan city of Abuja there are no fly zones and this is very normal in every country.
“They have areas where there are no fly zones but the National Security Adviser this morning (yesterday) approved that helicopters should enter Abuja airport and out but the procedures in which helicopters should enter into Abuja and the spot which they will land will be advised in due course and it shall be before the end of today (yesterday).”
Sirika added that airline operations had been smooth at the Kaduna International Airport since flight diversion began.“We thank God the operations in Kaduna are going on smoothly. We are able to do what we said we would do, we are actually working our talk, we thank Nigerians for understanding with us in this period of emergency.”
On the refusal of foreign airlines to land in Kaduna, the minister noted: “At least Ethiopian airlines are coming with brand new equipment, Dream Liner. The newest baby in the world of aviation, Boeing 787, has landed in Kaduna.”
Operators yesterday hailed the news. They said the policy reversal would restore investor confidence and increase the revenue base of government.
Efforts to get the comments of the chairman of Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON), Captain Nogie Meggisson, were futile as his phone was switched off. His deputies later confirmed that he was still stuck in a meeting over the same issue.
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The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a helicopter service company said: “It was really tough getting the reverse order and AON had to go to any length to salvage the huge losses.”
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