British Airways and Lufthansa Airlines have joined the list of foreign airlines rejecting the option of flying into Kaduna Airport during the six weeks of runway repair of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja.
But unlike others that will suspend operations for the six weeks period, the British carrier has opted for Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, as the alternative to the Abuja airport.
The Lagos option, which brings British Airways’ daily frequency to two, would benefit domestic carriers as more foreign passengers are pushed to them to transport nationwide.
It will be recalled that South African Airways on Monday disclosed its plans to suspend its Abuja operations while the runway closure lasted. The carrier said the business decision was imperative following its decision not to fly to Kaduna Airport.
German carrier, Lufthansa also told reporters of its decision not to fly into Kaduna.
British Airways’ Country Manager, Kola Olayinka, said the Lagos alternative was the best option for its customers during the closure of the runway.
Olayinka said several factors were considered before the decision was reached, which include the safety and security of its passengers, as well as key operational issues.
“We are currently evaluating all options for our customers planning to travel at that time and we will be reaching out directly to them for information about their trip,” he said.
Olayinka explained that the lack of in-flight catering services as well as the inadequate technology at the Kaduna airport, including simple tech like the Common User Terminal Equipment among others, made the Kaduna airport a difficult option.
The Country Manager, however, lauded the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, for the stakeholders’ meetings he convened to intimate airlines and other stakeholders on the deterioration of the Abuja airport terminal, adding that the facility poses danger to aircraft and passengers.
He said his explanation helped to douse tension and allowed people to see the desirability of shutting the runway for total rehabilitation. He noted that that is the best way to go, to fix the problem.
Olayinka said British Airways had assured the Federal Government that it would return to Abuja immediately after the completion of work on the project.
Aviation Security consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), predicted that most foreign airlines would not divert to Kaduna for security reasons, but informed, “boom time could await domestic operators.”
Ojikutu said most airlines would prefer to operate all their flights to Lagos, as it was when Port Harcourt was closed for runway repairs in 2007/2008.
“The diversions of these flights to Lagos would be a boom in business to the benefit of the domestic airlines, who should work in alliance with these foreign airlines to help distribute and collect their inbound and outbound international passengers for them between Lagos and other airports,” Ojikutu said.