WHY ASABA INT’L AIRPORT RUNWAY NEEDS EXTENSION – UDUAGHAN

Filed in General by on May 10, 2012

Why Asaba Int’l Airport runway needs extension – Uduaghan
On May 10, 2012 · In Business

By KENNETH EHIGIATOR
Everywhere in the world,aviation is used to jump-start economic development, and a key component of this is using airport to engender economic growth.  Perhaps that was what Delta State envisaged in embarking on the building of an international airport which is nearing completion.

Although development of the airport is still on, flight operations for small and medium-sized aircraft have started.  At present, the airport is equipped with the necessary facilities for safe flights, what with a much more modern control tower, five functional fire fighting tenders with capacity for 12,000 litres of water as well as 1,500 foam component; ambulances and three heavy duty generators of 1,000KVA each to guarantee 24 hours power supply, aside from a dedicated line from Power Holdings Company of Nigeria, PHCN  Also, finishing touches are being put to both the local and international departure and arrival terminals, with three avio bridges also in place.  Already, the airport has a runway of 3.4km length, suitable for wide-bodied aircraft, be Boeing 747, 777 or even the Airbus A380.

However, there is a snag, which will make it difficult, if not impossible for wide-bodied aircraft to fly into and out of the airport.  That snag is the hills and river valleys that form part of the topography of the airport site.

Although the runway is 3.4km, Vanguard learnt that a hill of another 1.2km long on the frontal side of the runway must be levelled to bring the terrain at par with the runway, as required by the standard operating procedures of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.  The back of the runway would also have to be extended by at least 300 metres through sandfilling to bring it at par with the runway.

It was also gathered that extensive sandfilling of the valleys on both sides of the runway would have to be done to bring them to the same level as the runway.

As the runway is at the moment, pilots would have problems aligning their aircraft to the centre line of the runway to bring down their aircraft during landing because of the hills, which is up to about 60 metres higher than the level of the runway.

Vanguard also gathered that except for small and medium-sized planes, pilots of bigger aircraft would have problem receiving signals from the Non-Directional Beacon, NDB, a navigational equipment installed at the airport, while trying to land.  The equipment at  the airport had been subsumed by the hills.  This is aside from the fact that the hills also impede pilots’ visibility.

When Vanguard visited the airport site at the weekend, over 50 heavy duty bulldozers were seen levelling the hills in front of the runway, even as work is yet to commence on the sandfilling of the valley on one side of the runway.

Delta State Director of Highways and Chairman of Airport Monitoring Committee, Engr. Donatus Mukoro, told Vanguard that the levelling of the hills and sandfilling of the river valleys would require an extensive work which would take no less than six months to accomplish, depending on weather situation.

He said the hills constitute danger to safe flights into the airport, stressing that whatever was going on at the site was due to the prompting of the regulatory agency, NCAA.  Engr. Mukoro said three contractors had been engaged by the state government in order to complete the job on time.

Explaining the intricacies of the job of extending the runway to accommodate wide-bodied aircraft, he said:   “ The volume of cutting of the hills and filling up of the low areas is much in line with the requirements of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority   In terms of costs, we need to spend over N7 billion to put the runway into the acceptable standard  that will be adequate for the work to be done, we are doing a lot of work.

“The contract is being handled by three contractors, with heavy duty equipment on site, working from morning till evening, seven days of the week.  At the moment, we are working on 150 metres to meet the capacity for smaller and medium size aircraft  but to get to the ultimate level of big aircraft like Boeing 747, we need to get to 200 metres.

“We have barely done some good work , in some sections, the work is very massive, it will require some time, to complete the project.  Obviously, many factors contribute to the speedy completion of this project, weather is a primary consideration, that is why it is difficult to say when the work will be completed.

“People who are complaining that over N7 billion is required to complete the runway job are embarking on a ridiculous game, because they are ignorant of the volume of work involved. The complaint is ridiculous because people are misinformed.

“The volume of earth work involved is very huge, the cutting itself is very huge.   Apart from the 300 metres on one stretch, we are also cutting another stretch of 500 metres, about 1.2km.  We have to protect the area by filling with hard soil and grassing the whole terrain to prevent erosion.

I think the whole criticism stems from misinformation.”

Overall, Engr. Mukoro said the project would require a massive 3.7 cubic metres of earth work to bring the runway area to acceptable level by the regulatory agency.

Also barring his mind on the matter, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan said the hills remain the reason bigger planes were not flying into the airport.

According to him, the regulatory agency is saying until these hills and valleys are eliminated, the airport will not get approval for wide-bodied aircraft to come in.

He said:  “ The contract  for the leveling of the hills was not awarded because of the recently concluded South South Summit,  hosted in Asaba, it is purely driven by the technical and safety consideration of the NCAA, the contract has since 2011 been awarded.

“As the chief executive of the state, I directed the contractor to get the job done in good time, because we are in a hurry to get the airport up and running, that is our goal, this is driven by the pressure I am under from our sister states in the South East, Anambra, Abia, Enugu to get the airport running.

“When the contractor said he had done a major percent of the job, we were going to give him about ten or eleven months, as at the time the contractor had done just less the per cent, we thought he had attained about fifty percent.

“That indeed puts us in a fix, meaning that if we had allowed him to move at that pace, it will take another two years or more time to complete the job, so we brought in more contractors to speed up the completion of the job, we have brought in two other contractors, they are now three contractors, there is no variation in the costs, the same cost for the demolishing, we are convinced that soonest, the project with different segments will be completed.

“I think the figure that is being bandied about is the totality of so many things, the unfortunate thing is that the time the figures were sent out, it was not properly transmitted, and that is the unfortunate thing.

That is the reaction we are having. However, I am hoping that contractors will speed up the completion of the hills, so that NCAA could give us approval because our ambition is to be able to land a big aircraft as big as Airbus 380 in Asaba Airport.”

He further clarified that it might be difficult to fix a time line for the completion of construction and commissioning of the airport.

“It will be difficult for me to give you an exact date that this airport will be ready for commissioning , because the regulation  and certification is done by NCAA. Each time the team comes, they look at what is on ground  assess the level of completion, and give us specification of what to expect.

“Another dimension to this is that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), carried out a project assessment in the United States of America of how a modern airport should look like, and that is the model that we are adopting here to make Asaba Airport a model of a modern airport in Nigeria.

“We are looking at this airport as the airport of the future in Nigeria. There are many airports across the world that do not have the kind of facilities we have here in Asaba Airport.

We want the Asaba Airport to be a model of what an airport should look like. It is possible to achieve that. Commissioning is subject to the approval of the regulators,” Uduaghan said.

On his advice to critics of the airport project, Uduaghan said: “First of all, I share their concern, and I just hope that it is being done in good faith, to ensure transparency, but generally we want to appeal to them, they should look more for the positive side of the airport project than any probable negative. I speak this way because of the benefit of the airport to Deltans and Nigerians in general who use the airport.

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