Home / News / Local / (Feature) N64bn Abuja Airport’s second runway: what lies beneath?

(Feature) N64bn Abuja Airport’s second runway: what lies beneath?

Senator Hadi Sikira, Minister of State for Aviation
Senator Hadi Sikira, Minister of State for Aviation

ANTHONY OMOH

The controversy surrounding what can be described as the most expensive 4.5kilometre stretch of Runway at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport at a whooping cost of N65billion is yet to be abated and will be revisited quite soon if information making the rounds is anything to go by.

However, that the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja needs a second runway given that fact that the 20 year period for the runway built with the airport has lapsed and a more modern facility is needed to meet the needs of the industry is not news, news is how did the runway get to cost the price of building two airports equipped with runways of their own.

The World Bank once rated the cost of contract execution in Nigeria as one of the highest in the world and spending a whopping N64bn on a runway would have justified this claim further and with its temporal halt, there has been a stop to another avoidable leakage.

The Senate in October this year called for a review of the cost of the project describing it as a drain, the same way the House of Representatives in 2010 shot the project down for the same reason.

The resolution passed by the House of Representatives to halt the project was granted after a motion raised by Dino Melaye on the subject and consistently enough as a Senator, Melaye also raised the motion to look into the project’s cost as he said the contract was once awarded by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) at N64 billion Naira after ratification by the Bureau for Public Procurement but was cancelled by the last Administration after allegations of over Inflation of the contracts was established.

Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja
Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja

He believed that the publication that the contract is already undergoing review and to be awarded at N63.5 billion as published by newspapers across the country was another attempt to steal and rape Nigerians of our common patrimony.

“As representatives of the people, we must advice that due process and strict adherence to the public procurement Act be observed in the said contract of the Second Abuja Airport Runway.

If this is not brought to the attention of the government now, there may be another fraud in the making, given the comparative analysis of cheaper cost across the country”, Sen. Melaye added.

Senator Dino Melaye, halted the contract

as a member of Representatives

and now as Senator

Many experts  who agree with what the Senate has done say that the project was just another means of funnelling public funds into private pockets through inflated contracts  as that has been the bane of the nation’s infrastructure development.

Background

Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) in December 2009, approved the construction of the 4.5kilometre runway because it opined that the present one built 27 years ago had outlived its design and life span of 20 years.

When brought to the House of Representatives then, it was argued that the Runway at the cost of N64bn, would have (by then) been the most expensive in the world stating that under a competitive and transparent tendering process, the project should cost between N24bn and N26bn.

However, after a critical look at the project and the attendant crisis, the Federal Government reduced the contract sum to N49.6bn, but still not satisfied, the then Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, Hon. Bethel Amadi, in a press statement on May 25, 2010, frowned at “the mere reduction in the contract.”

Amadi claimed there were obvious breaches of various sections of the Public Procurement Act, 2007, especially Section 16 (17), (18), (19), (20); Section 24(3); Section 31(2), (3a,b&c), (6), (11a&b) and Section 33(1) and (2).

After much pressure from several angles, the Federal Government finally conceded to the cancellation of the contract while Omotoba was showed the exit door by the government.

Comparative Analysis

Information touted as at that time revealed that airport runways around the world had cost less than a quarter of the cost championed by the then Minister, Babatunde Omotoba and this raised eyebrows as stakeholders, experts and professionals kicked asking for the downward review or better yet outright cancellation of the project as a comparative equivalent showed the cost was exorbitant.

According to information online it was revealed that Bucharest Airport in Romania at that time had its runway installed for the equivalent of N17.5bn, while a similar construction reportedly cost N18bn in Thailand, Terminal 5 in Heathrow Airport, with four lanes of 4km runway, cost less than N25 billion.

In Nigeria, the Ibom International Airport built at the same period by the Akwa Ibom State Government, with maintenance facilities and the country’s longest runway, reportedly cost N42bn entirely ( with the runway costing about N18 billion) while the entire Gombe Airport, with 3.66km runways, cost N8.2 billion.

Jigawa Airport cost N11 billion, Bauchi Airport, N12 billion, Enugu Airport.

The matter came before the Senate plenary in the last quarter of 2015 and the law makers declared that the contract sum was “too high”.

Hon Bethel Amadi

The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, in his remarks, acknowledged that the second runway was necessary, but added that it could only be executed “at a reasonable price’’.

“It is important, but we cannot continue with such reckless expenditure.

“We have to let all the MDAs know that those days of recklessness are over and these kinds of figures will not be accepted.

“`In fact, it is not just in aviation, but in all other sectors of the economy,” he declared.

Omotoba’s Reaction

So why would the Abuja Runway cost as much as N64bn? In a bid to justify this cost, while speaking to a national daily, former Aviation Minister, Babatunde Omotoba early in 2014 declared that if people really understood some of the things that happen in Nigeria, they will not blame some of the people they blame today.

According to him, the second runaway was conceived and designed to handle Airbus A380-800F with Category three Airfield Lighting (AFL). The body length of that aircraft is 73 meters, with a body height of 24 meters. The wings span is 79.8 meters and the maximum take-off weight is about 569,000 kg, about 600 tonnes, which is equivalent to packing 30 trailers with full load of cement. That is the weight we expected to land on that runway.

Omotoba said, “The runway length was estimated at 4.5 kilometers, with a width span of 75 meters and its strip, which should be free from any obstacle on both side, was 150 meters on both sides. The basic length of the runway is about 3.4 kilometers and because of the altitude of Abuja, which is about 1000 feet above Lagos, about 267 meters was added to the runway. Equally, because of the temperature, we used 35.6 degree centigrade to design the runway. When you have high temperature it takes aircraft longer distance to stop, making for the additional 753 meters to the runway.”

“That was how the designers arrived at 4.5 kilometers. The current runway that we have was built in 1982, which is about 31 years old now. It was designed to last for 20 years, it has exceeded its useful life and so we saw the need for a second runway. The second and the new one will have about 1.5 kilometer distance between them.”

“It was designed and fashioned after the runway in Frankfurt which is about 110 cm, just 9 cm longer than ours of our101 cm. We have taxi way strips, drains and drainages; the drains that were designed are those that could take a truck, they can drive through them. We have the category three landing; the pilot does not need to see the runway. On the cost of the runway, about N6 billion is for category 3 landing alone while 17 billion was to go for the landscaping”, Omotoba said.

He went on, “PW quoted N32 billion but eventually the job was given out at N64 billion to Julius Berger. The reason was that PW did not conform to the specification given to them; they were designing a 3.5 kilometer runway. By the time we engaged consultant to do independent review, design and cost the runway for us, the overall came to 65 billion. The company came back and told PW to go back and conform to the design given to them.”

Former minister Babatunde Omotoba

“In December 4th, 2009, PW wrote a letter to the Ministry of Aviation, saying that they have been asked by the consultant to conform to the specification given them and said that they have done their estimate and if they were to conform to the specification handed to them, their cost would more than double the previous 32 billion they quoted, that is to say it would cost more than N64 billion to construct.”

“They also confirmed to us that because their yearly revenue was less than half of that, and that the company has a policy of not taking a job that was more than two years its revenue because any mistake on such a job could lead to bankruptcy. They decided to say that the company cannot do the job. That was what gave the Bureau for Public Procurement the comfort to give the job to Julius Berger. So the second runway was properly priced, you can see from what l just described to you that it is a big airfield project, it would have been the best in Africa, it was supposed to make Abuja a hub, but unfortunately it was misconstrued.”

Despite this explanations, the Senate and even Nigerians as a whole look at the present economic situation and feel that the construction of a second runway at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, is a heavily padded contract.

Need for the Runway at reasonable cost

Aviation authorities say the runway is necessary to unburden the current runway. The legislators have, by their action, paved the way for another look at the contract with a view to seeking alternative way of executing the important project at a cost comparable to the global standards.

Then there is the fact that once any incident occurs on the single runway, traffic for that day or more will be stalled causing flight delays and cancellations like what happened with a Saudi Arabian cargo aircraft, a Boeing 747 overshot the runway of that airport stranding   thousands of Abuja bound passengers.

Also, the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos and the Mallam Aminu Kano Airport, Kano both have two runways each to meet their traffic and if situations like the above occurs traffic can be diverted.

However, the issue is not about whether the runway is needed but at what cost to the nation especially at a time like this.

Commenting on the need for a second runway, the Managing Director, Aircraft Maintenance Organisation of Nigeria and a former aircraft engineer with the defunct Nigeria Airways, Mr. Godwin Jibodu, said that it was abnormal for Abuja Airport to still maintain a single runway over 30 years after construction.

Jibodu noted that in case of an incident on the runway, traffic going into or out of Abuja would be obstructed; adding that diversion of aircraft into Abuja as a result of an emergency would not also be possible.

He insisted that an airport that is as busy as Abuja should have a minimum of two functional runways, just as we have in Lagos, Kano and other smaller airports around the country.

He said, “At any capital city in any country you don’t have a single runway. First, we should note that it is not a normal practice. For an example, if there is any incident and that runway is blocked, it means there would not be traffic in that runway until the incident aircraft is removed.

“Two, if there is an emergency to the airport and the active runway is also occupied; other aircraft cannot be diverted for safety. Therefore, naturally, we should have at least two runways in Abuja as we have in Lagos. Government should do something very quickly to ameliorate that situation.”

On the cancellation of the N63.8bn contract sum meant for the second runway in the airport, Jibodu said that he had little knowledge about the construction of runways, but noted it doesn’t cost much to build a runway in other climes.

He blamed the Government for not involving experts directly whenever it wants to award any contract not just for the industry, but for the country as a whole.

“The problem we have in Nigeria is that when we want to do a project, we don’t call the right people to carry out the feasibility study, to do the design. They call people who don’t have the professional knowledge on the subject matter and they too in turn go and invite foreigners, mop up the whole exercise and they overblow the cost of the project,” he said.

Also, a retired pilot, Capt. Samuel Odewunmi said construction of a second runway in Abuja would be in the best interest of the nation, but noted that for such to be possible, several hills around the airport would have to be blown up.

Odewunmi educed that before now, several incidences and accidents had occurred at the airport due to where the airport is situated, but noted that the situation was brought under control when some pilots from the former Nigeria Airways protested and Government had to bring in experts from Brazil to teach the Nigerian pilots how they could manoevoure the high terrain.

“When you look at runway 21 and 05, it is situated in the midst of mountains and as such you will have to be very good to be able to land or depart from the airport. Half of the time, the aids that we are using Instrument Landing System, ILS, VHF omnidirectional Range (VOR) and Distance Measuring Equipment, DME, everything must work together for you. If the DME is out, you are likely to go and strike a mountain.

“When you are departing from the Northern runway towards the South, there is a hill that is 5,000ft high and it is three miles to the runway. So, when an aircraft like a jet takes off, minimum speed by the time the aircraft achieves 500ft is about 500 miles per hour. How many minutes will it take that aircraft to hit three miles on 5000ft?

“That was one of the things Nigeria Airways did because we had to be trained and some people in the former carrier wrote against it and said it was a death trap and some people from Brazil later came to teach us how we could maneuver such situation because they have a similar runway, but their own is 10 miles and 6000ft and people were crashing there at night.

“So, they perfected it for us. What we did was that at 500ft, you turn right or you turn left. It is better you turn right because if you turn left, you have another hills. The Government can build the second runway, but they have to look at the cost of blasting those rocks on the eastern and the northern axis. That could make it safe and better.”

Besides, another Nigeria Airways retiree, Mr. Fred Quaye said that it was necessary for the Government to construct a second runway in Abuja, but not at a hyperinflated rate.

Quaye noted that the existing runway, which was built in 1982 was expected to last for 20 years, which he said has since expired and required massive work to be done on it, rather than the consistent patching by FAAN.

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