The Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON) has condemned the decision of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to close the domestic runway, known as Runway 18L for three months.
The umbrella body of indigenous airlines in Nigeria said the closure added to additional operational cost, flight delays and disruptions, insisting that there are other alternatives instead of outright closure of the facility.
AON made its position known a letter it wrote to FAAN, dated July 15, 2022m, titled: ‘Closure of Runway 18L at Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA),’ and addressed to the Managing Director of the agency, Captain Rabiu Yadudu.
AON said it received with surprise, the NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) of July 5, 2022, informing the industry that FAAN would be closing the domestic runway (18L) of MMA from July 8, 2022, for a period of 90 days.
It added that with such short notice, the association noted sadly that FAAN closed the runway, thus causing unsustainable additional operating costs and severely inconveniencing the airlines and passengers.
“In light of this, we raise the following critical issues for your urgent attention: The AON welcomes the effort by FAAN to install runway lighting on Runway 18L, at last. However, international best practice for such critical airfield infrastructure projects is for the airport operator to enter into discussions with all affected parties, to arrive at an optimal arrangement that allows the work to be done, while limiting the inconvenience, economic impact and safety implications on all concerned. In this instance, FAAN failed to do this.”
It also noted that FAAN was aware of the current existential threat of aviation fuel prices to the domestic airlines, noting that the closure of the main domestic runway of MMA automatically adds an additional 10-15 per cent more fuel costs per sector into and out of MMA, based on the additional flight and taxi time incurred as a result.
The operators also disclosed that the airlines have already felt the additional costs within the first week of the closure of the runway, stressing that this unnecessary burden was unsustainable for a three-month period on the airlines.
“The closure of Runway 18L has led to a chain of direct flight delays on a daily basis, impacting the entire system of scheduled domestic flights in the country. FAAN is aware that most domestic flights originate from or pass through MMA at some point every day. This is an unnecessary additional negative outcome for the industry.
“AON contends that in line with international best practice, runways of airports are only closed when there is no other option. For infrastructure projects such as this one on 18L, to limit the impact on flight operations, FAAN ought to have ensured that the contractor does the work at night, when the runway is not in use.
“If there is an absolute need for work to be done during daylight hours, then agreement should have been reached with the runway users on what time window would allow this,” AON said in the letter.
It also expressed disappointment that for the major airport in Nigeria, Runway 18L has been closed for a week now, with no evidence of any work going on; yet the airlines have been burdened with huge but unnecessary additional costs and flight delays, noting that, “surely this situation is not in the best interests of the industry.”
“Moreover, the additional taxi time due to closure of runway 18L impacts negatively on airlines schedule to sunset airports around the country leading to delays and cancellation of flights to these airports.
“Given the above critical concerns, AON implores the management of FAAN to urgently review this closure of Runway 18L and enter into discussion with the users of the runway on a procedure for the project, that limits both the cost impact on airlines as well as disruption to normal flight operations,” the operated stated.
AON therefore called on FAAN to convene an urgent stakeholders’ consultation meeting, to discuss the its decision and assured the agency of the operators’ commitment to partnering with FAAN to install the long overdue runway lighting on Runway 18L, in line with accepted international best practice.