South African Airways cancels flights in Abuja runway repair

AP News
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Posted: Feb 07, 2017 11:38 AM

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African Airways said Tuesday it is the latest airline to cancel flights to Nigeria's capital, Abuja, during six weeks of renovations to its international airport runway starting March 8.

Airlines have refused a government proposal to divert flights to northern Kaduna city and bus passengers the 250 kilometers (155 miles) south to Abuja — a three-and-a-half-hour ride on a road notorious for accidents, hijackings and kidnappings.

That proposal "would impact on aircraft availability and connectivity for our passengers," SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali said.

Officials say the runway of Abuja's Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport is in shocking disrepair and that attempts to fix it piecemeal since its lifespan ended 14 years ago have failed. An SAA plane was damaged on landing there in August.

Nigerian officials have said it would be impossible to carry out the repairs at night to help minimize the massive disruption to government business and the country's ailing economy.

British Airways, KLM, Air France and Lufthansa also have temporarily canceled flights to Abuja during the repairs. Flights to Lagos, Nigeria's commercial hub, continue.

The Abuja airport is Nigeria's second busiest international airport, with about a half-million international passengers passing through in the second half of 2015, according to government data.

Nigeria's government had promised to provide security on the highway from Kaduna to Abuja and to upgrade facilities at Kaduna's airport. Three months ago, that airport did not have computers, with airline officers issuing handwritten boarding cards.

Lack of maintenance affects infrastructure across Nigeria, despite its status as one of Africa's largest economies.

The Abuja runway is "a metaphor for a peculiar dementia which makes a nation sit idly by and watch herself rot away," said a recent editorial in the Nigerian Guardian newspaper.