Sunday, 6 May 2012

Gov Uduaghan explains N7.4bn airport expenditure

The Governor of Delta State, Emmanuel Uduaghan, has said that the N7.4 billion budgeted for the earth movement at the Asaba International Airport was to enhance pilots’ visibility and for the airport to accommodate large body aircraft. He explained that his administration was abiding by the conditions given by the aviation regulatory body, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). Speaking to selected Aviation Correspondents in Asaba at the weekend, the Governor said that work had started on the project long before the planned visit of the President for the South South Economic Summit, remarking that the airport was built with 3.4 kilometer runway with 50 metres width, which qualifies it to accommodate a Boeing 747 aircraft and its equivalent. He however added that there are conditions that must be met before such aircraft could be allowed to land by the regulatory body. Such conditions, according to him, include having a strip of 120 meters on either side of the runway, and that the ends of the runway must be at the same ground level with the runway. “ So inevitably the hill at the end of the runway must be cut down and the earth moved to the sloppy sides of the runway so that there is equal ground level distance of 300 meters on either side of the runway. “So the N7.4 billion was not budgeted just for cutting of the hill but for complete earth work to ensure that the runway is at the level of its surrounding so that the airport meets international standard for easy visibility of the pilot, the landing and take-off of large body aircraft and for safety at the runway and the whole airside of the airport”, he said Uduaghan added, “The contract for the leveling of the hills was not awarded because of the recently concluded South South Summit we 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 and 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.” The Governor also explained that the contractor had done about 10 percent of the job after about 10 months, calculating that with that pace job would be completed in the next two years, which was not what government, which was already under pressure to kick off the cargo part of the air operation, so government had to bring in two more contractors at the same budget of N7.4 billion to finish the job in time. On the amount of money budgeted for the project, the Governor said, “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.” In addition to the earthwork, the money budgeted would also fund the building of quarters for essential staff at the airport, according to the state government. Before Uduaghan became the Governor of Delta state, his predecessor had built an airstrip at Asaba, but seeing the economic potential of having a full airport in the capital, Uduaghan’s administration embarked on building an airport for big body aircraft, looking at the business communities all around Asaba. “The desire to go beyond just having an airstrip as thought by the last administration to me makes an economic sense, because the Asaba airport will be fed by passenger traffic from the Onitsha, Nnewi axis and other key areas of the South East. We also considered the cargo activity at the airport; that is why we embarked on the airport project,” the Governor explained. But the snag was that the there was no stretch of level land for about four kilometers that could take the airport, so the government had to do with what was available. “We wanted to build an airport with a runway length of between 3.4 kilometre and four kilometers, unfortunately, there is no terrain in Asaba area that could give us such stretch of land; the topography here in Asaba is mainly either hills, or low lands, rivers almost like a valley. With all the directions and technical survey that was done for the airport, we got where we are now, which gives us two terrains, the hill on one side and the river on the other side, we have to make do with what is available.” He said that his administration had to embark on the project with serious and heavy engineering work, dealing with all challenges offered by the topography, including this latest one, which is leveling the whole surrounding of the runway and cutting the hill at its end. Meanwhile, the airport is already providing service for the teeming businessmen and women in Onitsha and its environs as airlines operating into the airport enjoy full load factor on every flight.

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