18 hours shut down – Abuja airport

Hundreds of passengers were stranded for 18 hours at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on Thursday following an air incident involving a Saudi Arabian cargo plane.

The Boeing 747 with registration K74798, landed at about 10:12pm on Wednesday, but veered off the runway into the maintenance area, pulling with it a maintenance equipment.

The development halted flight operations at the airport until about 5pm on Thursday when the Ministry of Aviation issued a statement announcing the NAIA reopening.

Arik Air and Aero Contractors, had prior to announcement, cancelled all their flights out of the NAIA.

The plane, which The PUNCH learnt was carrying five armoured Personnel carriers purchased by the Federal Government to aid the crusade against Boko Haram insurgents, dragged the maintenance equipment with one of its wings before stopping.

At the departure terminal of the Abuja airport, hundreds of passengers waited patiently but some later became angry.

A passenger, who identified himself simply as Ismail, said, “This cargo plane got stuck since last(Wednesday) night but nothing meaningful has happened. Why is it taking this long to clear or tow it away?”

Another traveller, Mr. Uchechukwu Greg, described the development as “worrisome and annoying.”

He said, “Why is the aviation ministry doing this to passengers? Must they make us pass through this pain often? With what has happened, most of us have missed important engagements.”

A senior official of the Airline Operators of Nigeria, Mr. Mohammed Tukur, described the development as a “shame on the sector.”

He said, “The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria know what they need to have in an airport like the one in Abuja to address challenging situations fast.

“In a situation whereby you have an international airport and you cannot provide facilities needed during emergencies, then you are wasting your time.

“Instead of them buying things that are not vital, they should look for the right equipment for the smooth operation of the airport. Our major airports must have the right facilities to address emergencies.”

The Ministry of Aviation however said in another statement that the cargo aircraft was successfully recovered to the apron.

It said, “It took the combined emergency response efforts of the aviation agencies like the NCAA and FAAN as well as Customs, the Security agencies and Fire Service personnel to accomplish the feat in record time.”

The Accident Investigation and Prevention Bureau, according to the statement, had commenced investigations into the incident.

It added that preliminary report would be released as soon as possible.

Ealier, the Special Assistant to the Aviation Minister on Media, Mr Joe Obi, had in another statement said no casualty was recorded.

Obi added that officials of the AIPB, NCAA, FAAN and other relevant agencies, had made preliminary assessment visit to the NAIA.

The statement reads in part, “In the meantime, flights into Abuja have been temporarily suspended to facilitate evacuation efforts to clear the runway.

“Normal operations will resume immediately the aircraft is removed. While it must be noted that the incident is not a plane crash, the Federal Ministry of Aviation regrets all inconveniences this must have caused our esteemed air travellers and airport users.”

The PUNCH however learnt that the plane was carrying five units of the latest United States-made APCs ordered by the Federal Government to aid the war against terrorists in the North-East.

Aviation sources close to the military told one of our correspondents that sophisticated armoured vehicles, though made in the US, were assembled in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

One of the aviation sources said the APCs were off-loaded around 6pm on Thursday and handed over to top government officials and security chiefs.

Boko Haram insurgents had on Monday attacked the Composite Group Air Force Base near the Maiduguri International Airport in Borno State.

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