Nigeria to Divert Flights to Airport Still Under Construction

Kaduna airport
Ongoing renovation at the terminal building of the airport in Kaduna, Nigeria, January 10. The airport will become an international hub in March when Nigeria closes the airport in Abuja and reroutes flights to Kaduna. Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

A new terminal at northern Nigeria's Kaduna airport is still under construction with cables hanging from ceilings less than two months before it is due to become an aviation hub when the capital's airport closes temporarily for runway repairs.

Nigeria plans to shut Abuja airport for six weeks from March 8 to repair its runway and divert flights to Kaduna, an airport used primarily for domestic flights about 100 miles to the north, after airlines threatened to stop flying to the capital.

Abuja-bound passengers will have to fly to Kaduna and travel in buses, guarded by security, on a road where kidnappings have taken place in the past few years.

Kaduna airport handled 12 flights in December 2015, the last month for which Nigeria's airports authority has figures, compared with 812 that used Abuja.

The government hopes international carriers will use Kaduna during the closure but the new terminal, in the works for about four years, was still a building site when a Reuters team visited the airport on January 10.

Bricks were stacked throughout what will be the lounges, cables hung from the ceiling and mounds of sand were dotted across the ground. Most of the workers, who numbered around 30, were sat idle outside.

"We will try and fast track the contractor to deliver the terminal building before the end of February so that we can take it over in March," Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika told a forum of businesses and aviation industry figures this month.

"Whether that happens or not, we have an alternative," he said, explaining that the existing terminal would be used.

Sirika said the building could handle up to 500 passengers, although a visual assessment by the Reuters team suggested the capacity may be far lower. The check-in desks have no computers and there is only one security checkpoint.

Airport officials, who did not want to be named, said modifications could be made to the building such as creating an extra entrance, covered by a canopy, to ease the flow of people.

An Aviation Ministry spokesman did not to respond to emailed questions on Monday about details of the contingency plan if the terminal is not finished on time and the size of its capacity.

"If the government says it will be ready, it will be ready," Mohammed Joji, chairman of a government-appointed committee that is overseeing the temporary airport closure and transition, said last week.

The temporary closure of Abuja's airport has been criticized by aviation labor unions, business leaders and diplomats.

"Some businesses will fold up and be unable to recover," said three Nigerian aviation unions in an open letter, adding that the country's aviation industry "will lose colossal sums of money."