Monday, 16 January 2017

Asaba Airport To Open In March

Flight hitches due to poor or shortened visibility at the Asaba Airport will soon be a thing of the past as the installation of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) of the airport and the entire rejigging of the airport have almost been completed.

Apart from the essential landing system, which enables aircraft to land safely without much interference or poor visibility, works on the airfield lighting system has reached advanced stage.

The inauguration of the remodelled airport, conceived as an international airport handling both passenger and cargo particularly agricultural produce, is expected to take place in March this year.

In April 2015, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) downgraded the Asaba Airport initiated by the administration of former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, stripping it of its international status due to observed shortcomings including the high range of hill surrounding the facility’s runway and others like inadequate lighting system and lack of standard perimeter fencing.

Subsequently, the new government of Dr Ifeanyi Okowa awarded contract for upgrading of the airport to an indigenous firm, ULO Consultants, consisting primarily of the lowering of the surrounding hills, the construction of a second runaway, expansion of the taxiway and lighting of the entire airport.

Going on simultaneously with the installation of the ILS and the airfield lighting are the construction of the perimeter fencing and the construction of the airport watchtower, a technical flight control system that complements the control tower.

Giving clarification on the installation of the ILS, Chief Uche L. Okpuno, the Chief Executive Officer of ULO Consultants, in a chat with journalists in Asaba, noted that with the installation of the ILS and the general facility upgrade at the airport having reached advanced stage, the pains of travellers through the Asaba Airport would soon be over.

He expressed confidence that by March this year, the entire project would have been wrapped up for inspection by the country’s aviation authorities with high prospect for positive assessment that would restore the airport’s international status.

Okpuno said: “I believe that in the next eight weeks everything will be completed. The rehabilitation work on the runway and taxiway is projected to end in March. All things being equal, we should be able to finish work by March ending.”

He noted that workers of the contracting firm did not observe the Christmas and New Year holiday as they had to work throughout the period in order to make up for the disruption of the initial completion plan by the heavy rains in 2016.

“Our workers and partners worked throughout the holiday in order to save lost time that the rains did not permit work,” he explained, adding, “Hopefully, we should be able to deliver the airport to the Delta State Government by March.” On the installation of the crucial ILS, Okpuno said the government had from the outset planned to install the equipment but because of the hill

obstacle which the contracting firm has been removing in the past one year, it was not possible to install it as you need a particular clarity for ILS to work.

The company’s chief executive explained: “Now that we have done an extensive work on removing that hill, the ILS has been installed where it was originally designed. Because we fly by sight, there is a limit of visibility required for aircraft to land at Asaba, about 4,000-5000ft but with an ILS in operation, you won’t need that huge visibility. With 800ft, aircraft can land as they are guided with the instrument which allows the pilot to land without him needing to see the runway perfectly.

“When it is foggy in Owerri, it may not be in Asaba or Port Harcourt but because they have existing ILS working they don’t require the visibility that we need. When it is foggy in Port Harcourt, they will just wait for the sun to come out before they have 800, 900ft visibility which is enough for the pilot to land but here in Asaba for a whole day, we may not even have 2,000ft of visibility so planes can’t land. When the ILS is fully installed, we won’t be requiring all that stretch of visibility for planes to land.

“We have a limitation as planes cannot land beyond 6p.m. If we had the airfield lighting as additional, planes can land here at any time of the day and at any time of the night like you have in other international airports. We won’t be limited even when it is foggy.

“We have never had an unprecedented rainy season in Asaba like we had last year. We were there for six months and our workers could not do any meaningful work. If you are doing the kind of work that we are doing at the runway, you needed a stretch of time without rains. If you are doing any serious civil work and it rains, you have to repeat the work and it becomes very time-consuming and unnecessarily expensive. That was why we worked during the yuletide to recover lost time now that the rains are over. Before the next rains starts in April, we should put the airport behind us.

“After this we will hand over the airport for commissioning. We are not only working on the runway and taxi way, the watchtower is nearing completion. The furniture at the concourse are all there and for the first time, the passenger bridges will be used by March. Once the rehabilitation work on the runway is completed, then in no time bigger aircraft can come but because of the reduced threshold (hill elevation) that we did to have the rehabilitation ongoing, they had to restrict the size of aircraft that comes to Asaba Airport but in three months time all that will be history.”