By; KENNETH ORUSI, Asaba
Angry reactions have trailed the statement of the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, that the Super Eagles of Nigeria enabled Deltans and Nigerians to witness the first international flight from the Asaba airport.
According to the governor, “An international flight took off from Asaba to Johannesburg”.
Again, Okowa hinted: “We are very happy that you left for South Africa from Asaba because you enabled us to witness the first international flight from the Asaba International Airport”.
Okowa made the claim on 19th and 20th of November 2018 while addressing Deltans when former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, commissioned the Stephen Keshi stadium and at a state banquet in honour of the Super Eagles.
The crowd was not on the knowing that the flight which took the Super Eagles of Nigeria to and fro Johannesburg, South Africa, where they played 1-1 with their counterpart before returning to Asaba, to clash with the Cranes of Uganda, was actually a charter flight.
Our correspondent, who swung into action to unearth the mystery, found out that the flight was actually on charter hence it was not in the schedule of the Asaba airport.
A source at the airport who pleaded anonymity said the claim of the governor was a lie, “that flight is an international flight and it is a charter flight that was why it was not in the schedule”, the source said.
Our source also revealed that only local airplanes fly from Abuja to the Asaba airport.
A civil servant (name withheld) who queries the statement of the governor wondered why he could make such statement when the federal government has not given approval for the state government for the airport to operate international flights as it still runs on category 6 airports.
A member of the opposition, the All Progressive Congress (APC), in the state, Mr. Chukwuma Emeka, lambasted the governor for politicizing the airport, “it is not everything you use as politics, we know that charter flight can land and take off from anywhere”.
But clearing the air on the claim of the governor, the Special Project Director of the airport, Austine Ayamidejor, in an interview hinted: “We can’t operate an international flight without approval from the NCAA. What we did was to apply for a-one-off international operation, one-off-approval, specifically targeted for that operation only. So, NCAA approved Asaba-South Africa and South Africa-Asaba for only that trip to airlift the Super Eagles to South Africa and back to Asaba. That license and that approval expired there.
A letter he showed to our correspondent. read thus: “Your Excellency, I wish to refer to your later, dated 14 November, 2018 requesting for a-one-off approval to airlift members of the Super Eagles squad from the Asaba airport to South Africa on Thursday 16 November 2018, this is to inform you that the authority hereby grants the one-off approval for the operation of 737 300 chartered flight to airlift members of the Super Eagles from Asaba airport to South Africa on Thursday, 16 November 2018.”
Asked if the airport has been approved for international flights, he said: “it’s a gradual process but the first process is the one we have attained at the moment. Aircrafts have categories. We have 737, 777, 747. This runway is designed to accommodate Boeing 747. Currently, the largest aircraft coming to Nigeria is 747. That is British airways coming to Nigeria that operates London-Lagos and Lagos-London. This runway can accommodate and receive that category of aircrafts. That is for the capacity of the runway.
“Once we have been approved to accommodate 737, the next thing we need to do is to apply for license for further upgrade to category 8 or 9, category 6 is where we are right now. To operate international flight, we need to upgrade to category 8 or 9. Now, what do you do? It’s still the exclusive prerogative of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to grant that after inspection and it must meet the requirement that is needed to achieve that category. We are trying to apply for license to operate international airlines as an international airport.
“Now, we are going to move further to apply for international license for the airport and once we do that, we can operate 24 hours, provided you have all the very important facilities to operate. The component landing system, runway that has the capacity to receive 747, 777, we have some of the best navigational aids in the country, we have a VOR that is of global standard.
On whether NCAA has lifted the ban, he said “It is not just a matter of lifting the ban, the NCAA has restored back the status of the airport as at 2015 and in doing that, after series of inspections carried out, NCAA now wrote: “Sequel to the above the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority hereby grants approval for the upgrade of the Asaba airport to category 6 for aircraft operation of Boeing 737 and its equivalent with category 6 aerodrome rescue and firefighting operation services for day-light operations,” signed by Captain Muhtar Shaibu Usman, DG NCAA.
“Now, that is for the upgrade. We are now moving to apply for the international flight. Now, this is approval granted for the operation to South Africa, also signed by Captain Muhtar Usman, he is one of the best minds in aviation industry in the world. He cannot approve an upgrade without consideration of safety and security. Airport operation is about safety, safety and security.
“So, there is no way any operation will take place here without approval from NCAA. It is the regulatory authority of aviation concerns in this country. When it comes to air traffic control, you go to Nigeria Airspace Management Authority (NAMA). When it comes to weather, you go to Nigeria Meteorological Agency. These organizations have exclusive rights to operate airports. The highest authority in the aviation industry is the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority”, added.
It would be recalled that in 2015, the Nigerian Government downgraded the Asaba Airport over the failure of state government to put in place safety and security measures at the airport as the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), raised several safety concerns.
With the downgrading, the airport would only be allowed to accommodate the operation of only Dash 8-Q 400 aircraft or its equivalent until all the safety issues were addressed.
The concern then were over undulations on the airport’s runway, the lack of the required strip, perimeter fencing, drainage, as well as lack of adequately trained technical personnel.
Though, the issues raised about the runway of the airport have been put to rest, the operators of the airport have not been given the approval to operate international flights.