Barely 24 hours after the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) was opened for flight operations, no fewer than seven foreign airlines are expected to resume full flight operations into and out of the airport today.
Ethiopian Airlines had on Tuesday landed with over 200 passengers on-board an A350 aircraft, making it the first time the airline will deploy this type of aircraft in Nigeria airspace.
Other airlines that operate into Abuja with the exception of South African Airlines are equally expected to commence full operation today. The airlines include: British Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, EgyptAir, Air France and Lufthansa Airways amongst others.
LEADERSHIP gathered that after Ethiopian Airways, the next foreign airline that will make use of the brand new tarmac would be the British Airways which is expected at the early hours of Thursday morning.
An impeccable source said South African Airways may not commence immediately due to some minor issues that has to do with technicalities. “SAA, from all indications has canceled its flights into Abuja airport for two weeks due to technical reasons”, the source stated. The airline is however, expected to resume operations into the Abuja in due course.
A media consultant to Lufthansa Airline and operator of Lion Sun Consulting, Mr Hakeem Jimoh confirmed that Lufthansa Airline would likely operate into the Abuja airport on Thursday.
Almost all the international airlines in Nigeria refused to fly to an alternative hub in Kaduna in March 8 when Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja was closed completely for runway repairs.
Despite their refusal, the federal government ensured that domestic and international flights were diverted to Kaduna, 170 kilometers (105 miles) away from Abuja.
However, the federal government had on Tuesday beaten the April 19 deadline earlier proposed to put the runway in a standard shape, coming two days ahead.
Also, about eight local airlines touched down at the Abuja airport yesterday. These airlines include: Medview, Aero, Azman, Overland, Dana, Arik amongst others.
Meanwhile, normal business began yesterday at the airport after six weeks of closure for the repairs of the runway. The airport terminal, which had been empty for six weeks, was booming with different businesses and passengers movement; even as the immigration, customs, other airport workers were seen carrying out their normal duties.
The airport, which witnessed Air Peace landing first as early as 8am, also saw over 25 aircrafts, both local and international, landing and taking off.
Speaking on the resumption of business activities at the airport, one of the shop owners, Baba Ibrahim said it was a thing of joy to see the reopening of the airport runway as he has witnessed greater patronage more than the last six weeks.
On the conditions of the new runway, a passenger, Ibrahim Dikko said, “It is something that all Nigerians should be proud of and it’s an indication that if we put our mind to something, it can be achieved and here we are, the country worked hard, we had a smooth transition to Kaduna and now we are back.
“We are pleasantly surprised when they told us we would land in Abuja instead of Kaduna. I know the minister as a hardworking person, so I’m not surprised that he met his target.”
Another passenger, Ele Ike also said: “It’s a lot more convenient and we are happy to be back to where we live instead of travelling for over two hours by train or car to catch the plane.To be honest, I did not believe that the airport would be opened so soon but I guess they did this to the surprise of most of us.”
Recall that the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika had said he decided to reopen the airports earlier since the runway rehabilitation had been completed on schedule. He added that even though the reopening date was supposed to be Wednesday, it was not bad to reopen a day earlier, which was on Tuesday, April 18.