Nigeria’s capital has cut off by air since Wednesday because the Abuja airport will be closed for at least six weeks for repairs.
The Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport was shut to all domestic and international flights from midnight on Tuesday, pending the start of long-overdue work to resurface its potholed runway.
An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 from Addis Ababa, which ordinarily would have landed in Abuja, instead touched down in Kaduna, about 190km to the north.
Fire service tenders gave a traditional water-cannon salute as it taxied to a standstill on the apron. Ethiopian Airlines is the only foreign carrier to switch routes to Kaduna.
Others, including British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and SAA have declined to do so. They questioned Kaduna’s ability to handle long-haul flights and were concerned about the safety of passengers and staff, who would have to travel by road between the two cities.
But Nigeria’s aviation minister, Hadi Sirika, told reporters shortly after the first flight arrived: “There are quite a few doubting Thomases whether Kaduna can work. Kaduna is working.” The other airlines were now “probably regretting” their decision, he said.
An AFP reporter at Kaduna airport said security in and around the facility was tight, although work on parts of the new terminal building had not been finished.
One international passenger headed for Rome, who gave his name only as Giovanni, described the Kaduna building as “a work in progress. They are painting the wall, they are cleaning the door, they are moving the seats … the work should have been completed two days to the opening,” he said.
Giovanni said it took him more than two hours to get to Kaduna from Abuja by bus but “I have not seen any problem on the road. The road is good, well paved and large.”
Ubong Ambrose, another passenger, complained about the deafening noise from contactors working on the VIP lounge and the fact that his ticket was handwritten instead of issued electronically.
“Apart from that, everything is as seen in other airports,” he said just before he caught his flight to Canada.
Sirika pledged that work at Abuja airport would be completed on time — within six weeks.
The runway was built in 1982 with a 20-year lifespan. The aviation ministry has described it as “dilapidated” and “unsafe”, leaving no option but to resurface it.