By Sam Nzeh & Moses Oyediran
Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, has disclosed that local flights are to commence immediately with the reopening of Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu., Daily Times gathered.
The airport which was shut down on August 24, 2019 for massive reconstruction of the runway and terminal building among others to the tune of N10 billion was reopened on Sunday, August 30.
He spoke at the reopening ceremony on Sunday attended by South East governors including Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu); Dave Umahi (Ebonyi); Willie Obiano (Anambra); Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) and Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prof. Placid Njoku, who represented Hope Uzodinma, members of the Federal Executive Council, National Assembly members, President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, among other dignitaries.
The minister, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari at the ceremony, declared that local private and commercial flights have commenced immediately.
“Local flights will start immediately after commissioning today (yesterday),” he said. Sirika said the airport was so important to the aviation industry as well as the people of the South East because of its revenue base, saying that was why everything humanly possible was done to see that the facility reopened in time.
The minister, however, said that in no distant time, international flights will follow suit immediately the embargo on international flights is lifted come September 5, 2020. He said that in addition to Ethiopian Airline, other foreign airlines will be operating international flights into and from the airport in no distant time.
The minister disclosed that he approved the release of N1 billion for the completion of the international terminal and cargo building at the airport on Saturday.
He commended the South East governors for their support in ensuring that the repair works were carried out as quickly as possible and thanked the governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, especially for removing the obstacles that would have hindered the progress of the project.
In his speech, Ebonyi State governor and chairman of the South East Governors Forum, Dave Umahi, said that the decision to close the airport in 2019 was difficult but was in the interest of the people and their safety.
“It was a risk worth taking. And we are happy that it is being reopened today (yesterday) after a series of dialogues, persuasions and negotiations with the Federal Government,” he said.
He added that further efforts will be made to ensure that the Second Niger Bridge is equally given requisite attention by the Federal Government.
Gov Umahi showered praises on President Muhammadu Buhari for rehabilitation of the airport, saying that by the upgrade of the facility and its reopening, the President has endeared himself to South East people.
“We thank President Muhammadu Buhari for approval and release of funds for the rehabilitation of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport.
We also thank the Aviation minister, Senator Hadi Sirika, for his passion and commitment in ensuring that the project was delivered as promised,” he stated.
The President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who was visibly happy with the reopening of the airport, noted that “I never believed that what we are seeing today will happen.”
Nwodo then thanked President Buhari for approving N10 billion for the project. He also thanked Governor Ugwuanyi of Enugu State for his efforts in making sure that the project became a reality.
The former National Chairman of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, on the sideline of the commissioning of the airport, commended the Federal Government for making it possible for the facility to be upgraded to international standard.
He noted that the upgrade would go a long way in boosting the economy of the South East in particular and nation in general.
The reopening ceremony was attended by traditional rulers from the South East zone including Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe among other dignitaries from across the country. Several dance groups were also in attendance to add spice to the occasion.