Ebonyi Airport: Condemnation Trails N13bn Runway Repair Five Months After Commissioning

The plan by the Ebonyi State government to rehabilitate the runway of the recently commis­sioned state-owned airport at Onueke, Ezza South Local Gov­ernment Area, has drawn con­demnation from the members of the public.

One of the stakeholders spoken to by Daily Independent alleged that the so-called rehabil­itation of the runway was to re­cover campaign funds and divert public resources.

The airport, which was com­missioned on April 26, 2023 by Engr. David Umahi, the imme­diate past governor of the state, gulped the federal and state governments about N36 billion to construct at the time of its commissioning.

Umahi had said that the air­port would be handed over to the Federal Government for proper concessions.

But Francis Nwifuru, the gov­ernor of Ebonyi State, said last week that the government would rehabilitate the five-month-old runway at the sum of N13 billion.

Speaking through Mrs. Ngozi Obichukwu, Commissioner of Aviation and Transport Technol­ogy, Ebonyi State, the government attributed poor construction of the runway to its plan to rehabil­itate the facility.

The government argued that the past government should have used asphalt for the runway, rather than the concrete pavement, which was used.

Already, the state government said it had awarded the contract for the rehabilitation of the air­port to Infrastructure Develop­ment Company (IDC) and mobil­ised the contractor by 50 percent of the total contract sum.

The contractor is expected to hand over the airport to the state government within eight months for commencement of flight services, according to the government.

But checks by Daily Indepen­dent showed that most newly con­structed airports have concrete runways and they are typically for major and bigger commercial airports.

Concrete has a cement-based binder, while asphalt is bitumen. Although it takes longer to install concrete compared to asphalt, there are higher upfront costs involved.

However, runways made from concrete are often more econom­ical over time, provided they receive the required maintenance.

Those spoken to by Daily In­dependent said the state government could have been ill-advised by some persons to scrape some portions of the concrete runway, while others suspected foul play.

Commenting on the issue, Dr. Alex Nwuba, President, of the Aircraft and Owners Pilots Association of Nigeria (AOPA), said that con­crete runways are always better and stronger than asphalt run­ways unless not properly done and wondered why the state government was bent on scrapping the runway.

Nwuba explained that rather than waste public funds on the rehabilitation of the facility, the government should have focused its attention on developing traffic to the airport, which it said was to attract economic development to the state.

He said: “The former gover­nor of Ebonyi State who is now the Minister of Works and an en­gineer has stated that roads built in the country are of poor quality and he aims to improve on them, while at home he’s being accused of substandard runway.

“If the allegation is that as­phalt is superior to concrete, then it’s wrong unless the con­crete wasn’t handled properly, in which case I’d have expected a correction rather than an up­grade to less. I wish Ebonyi well, I’d expected the focus should have been on developing traffic to the airport, which it will need even­tually after using up resources.”

Grp. Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd.) said that concrete runways are more expensive than asphalt runways, but said it may not be required for the full length of the runway.

For instance, he mentioned Makurdi airport as the first aero­drome with concrete runway in the country since 1978/79, yet without any major repairs over four decades after.

“The Makurdi runway was built of 4 kilometers in full con­crete about 1978/79 and I am not sure it has gotten any serious de­fect since then,” he said.

Capt. Samuel Caulcrick, the past Rector of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, said that local conditions or terrain of the airport determines the choice of materi­als for runway pavements.

Caulcrick, however, said that concrete was the choice pave­ment for major airports, where the ground conditions permit, giving the most satisfactory type of pavement for long-term mini­mum maintenance.

He explained that resorting to asphalt runways would mean downgrading of the runway and cautioned the state government against such a step.

Engr. Sheri Kyari, former staff of the defunct national carrier, Ni­geria Airways, like others, said that concrete runways are more durable than asphalt.

He, however, stated that concrete runways are prone to cracks, but said Ebonyi airport was still new without any need for repairs at the moment.

He suspected that the reha­bilitation of the airport’s run­way may be another means for the state government to recover campaign funds and divert public funds.

“Again, if they want to just add a layer of asphalt to cover the top layer, fine, but the bottom line is that they just want to siphon money and that can only be done through large projects. This is to recover campaign funds,” he said.

Besides, Capt. Mohammed Badamasi, an aviation stakeholder, declared that modern runways are made from concrete aggregate.

Badamasi stressed that this is preferred, due to its superior durability, and weight-bearing capabilities, positing that it is more expensive to construct.

He clarified that concrete ag­gregate for runways is slightly different from what is used in pavement and road construction, maintaining that the concrete mix must meet the highest inter­national standards in runway construction.

He, however, suspected that the runway may have been poor­ly built by the past government to have warranted its scraping.

He posited that a properly con­structed concrete runway is expected to last for at least 20 years, while asphalt is expected to last for 10 years before any form of repairs could be carried out on it.

He added: “Asphalt is a cheaper alternative, often used with a low­er load bearing expected on the runways. I won’t be surprised if the runways in question in Ebo­nyi State were poorly built. Signs of deterioration of the runways are cracks on the surface of the runways.

“Since it’s not possible to patch concrete runways, the best thing to do is to remove the concrete surface and replace it with an as­phalt surface. Whichever type is chosen, the durability of the run­ways will depend on the quality of work done by the contractor.”

Recall that the former gover­nor, Umahi, had commissioned the airport in April, this year, with an inaugural flight operated by Air Peace with its two Embraer 145 aircraft from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja and the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), La­gos touched down at the airport.

Umahi had named the airport after former President Muham­madu Buhari, but the new government in the state renamed it Chuba Okadigbo’s International Airport, a few weeks after as­sumption of office.

Umahi had informed that the Federal Government approved the sum of N10 billion for the take-off of the project, apart from other support received from the government to ensure its completion.


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