Panic, apprehension and fear gripped passengers Thursday when their flights to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja hovered for about 45 minutes before landing.
The delay was caused by the closure of the airport for VIP movement, as President Muhammadu Buhari who travelled to Bauchi State during the day made his return back to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Passengers on Dana Air Flight 335, which took off by 5:26 p.m from the domestic terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) for a 55 minutes’ flight to Abuja were directed to hover because the airport was closed.
Addressing passengers after he had earlier announced that the flight was due to land at 6:20 pm, the pilot said the air traffic control directed that he should take a part of the airspace and hover until directed to land.
Before the flight approached Abuja airspace, the airport was already closed for five minutes.
Passengers panicked as flight crew belted themselves in their seats as the flight continued to turnaround in the air.
After hovering for about 27 minutes, the Control Tower directed that the pilot should approach to land, but as the flight approached to land, another directive instructed the pilot to continue to hover because the airport was still closed.
The flight was eventually directed to land and it finally touched down by 7:00 pm, 40 minutes later than it was supposed to land and almost two hours from the time of boarding the flight.
An official of the airline who spoke to THISDAY said aircraft could exhaust its fuel while hovering for that long time and this could lead to emergency and consequently accident.
On the economic implication of the delay, he said the operating flight, MD 83 consumed 3,000 litres of fuel hovering in the airspace and every litre of aviation fuel is sold between N235 to N250 per litre, which is N750, 000.
According to him, the aircraft consumes 4000 litres of fuel per hour of flight and this is doubled for endurance fuel in case of emergency with additional five per cent of the 4000 litres for contingency.
“That flight after dropping the passengers in Abuja will airlift Port Harcourt passengers from Abuja. Now, that flight will be delayed for that period of time it hovered in the airspace. This delay will continue to build up and lead to total inefficiency in flight operations,” the official who spoke to THISDAY said.
THISDAY also spoke to air traffic control official who said that international flights coming to Abuja were also asked to hover for that period of time.
“You know this is the peak period when many flights are coming to Abuja,’ the controller said.