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LAGOS, April 18 (Reuters) - Nigeria reopened the capital’s airport in Abuja on Tuesday, officials said, following a six-week closure for runway repairs that disrupted international air traffic to the country.
During the shutdown, authorities diverted flights to Kaduna, a provincial airport 160 km (100 miles) away, where carriers including British Airways, Lufthansa and South African Airways refused to fly on security grounds.
Ethiopian Airlines was the only foreign carrier to use Kaduna airport during the closure. Other international airlines continued to fly into Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos.
Abuja is the political nerve centre of Africa’s most populous nation and a major business hub in the continent’s biggest economy.
There have been no official estimates of the economic impact of the closure, but Abuja International Airport handled 812 flights in December 2015, the last month for which the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has figures. The comparative figure for Kaduna was 12.
Announcing Abuja airport’s reopening, FAAN spokeswoman Henrietta Yakubu said an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa would land on the renovated runway. FAAN, on its Twitter feed, later said the flight arrived around 12 pm local time (1100 GMT).
“Abuja runway 100 percent completed and certified by Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. Consequently the airport is open for operations,” aviation minister Hadi Sirika said in a message posted on Twitter.
Authorities had previously said the airport, which has been closed since March 8, would reopen on Wednesday.
“The rehabilitation of the runway was completed 24 hours ahead of schedule,” Yakubu said, adding that other airlines’ flights would resume on Wednesday.
The repairs to the badly damaged runway, carried out by construction firm Julius Berger, were scheduled after airlines threatened to stop flying to Abuja.
Passengers who landed in Kaduna were transported to the capital on guarded buses along a road where kidnappings have taken place in recent years. The six weeks of transfers passed without incident.
FAAN said 43,000 passengers passed through Kaduna airport in its first 11 days of operation as the alternative to Abuja airport. About 10,000 passengers used the shuttle buses in that period. (Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; editing by John Stonestreet and Pritha Sarkar)