* Abuja airport closed six weeks for runway repairs
* Passengers diverted to provincial city of Kaduna
* Patchy road network means many depend on air travel
By Felix Onuah
ABUJA, March 15 (Reuters) - Commercial helicopters can fly in and out of Abuja airport while its runway is repaired, Nigeria’s aviation minister said on Wednesday.
The capital’s airport closed for six weeks last Wednesday, with flights diverted to Kaduna, a city about 160 km (100 miles) north of the capital.
After landing at Kaduna, passengers travel on guarded buses along a road where kidnappings have taken place in recent years.
Nigeria’s road network is in poor condition and more affluent travellers rely on air travel to cover long distances.
“They have areas where there are no-fly zones but the national security adviser this morning approved that helicopters should enter Abuja airport and out,” the aviation minister, Hadi Sirika, told journalists on Wednesday.
He said guidance would be issued on where they could land.
Earlier in the week, the national security adviser issued a memo stating that Abuja’s airspace was subject to security restrictions and commercial helicopters could not fly over the city.
Airlines including British Airways, Lufthansa and South African Airways have refused to fly into Kaduna due to security concerns. Ethiopian Airlines is so far the only foreign airline to use the alternative airport.
There have also been concerns over the ability of the provincial city airport to handle the volume of passengers travelling to and from the capital, an important business hub as well as Nigeria’s political nerve centre.
Kaduna airport has primarily been used for domestic flights, with Abuja airport handling 4,859 domestic flights in December 2015 - the last month for which figures were available - compared with the 171 that flew in or out of Kaduna.
The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) said 162 domestic flights and 14 international flights had used the airport between March 8 and 12. (Additional reporting by Garba Muhammad, in Kaduna; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Julia Glover)