* 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 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
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)