FG intensifies airports’ upgrade for resumption
In a last-minute push to get the airports ready, the Federal Government has rallied resources to get five airports ready for proposed local flights’ resumption.
The preparation, currently being executed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), is to speed up the Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, and Enugu airports’ rate of compliance to safety guidelines in a COVID-19 era.
In a related development, FAAN and its sister agencies, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), and the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) have relocated their Headquarters from Lagos to Abuja, in accordance with the government’s directive.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), at a webinar held recently, showed that airlines, airports, and other service providers that had submitted resumption plans and compliance programmes from assessment, were all on various percentage levels of preparedness.
The air navigation service providers have reached 80 per cent, airlines 75 per cent, ground handlers 80 per cent and domestic airports only 57 per cent ready for COVID-19 safety protocol.
Officials said the minimum expected of all operators was 95 per cent, and airports’ 57 per cent was abysmally poor and unacceptable since all passenger facilitation exercises happen at the airport.
The Managing Director of FAAN, Capt. Rabiu Yadudu, said they were doing everything possible to upgrade both safety and security levels at the airport, without further delay of the resumption plan.
“Please, bear with us. It is primarily on safety and security issues. We need to improve what we have. That is why we started training our personnel. On procurement, there are things you do not get on time. We have been going at a drastic pace since June 21, 2020, to achieve the common goals.” Yadudu said.
The Guardian learnt that the International Air Transport Association (IATA), has also pledged to support FAAN to fast track quick reopening of the airspace.
The Secretary-General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), a think-tank group of the industry, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), however, advised against waiting for FAAN to close the gaps at an airport like the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) in Lagos, which has a better alternative.
Ojikutu said it was incumbent on the government, through the Ministry of Aviation and the Presidential Task Force (PTF), to get alternatives like the Murtala Muhammed Airport II (MM2) that has scored 87 per cent, and request for more capacity for airlines flight operations from the management of the terminal, if they hope to reopen the airspace within two weeks.
“By the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) standards, and with a 57 per cent score, FAAN would need a minimum of 90 days to close the gaps of its insufficiencies.
“My question is: what is the minimum the NCAA requires of each operator or the checklists used for determining the scores? There are five airports designated for opening. How many of them meet the NCAA requirements for opening? Are there no provisions in the NCAA requirements to substitute an airport for one that fails to meet the requirements?
“On my list for a substitute is the Benin Airport, judging from its traffic figures after Owerri. If FAAN is scoring 57 per cent with Lagos and Abuja now, we should all be worried. What this conference has shown us is that the recent NCAA audits seem to put emphasis on private airlines operators than the government operators. This 57 per cent by ICAO standards means we would need more than 90 days to close the gaps. What this means to us all is that no commercial aviation activities until the airports are fixed to meet the NCAA, and indeed, the national safety requirements,” Ojikutu said.
The Managing Director, Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi, noted that the June 21 restart date was chosen by the government and not the airlines, adding that if it came from the airlines, the carriers would have looked at their readiness to pick the date convenient for them to start.
Sanusi said: “On the other hand, if I was going to advise, I would say, the airspace is open, interstate travel is open, and any airline that meets the requirement can start flying. If I were to give advice, this is what I would say. Each airline that has conformed to the protocols that we have laid down up to 90 per cent can start. There shouldn’t be a date actually. When the airline is ready to start, they can start rather than put a date to it.
“I think what they should do is focus on making sure that we start safely, we should focus on making sure that the protocols that have been rolled out by the NCAA are being followed, and we should also focus on interstate travel that was banned.
“The reason for interstate travel was a communal infection and it is increasing. If the Federal Government through the PTF says it is not safe for us to start interstate travel, they should not start talking about aviation, because if they feel it is not safe to start interstate travel, we are carrying passengers from place to another too. I don’t think it is rocket science. It is very simple. We try to complicate very simply, basic matters,” he added.
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