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Recovery in sight for aviation as local airlines scale up operations

By Wole Oyebade
03 December 2020   |   4:28 am
At least three local airlines have shown signs of early recovery from COVID-19 lockdown, with the reopening of closed routes and additional frequencies on traditional routes.

Airport, Lagos

•FAAN inspects airports

At least three local airlines have shown signs of early recovery from COVID-19 lockdown, with the reopening of closed routes and additional frequencies on traditional routes.

As of yesterday, airlines like Dana Air, Air Peace and Arik Air had received an additional capacity to expand operations across the local network.The development, industry analysts said, suggested a marginal rebound in passenger traffic and an imminent relief for the beleaguered industry.

In a related development, the management of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) yesterday, commenced a 10-day facility tour of the country’s 23 airports.

The tour is aimed at assessing the infrastructural needs of the airports while evaluating their preparations for the yearly surge in passenger traffic during yuletide as well as the level of compliance with COVID-19 protocols at the airports.

Recall that the local airlines resumed commercial flight operations in July after three months of COVID-19-induced lockdown. But weeks after resumption, air travel patronage has remained all-time low, with traffic ranging between 15 and 30 per cent.

To shore up customers’ demand, airlines are pushing connectivity beyond the Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt routes. Dana Air lately announced that it would increase flights from Lagos to Port Harcourt, Enugu and Owerri from December 7, 2020

Media and Communications Manager of the airline, Kingsley Ezenwa, said Dana Air would introduce additional flights “as part of our preparations to provide our guests amazing options with schedule reliability, consistency, on-time departures, and efficient services this yuletide.”

Similarly, Air Peace airline also disclosed plans to commence flight operations into Makurdi, Benue State Capital, from Lagos and Abuja on December 7, 2020. This is as the airline is also billed to resume flights to Uyo from Lagos and Abuja on the said date.

The airline’s spokesperson, Stanley Olisa, disclosed that Makurdi had been on the airline’s radar for some time and that it is being launched to meet the air travel needs of Nigerians who connect Lagos and Abuja to Makurdi and the other way round.

“We promise to interconnect every part of this country and foster economic relations between cities. Be assured that we are coming with more destinations. We are starting Johannesburg in December and India is in the offing,” Olisa said.

Arik Air, on its part, has leased a Boeing 737-700 aircraft from Eznis Airways to boost its operations. The aircraft arrived in Nigeria on November 21, 2020.

The leased aircraft, which will be deployed into service from yesterday, will enable Arik Air to return to some routes, which were suspended in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chief Executive Officer of Arik Air, Captain Roy Ilegbodu, said the aircraft would boost the carrier’s fleet in readiness for the yuletide season.

Aviation expert and Chairman of the Airlines Joint Passenger Committee of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Bankole Bernard, said the marginal improvement in frequencies was expected with the festive season coming and more foreign airlines now operating direct flights in and out of the country.

Bernard foresaw more increase in traffic in the days ahead. “More activity is expected to pick up by next year, especially with the reported discovery of COVID vaccines. In fairness, we, in Nigeria, are not doing too badly, compared to other parts of Africa. In terms of recovery, we are 29 per cent ahead of others. With more airlines coming now, I expect that we should be hitting 75 per cent traffic by February or March next year,” Bernard said.