Foreign airlines record 30 per cent in slow restart
• Airlines, travel agencies forecast further drop • FG to increase frequencies
• Medical experts predict COVID-19 resurgence, amid doctors’ strike
A 30 percent passenger traffic was recorded weekend in Nigeria’s international travel as commercial flight services resume after five months of lockdown.
Flight resumption saw the arrival of only two flights at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, in two days. The Guardian learnt the Federal Government would soon review the COVID-19 travel protocols towards increasing the number of frequencies and maximum number of passengers allowed at Lagos and Abuja airports daily.
But despite plans for more flights, airlines and travel agencies have forecast a decline in travel demand, citing travellers’ apathy and coronavirus restrictions in parts of the world.
In the two days since flights resumed, only Middle East Airline (MEA) and British Airways (BA) have arrived Lagos. On the first day, MEA arrived from Beirut, Lebanon, with a total of 222 passengers, while BA arrived from London. The BA aircraft that arrived on Saturday was scheduled to depart late yesterday.
No flight had been recorded at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja at press time yesterday.
Ethiopian Airlines is expected to arrive Abuja today at 11 a.m. and make a debut into Lagos tomorrow. Emirates Airlines is expected in Lagos today and Abuja on Wednesday.
IN Enugu, there were indications, yesterday, commercial flights would resume today at the renovated Akanu Ibiam International Airport. The indication came as Southeast governors forum stated that the rehabilitation at the airport by the Federal Government was not a fluke as suggested by some observers.
For AIIA, it was gathered flights would operate fully between the hours of 7.00 a.m. and 7.00 p.m. today while operational hours would be extended after certification of lighting had been done by the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) on Tuesday.
An official of the airport confirmed, however, that Air Peace would resume on Wednesday, while two new airlines, Ibom Air and United Nigeria Airline, would begin operations September 14 and would fly to Enugu from Lagos and Abuja daily.
He added that arrangements were on to accommodate other airlines.
Chairman, Southeast governors forum committee on refurbishment of the airport, Chris Okoye, told journalists at the weekend the rehabilitation work was concluded as stipulated, adding that a November date had been fixed for inspection, towards granting final licence by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to enable the airport receive more international airlines.
He said the Federal Government provided N10 billion for the project, which enabled construction work to commence on November 17, last year. Okoye explained that works at the terminal building of the domestic wing and reconstruction at the airport premises and entry gates were not part of the reasons for the closure of the airport last year.
IN Rivers State, officials of Port Harcourt International Airport are working towards attaining protocols required for resumption of flights.
Marking of floors to ensure compliance with social distancing of passengers have started at the airport.
A top management official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Guardian that bid had been concluded for the prospective contractor that would build a booth for COVID-19 testing centre at the airport
“We are also expected within the next two weeks to build a booth where passengers will have their entire body sanitised on arrival or departure. Presently, we only sanitise their bags, but when international flights resume, we will be sanitising the entire body of each passengers.”
The Guardian gathered from airport and airline sources that it might not be feasible for the management of the airport to beat the two weeks deadline. According to them, it might take up to three weeks to meet the requirements before flights would resume. From all indications, only Turkish and Ethiopian airlines would be permitted to resume flight operations once the airport meets government requirements.
A travel agent, Sunday Olumegbon, noted that booked international flights had reflected increase in fare by an average of N100, 000, without considering the cost of coronavirus mandatory tests.
“An average passenger would undergo about three COVID-19 tests in the course of a journey. Someone coming from the UK would have done a test over there, do another one upon arrival here. And when leaving Nigeria, he or she would do another. Two tests in Nigeria are over N100, 000. He or she is already looking at a total of N500, 000 for a trip that earlier would have averaged N250, 000.
“Now, if travel is not very important, how many people will do such a trip? That is what will happen soon,” Olumegbon said. IATA, the clearing house for over 280 airlines worldwide, had disclosed that the demand for long-haul travel remains close to zero. Bookings for long-haul travel are almost non-existent, and if anything, “the public is becoming more pessimistic about their prospects for travel.”
IATA noted that bookings from November 1 to 7 showed tickets had been sold to only five per cent of the 2019 number of passengers.
IATA’s Director General and Chief Executive Officer, Alexandre de Juniac, said the slow restart was anything but a normal situation for airline planning or passenger demand.
As a stop gap measure, IATA urged governments to waive rules on flight slots to allow airlines maximum flexibility in booking their future schedules. The reason is that with little or no prospects of future demand, airlines should not be forced to relinquish slots, since this would mean many routes would be lost.
MEANWHILE, Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria (MDCAN) on Sunday declared that except caution was applied at airports, the nation might be heading towards a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rising from its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, held in Kano, the association of medical consultants called on government to pay all outstanding COVID-19 hazard allowances to health workers across the country.
Addressing journalists at the end of a four-day NEC meeting, the President of MDCAN, Prof. Kenneth Ozoilo, regretted that doctors could be forced to resort to strike to compel government to settle arrears of remuneration. Kenneth warned that any strike was capable of reversing the gains so far recorded against the COVID-19 pandemic.
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