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How FAAN, airlines stalled plans to resume flight operations

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Covering gaps at airports may take another 90 days, say experts
Postponing resumption of commercial flight operations earlier scheduled for June 21 (yesterday) has been hinged on unpreparedness of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and some local airlines.

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) disclosed that the approved five airports under FAAN were only 57 per cent ready, while three of the eight scheduled carriers still had challenges of compliance with COVID-19 safety regulations.

Concerned stakeholders, however, said covering gaps in airport operations may take another 90 days, stressing that the airports should reopen in phases and as dictated by their readiness.

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 recently said it was no longer likely that the nation’s airspace would reopen on June 21, as earlier proposed.

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At a webinar held during the weekend, the NCAA showed that airlines, airports, and other service providers that had submitted resumption plans and compliance programmes from assessment, were on various levels of preparedness.

It disclosed that air navigation service providers have reached 80 per cent readiness, airlines 75 per cent, ground handlers 80 per cent, while domestic airports were only 57 per cent ready for COVID-19 safety protocols.

Officials said the minimum expected of all operators was 95 per cent, and airports’ 57 per cent readiness was poor and unacceptable since all passenger facilitation activities take place at the airports.

It was learnt that five carriers had been certified, leaving three more in airworthiness of operational aircraft, currency of airline flight crew and readiness to abide by COVID-19 preventive protocols, essential protective gears and training of airline personnel in handling passengers to protect them and other conditions.

Director of Air Transport Regulation at NCAA, Group Captain Edem Oyo-Ita (rtd.), said only three airlines submitted financial reports, while the regulator still awaited others.

Secretary General of Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd.), however, cautioned against waiting for FAAN to close the gaps at an airports like the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) in Lagos, which has a better alternative.

Ojikutu said the Ministry of Aviation and PTF should provide alternatives like the Murtala Muhammed Airport II (MM2) that had reached 87 per cent preparedness and requested more capacity for flight operations from the management of the terminal, if they hope to reopen the airspace within two weeks.

“By the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO’s) standards and with 57 per cent readiness, FAAN would need a minimum of 90 days to close the gaps of its deficits.

Managing Director, Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, noted that government chose the June 21 resumption date and not the airlines, adding that if the airlines had taken a date, they would have reviewed their readiness to choose a more convenient date.

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