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International flights grounded, ban on foreign travellers takes effect

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• NCAA Restricts Flights To Lagos, Abuja Airports, Notifies Airlines, Operators
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The Federal Government’s ban on non-Nigerian travellers from some 13 countries yesterday took full effect with commercial international air movement almost grounded to a halt at airports.

At the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International, Abuja, monitored yesterday, only Air Peace and African World Airlines (AWA) were on schedule for regional operations, while Emirates airlines ran skeletal service from Lagos.

With massive plunge in traffic from the 13 countries and those that have self-withdrawn, all American and European carriers have stayed away in compliance with FG’s order.

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Similarly, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), yesterday, issued a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) on the travel ban and restriction of all foreign flights to Lagos and Abuja airports

The NOTAM signed by the Director General, NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu to all operators stated that the restriction of entry into the country for travellers from the 13 countries took effect midnight of yesterday, March 20.

These countries are: China, Japan, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, U.S., UK, Iran, France, Norway, South Korea and Germany.

And the massive global disruption in flight movement and travels is taking a heavy toll on airlines and travel agencies.  The National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA) yesterday said they had been forced to either downsize or place staffers on half- salary, while the forthcoming yearly general meeting earlier slated for next week in Kano had been postponed indefinitely.

President of the association, Bankole Bernard, said the travel agencies urgently need government’s intervention to save the industry from imminent collapse, should the coronavirus spread and economic impact worsens.

As at yesterday, about 90 countries have thus far imposed some travel restrictions and border closure in moves to prevent the spread. Nigeria was the latest to also slam travel restrictions on 13 countries that have COVID-19 prevalence. The ban takes effect from midnight today.

The coronavirus has infected more than 200,000 people and killed more than 10,000 globally, with almost 80,000 people having recovered from the infection, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

President of the Association of Foreign Airlines and Representatives of Nigeria (AFARN), Kingsley Nwokoma, said the empty terminal was the effect of a “troubled industry and very difficult period” since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Nwokoma said it began with slow traffic, then cancellation of flights, and great reduction in cargo traffic.

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“When it started, it was like a joke; we all thought it would soon pass away. The cargo sector or aviation generally is a big hit because most of the carriers that do not have freighters, they do a combo. But if we don’t have people going to the airports, meet with carriers to facilitate their cargo, where do you expect the cargo to come from?”

Recall that Arik Air has announced the temporary suspension of flights to all its West Coast destinations effective Monday, March 23, 2020.

Air Peace airlines has also declared readiness to scaled down operations, disclosing plans to suspend Dubai operations in response to the adverse effects of the pandemic.

The NOTAM, made available to The Guardian, stated that the travel restrictions is applicable to all flight crews from the countries affected.

“All operators wishing to operate or fly into Nigeria are required to operate with two sets of flight crew (augmented crew); one set to operate into Nigeria and the other set to operate out of Nigeria.

“All persons arriving into Nigeria, who might have visited these 13 countries, 15 days prior to such arrival, will be subject to supervised self- isolation and testing for 14 days.”

The DG NCAA added that the Lagos and Abuja international airports are designated for international flights only.

“Effective from 00.01 hours Saturday 21st March, 2020, Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano (DNKN), Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu (DNEN), and Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa (DNPO) will be closed to international flights.”

Only Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (DNAA) and Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, (DNMM) will be opened to accept international flights irrespective of the type of operation.

NANTA President, Bankole, told reporters in Lagos yesterday that the industry has been worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with the global industry losing $200 billion in revenue.

He said while foreign carriers have either withdrawn or scaled down operations due to loss of traffic, the local airlines are not left out as they already have 50 per cent loss of the market.

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“The half traffic is not enough to sustain their cost of operations and it is just a matter of time before they shut down, if the problem drags. We the travel agencies have already lost N180 billion. Though we refuse to panic at this time, we are in dire need of government’s support, if this industry will not completely collapse,” he said.

First Vice President of the association, Yinka Folami, said the agencies needed bailout in form of access to soft loans and interest-free overdrafts to cushion the effects of the massive disruption.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned that Nigeria is at risk of losing 2.2 million overseas-bound passengers, $434 million loss of revenue, putting over 22,200 jobs at risk, if the coronavirus spread continues to escalate.

The association that represents some 290 airlines said the gloomy outlook was not peculiar to Nigeria, but across the region and warrants emergency support for the airlines.

IATA, in a market analysis released Thursday, appealed to governments in Africa and the Middle East, to provide emergency support to airlines as they fight for survival due to the evaporation of air travel demand as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

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