Major airports in the country will in the “next few days” roar into life after weeks of inactivity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The airports are the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja; Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja; Aminu Kano Arport, Kano and the Port Harcourt Airport, Choba, Rivers State.
The Federal Government on March 16 placed a travel ban on 13 countries, including China, United States and Italy that had recorded over 1,000 cases of Coronavirus. On March 13 it shut all airports for one month and later extended it by two weeks. On May 6, the government further extended the airports’ closure by four weeks until June 7.
The decision to commence flights at the airports, according to the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), is to avoid chocking the “system.” NCAA Director-General, Captain Musa Nuhu stated this at a virtual event organised by the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ART) titled COVID-19: The Challenges and Opportunity for Nigeria’s Aviation Value Chain, During and Post. Nuhu said the NCAA worked with representatives of airlines and ground handling companies before forwarding a proposal to the Minister of Aviation for approval.
The NCAA boss said: “We may resume domestic operations with four or five airports and we hope to expand as we get better. We don’t want to rush everything at the same time and get it choked up…. “Every money is important and we cannot achieve the two-meter physical distance. We are hopeful in the next few days we can resolve those issues and allow the airlines to commence operations. “We have made our suggestion and recommendations and we are awaiting feedback from the Ministry of Aviation.”
Nuhu said air transport must be safe and not become part of the ways of spreading Coronavirus. He stated that physical distancing was an issue as discussions were still on on leaving the middle seats in an aircraft vacant. Chairman, Air Peace, Mr Allen Onyema, urged the government to provide intervention for local carriers. He said such intervention should be specific in order to enable the airlines retain their workers.
Onyema however disagreed with plans to leave the middle seats of aircraft free as that could further affect the revenue of the airlines. He said: “The world is on break and nothing is happening. The authorities have reeled out things and these things come with a huge cost. How will airlines manage them and still be able to pay about 37 charges. “I do not want free money that I cannot account for. This is not an opportunity to ask for money to buy new planes. In fact, intervention should be for the work force.
I have over 3, 000 staff members at Air Peace. These people’s livelihood are endangered and we must do everything possible to keep their jobs. “We should be asking the government for specific things that would help retain jobs. Job retention should be first and foremost.” NCAA has however released COVID-19 protocols as approved by the Federal Ministry of Health for the aviation industry. The protocols are for Nigeria-based crew operating international flights.
The crew members are now required to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and observe Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) measures for the duration of their flights. Nuhu, who announced the approval of the new protocols in a letter to airline operators, airports and other service providers, added that the crew members would not be quarantined but would undergo mandatory testing for COVID-19 every 14 days at the expense of their employers.
According to the letter, the new protocols replace the current practice where Nigeria- based international flight crew members are quarantined for 14 days upon their return to Nigeria. Nuhu added that in the new protocols the airliners must ensure among others, orientation and sensitization of their crew on Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) measures. The protocols also state that airlines must have adequate stock of PPE, minimum 70 per cent alcohol-based hand sanitizers and Universal Precaution Kits (UPK) on board every aircraft.
The letter reads in part: “Onboard the flight crew will request passengers wash their hands after using the lavatory, apply disinfectant spray in lavatory every 60 minutes during the flight and maintain a safe distance between passengers and themselves; avoid direct physical contact and serve only pre-packed meals to passengers. “Flight deck crew must wear non-medical face masks and gloves but can remove face masks when the cockpit door is closed. “They must also ensure safe removal of gloves after performing specific tasks and avoid touching their face and eyes with unclean hands.”