Covid-19: Not yet Uhuru for domestic flight operations

Covid-19: Not yet Uhuru for domestic flight operations

The planned resumption of domestic flight operations earlier scheduled for today has been aborted no thanks to the lack of preparedness of many of the operators in the aviation sub-sector. Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf, in this report examines the issues

THE great expectations which greeted the planned resumption of domestic flight operations for Sunday, June 21, 2020, was highly anticipated considering the fact that the airwave had been shut down for a record three months due to the lockdown imposed by the ravaging coronavirus pandemic. But that was not to be.




Of course, the reason for this is not farfetched: operators are ill-prepared for resumption. This sadly, is the submission of the Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika and the apex regulatory agency in the industry, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

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Nigeria shut its airports, except for essential flights, in March as the country began to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic which has caused over 400 deaths in the country.

It would be recalled that the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 had earlier announced that some domestic flights would resume on June 21

The team’s national coordinator, Sani Aliyu, said the aviation industry had three weeks to develop a protocol for the proposed resumption.

However, the Minister, who gave the hint about the non-resumption of domestic flight operations during the daily briefing in Abuja by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on Thursday, did not minced words when he said operations would still take a while.

Sirika, who was represented by the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu, while fielding questions from journalists gave plausible reasons why domestic flight operations is not feasible for now.

While speaking on the preparedness of the aviation sector post Covid-19, he recalled that about three weeks ago the Presidential Task Force gave the aviation authorities the mandate to get back on their readiness to reopen anytime from June 21, 2020.

According to him, before the PTF prompted the ministry, the NCAA, which is the apex regulatory body of the aviation sub-sector had developed advisory circular and distributed to the different sectors of the industry.

Specifically, he said, this advisory circular requested all the service providers which include the air navigation service provider, in Nigeria, which is the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA),  the airlines, the airports, which include the federal government-owned airports, managed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN)  and some states-owned airports, ground handlers, approved maintenance organisations and approved trading organisations. This advisory circular required all sectors of the industry to present a restart plan to the regulatory body for review and approval.

Modus operandi of restart plan

The restart plans, which are the regulatory technical requirements, are expected to cover airworthiness, operations, aviation security, safety management system, human protection and air transport regulation. “But most importantly, the COVID-19 protocol under the public health concept was developed in collaboration with the federal health authorities, including the Federal Ministry of Health, the NCDC, and the Airport Health Service also in addition with guidelines with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international organisations,” the minister said.

From available information, a lot of service providers have provided their restart plan, though awaiting review by the NCAA.

“A lot of work has been done and lot service providers have provided very good documents; some provided inadequate documents and their documents have sent back to them. Significant progress has been made but there is still a lot of work to be done. The aviation system normally is a very complex system and this complex system has further been compounded by the Covid-19 healthcare concept which a lot of those in the system is not used to implementing and we have to develop and implement this system to ensure that the aviation industry is not a vector of mass transmission of the coronavirus.”

Sirika while noting that the aviation system is a very complex system and this complex system has been compounded by the public healthcare concept which the aviation sector is not used to implementing, however stressed that the ministry has to develop and implement these systems to ensure that the aviation industry is not a vector for mass transmission of the coronavirus.

New date for flight resumption

With the planned Sunday, June 21, 2020, no longer feasible, the NCAA boss, while giving hints of a new date said, the government will consider the new resumption of domestic flights by the end of June.

“On our new proposed date, we are looking towards the end of this month. Hopefully, by mid of next week, we will submit a report through the ministry of aviation to the PTF for review and possibly set a fixed date.

“I know a lot of people are anxious, the industry is anxious, we understand, but to do otherwise will be a great disservice and neglect of our mandate from the government of Nigeria,” he said.

He also noted that the sector was in talks with others to ensure a successful and safe commencement of operations.

“We have had about four stakeholder meetings via zoom and we have had feedback from the industry and we will respond to their concerns,” he said. “We have also had lots of inputs from international organisations like International Civil Aviation Organsation (ICAO), WHO, African Union Commission and other international organisations.”

Lending credence to the DG, the agency’s General Manager, Publiuc Affairs, Sam Adurogboye while speaking in an interview with our correspondent at the weekend said a stakeholders’ meeting scheduled for Saturday, and expected to be concluded by Sunday (today) would come up with a probable date for the resumption of flight.

How far can aviation restart plans go?

The Nation can authoritatively report that about 20 operators in the aviation sector, including the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, have submitted their operational restart plans to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority as the country prepares to reopen its airspace to commercial flights.

It was also gathered that six airlines had passed the airworthiness mark set by the sector regulator in order to allow them begin commercial operations.

This came as FAAN announced that with the resumption of commercial flights at various airports, persons who were not travelling would not be allowed into the airport terminal buildings.

These were some of the discussions made by over 300 operators in the aviation sector during a webinar that dragged on from Tuesday night till the early hours of Wednesday last week.

The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika; Director-General, NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu; National Coordinator, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr Sanni Aliyu; Chairman, Air Peace, Allen Oyema, were among the many operators who participated in the webinar.

On the submission of restart plans by operators, the General Manager, Airline Operators’ Certificate and Surveillance, NCAA, Godwin Balang, said 20 stakeholders had complied.

He said, “We have 11 recommendations and we have reviewed the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s recommendations. The guideline is going to reflect our last meeting with airlines.

“On recovery plan, 20 aviation stakeholders have submitted their restart plan so far. We have received from FAAN, plan on Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano; Port Harcourt International Airport, Port Harcourt; Sam Mbakwe Airport, Owerri; while those of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja came later.”

The Director, Airworthiness Standards, NCAA, Ita Awak, told participants that some airlines had met the airworthiness requirements of the regulator.

A former Director-General of NCAA, Harold Demuren, suggested that there should be some form of simulation exercise before the real opening of airports to passenger traffic.

“We need to assure passengers that it is safe to fly. A simulation, two days before the opening of the airports, is encouraged,” he stated.

On the financial health of the airlines in Nigeria, the Director, Air Transport Regulation, NCAA, Group Capt. Edem Oyo-Ita (retd.) said, “Only three airlines have submitted their financial health while we are waiting for others.”

The Area Manager, West Africa, International Air Transport Association, Samson Fatokun, warned that airlines would not break even with the proposed 70 per cent load factor.

He said, “Air transport in Nigeria is distressed with the shutting down of operations. This industry needs financial support. We are appealing again to the government to support the industry.”

Supporting the IATA official, Allen Onyema of Air Peace, said the intention of the palliative by government should be for job retention.

On the campaign to leave some middle seats empty while onboard airplanes, the Air Peace boss said “this will kill the airlines in Nigeria.”

He explained that the purchasing power of the average Nigerian was low, giving a scenario where the airlines would need to transfer the fares on the middle seats to passenger tickets. “Can Nigerians afford N70,000 worth of ticket on less than one-hour flight?” Onyema asked.

Read Also: Enugu Airport ready before Easter- Sirika

Prelude to planned reopening

Independent checks by The Nation revealed that as part of efforts to begin the reopening of some of the airports in the country, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) recently held a skype meeting with Munich Airport International to share experiences and compare notes on the effects of the COVID19 lockdown on the airports.

According to sources, the meeting which was at the instance of the Managing Director of FAAN Captain Rabiu Hamisu Yadudu had in attendance the Munich Airport Expert Team, Herbert Keffel, Georgios Elkolids and Julian Duerdoth and was coordinated by Fortune Idu, Managing Director of FCI International Ltd with Nike Aboderin, the Director of Finance as the team lead on the Nigerian side of 30 FAAN participants.

In a statement which corroborated findings by The Nation, the General Manager, Corporate Affairs (FAAN), Henrietta Yakubu confirmed that the aim was to assess the readiness of FAAN to gradually begin operations, following the Federal Government’s directive for reopening of the four regional airports.

In initiating the meeting, Captain Yadudu had commented that ‘while FAAN is responding to the guidelines set by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for gradual airport reopening and post COVID-19 operations, “it is important also to compare notes with other airports in the world to make sure we are on the right track and join the global industry in building back travel confidence,” he said.

Munich airport has successfully reopened its airport and has recommenced domestic and international flights, so it is worth sharing their experience with them according to the MD of FAAN. Furthermore, FAAN intends to begin involving itself in route development and therefore, collaborative efforts between Munich and FAAN can help in that direction.

Flight resumption in other climes

Though a lot of countries have not opened their borders for tourists yet but some airlines are planning to resume flights soon or have already done so.

According to skyrefund.com, Europe’s major airline groups have announced that they plan to add flights at different paces. The initial projections are subject to travel restrictions and bans being gradually lifted.

British Airways owner IAG plans the largest increase, operating 45% of capacity between July and September.

Flights throughout April and May have been cancelled with the exception of repatriation flights, but now some airlines are expecting to resume their flight schedules ahead of the peak July and August season.

Jet2 was expected to restart on 17 June but this date will be kept under constant review while British Airways is currently running a limited number of flights for essential workers, but has not announced exactly when it expects its full schedule to be available yet.

Virgin Atlantic has been running a limited schedule for essential flights, as it focuses on delivering emergency personal protective equipment to the NHS. So far it has been suggested that they won’t resume passenger flights before 1 July.

EasyJet isn’t considering resuming flights until June and hasn’t yet commented on its flight operations.

KLM is flying a much-reduced schedule. Its target for May was the resumption of 15% of its flights, compared to the period before the Covid-19 outbreak.

Wizz Air resumed flights out of Luton Airport on 1 May to selected airports in Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Portugal, Spain and Israel, as well as some flights from Vienna and Budapest.

Ryanair plans to restore 40% of its flights from 1 July. This means almost 1000 flights per day and nearly all of its route network will be in operation.



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