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The Nigerian government says it is working assiduously to resume international flights in the country.
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 stated that government was working tirelessly to establish the protocols that would guide the resumption of international air travels, especially as it relates to arrivals into the country.
Chairman of the Task Force, Boss Mustapha who disclosed this at Monday’s media briefing, said all relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) were collaborating to achieve this.
Also speaking on the issue, the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika said that a National Air Facilitation Committee has been established to work out the modalities for a safe resumption of international flight operations in the country.
He said the Committee was made up of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigeria Custom Service (NCS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Airport Security Committee, Ground Handlers Association, Directorate of State Security Service (DSS), Freight forwarders association, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Committee and the Quarantine service.
The Minister who stated that aviation was one of the worst hit by COVID-19 pandemic, noted that a quick lifting of ban of international travel without adhering to the laid down protocols would be disastrous.
“The Committee will meet on Tuesday to further discuss the protocols for the re-opening of the international airports. Certainly, aviation is worst hit with this. There must be passenger movement for us to be able to survive. We have said here on this platform that salaries are becoming difficult for us to pay”.
“So, we want to open more than you want us to open. We have been living with the question of when we are going to open. This is subject to so many factors and all of these sacrifices that we are making is in the interest of the public and the interest of all of us to fly safe,” he stated.
Senator Sirika however debunked insinuations that airspace in Europe and other foreign countries had re-opened saying it was not true that Nigeria was the one holding down the return of international operations.
“Like I said, if it is on us, we would have opened yesterday. If we open, we will make more money to enable us carry out all our activities. The purpose of us is to be able to judge what is safe for our citizens of our country. Please, bear with the situation. We feel your pain. We understand it as much as you do. We know that some people are cut away from their families, businesses, but this is an act of God”.
“This is force majure. Please, bear with the situation. We are very responsible people. We will open only when it is the right time to open and I am sure it will be sooner than later. Tomorrow, like I said, this committee will meet. There is also a meeting at the Ministry of Interior where all the stakeholders will also meet and discuss, analyse and review the protocols and they will announce when it is safe to open. This is the similar way we went to open domestic flights. Having opened domestic flights, we found out that some of the domestic airports were not ready and we didn’t open them and we can see that over 80 per cent of the airports are opened. So, therefore, international airports for international travel will be opened”.
Meanwhile, the government has lifted the ban placed on a private airline, Executive Air Services Limited, which flew musician, Azeez Fashola aka Naira Marley, to Abuja to attend a concert in mid-June.
The airline had contravened the restriction on interstate movement and closure of airports in existence at the time.
Giving an update on the development during a Presidential Task Force briefing on COVID-19 in Abuja on Monday, Sirika said, “Today (Monday), we lifted the ban on Executive Air Services Limited. They have complied substantially with all of our imposed sanctions; they’ve paid part of the fines, and they brought up premium plan. So, we have lifted the ban today, so, they continue to do their business.”
He adds that the sanctions are not punitive, they are things to make the industry work better and keep all of you safe.