Nigeria: Strict Protocols, Scanty Passengers As Airports Reopen With 4 Airlines

Lagos — After about four months of suspension of domestic and international flights because of COVID-19 pandemic, operations commenced yesterday with low turnout and strict protocols.

No fewer than four airlines started operations flying from the Murtala Mohammed Airport to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

They included Arik Air, Air Peace, Max Air and Ibom Air. Other airlines are expected to start today and in the coming days.

The first flight from Lagos operated by Arik Air departed the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) popularly called MMA1 by 7:15 am with 78 passengers.

The passengers boarded under the supervision of officials of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

Air Peace flight PA47120 departed at 11:50 am with 103 passengers on board.

Max Air and Ibom Air on their parts departed from MMA2 private terminal operated by Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL).

The federal government had announced the reopening of the airports today starting with the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA) Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja.

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had also approved many airlines for the recommencement of operations after fulfilling all the protocols and guidelines for the post-COVID-19 shutdown operations.

Daily Trust observed passengers checking in and boarding in strict observance of social distancing as they stood on the clearly marked floors in and outside the terminal.

One of the passengers scheduled to travel on Max Air, Aishat Khalid said she was excited with the flight's resumption, adding that she had patiently looked forward to the reopening of the airports.

"I left home at 6: 00 am for this flight, that is to tell you how excited I am for the flight resumption," she said.

Daily Trust reports that similar protocols were strictly observed in Abuja even as travellers were scanty on the first day of flight operations.

Our correspondent also reports that passengers conducted themselves in an orderly manner obeying all safety protocols. Sniffer dogs were also deployed to screen bags for contrabands and explosives ahead of the bags disinfection protocol.

A cross section of the passengers who spoke to our correspondent commended FAAN and the NCAA for the efforts to keep the terminals safe for travellers amidst the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.

Toyin Adetunji, a passenger on an Air Peace flight to Lagos, told our correspondent that the experience was pleasing and commended the authorities for effective crowd control.

"Before now, we would have found this entire waiting lounge so jam packed and crowded. But the initiative not to have so many airlines fly about the same time has helped to minimise crowd. If we had a crowd, it could create an environment for COVID-19 spread" he said.

Also commenting, a controller with the Nigerian Correctional Service, Mr. Ahmed Abu, said he feels safe at the airport. "We had to be here at least three hours before the scheduled time of the flight. We underwent strenuous protective measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during the check-in processes.

"I really commend the authorities for the efforts done to protect lives at the airport. I feel very much safe because all the necessary protective measures have been put in place and we want all Nigerians to abide by rules and respect all the protective measures" he said.

FAAN Managing Director Capt. Rabiu Yaduda described the first day of flight as hitch-free.

He said the authority was still studying the compliance and will make further adjustments when necessary.

Experts explain low turnout

The Director of Maintenance and Engineering, Ibom Air, Engr Lookman Animashaun, expressed optimism that more passengers would turn up in the coming days.

"It is normal that you record this kind of turnout on the first day after a long while but I can assure you that you will see improvement as from tomorrow. Flying is still the safest and authorities have put everything in place for the safety and comfort of passengers and airport users."

Another aviation expert and CEO of Aglow Aviation Support Service, Mr. Tayo Ojuri, noted that the majority of those who travelled yesterday were those who were locked up as a result of the restriction, saying only few of them went for business.

He said there are genuine fears among prospective passengers since a vaccine has not been developed yet for the COVID-19, which is increasing on a daily basis.

He said: "What we realised is that most multinational companies, about 15 of them, the telecommunication companies, banks, among others have travel restrictions for their staff. Another factor is that we have not seen a vaccine for this virus and we are seeing daily increase.

"The other thing is the fact that the economy is still a major driver. The Nigerian economy at this time is not running on six engines yet, it is still very slow. The revenue has dropped for the government and you find out that it is affecting even expenditure."

The analyst projected that there is likely to be a spike in passengers' turn out in the next two weeks, while it would drop again before peaking up in the last quarter of 2020.

The spokesperson for Air Peace, Stanley Olisa, said the airline had put in place reliable measures to protect both passengers and staff pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight.

He said the flying public needed not worry but comply with all health protocols.

He said the airline had thoroughly disinfected all its aircraft and the flight crew were current as well as COVID-19 conscious.

"If you've been following our social media platforms, you will have seen robust sensitisation content in the form of videos showing what is expected of our passengers in this COVID-19 dispensation", Olisa said.

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