Nigeria: Low Passengers' Turnout As Flight Operations Resume

9 July 2020

Lagos and Abuja — The resumption of scheduled domestic flight operations yesterday was marked by low turnout of passengers.

However, as domestic airline operators returned to the skies, the Director-General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu, has said most airlines have so far recorded 94 per cent compliance with the federal government's protocols and guidelines on COVID-19.

The flight restart was kicked off by Arik Air, which recorded the first flight from Lagos to Abuja, three months and 14 days after the nation's air space was closed for scheduled passenger service due to the onset of COVID-19.

At the average fare of N29,000 per passenger for economy class, spokesman of Arik Air, Mr. Adebanji Ola, told THISDAY that the load factor was average "and the second flight was even better than the first in terms of passenger turnout."

The low turnout was felt at the two domestic terminals of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.

Flights resumed at Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA2) and General Aviation Terminal (GAT) domestic terminals amid strict safety protocols.

Air Peace, Arik Air, Max Air and Ibom Air operated their Lagos-Abuja routes with about 50 to 60 per cent load factor.

For instance, Arik's Air's 7:15 am Lagos-Abuja flight had 78 passengers on board its Boeing 737 aircraft, which would have carried an average of 150 to 200 passengers despite the social distance requirement.

On its second Lagos-Abuja flight, the airline carried about 80 passengers.

Aero Contractors said it would resume flight operations today.

A visit to the Lagos airport showed passengers were required to wear face masks, observe social distance and use hand sanitisers. Thermometers were used to check their body temperature.

Passengers said they were impressed with the level of compliance in response to tackling COVID-19 and they hoped the compliance would be sustained.

Ms. Aisha Khalid, one of the passengers on Max Air at the Lagos airport, said she was very happy with the flight resumption and with the protocols initiated by the airport authority to ensure passengers are protected from contracting the virus.

"My flight will take off by 11 am but I left the house by 6 am just to ensure I get to the airport in time and keep to the three hours before take-off rule.

"I am impressed with what I see at the airport. Everything is working perfectly fine. Social distancing is implemented and the screening is perfect," Khalid stated.

Following the approval for resumption of flight operations, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) released new guidelines for air travellers and other airport users. The new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is aimed at protecting all stakeholders and preventing further spread of COVID-19.

In a statement signed by Corporate Affairs Manager, FAAN, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, the agency said: "In the "New Normal," departing passengers must comply with the following guidelines; all passengers must arrive at the airport properly kitted with their face masks on.

"They must also ensure a minimum of one-point-five metres (1.5m) physical distancing, aviation medical/port health personnel would screen each passenger and ensure the use of face masks, those travelling with pets must get necessary clearance from Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Services, All passengers' luggage would be disinfected before entry into the departure halls.

"Passengers are required to wash their hands as often as possible, hand sanitiser would be provided for passengers before the entrance, at the waiting halls/lounges and pre-boarding gates, all footwear would be disinfected or sanitised by foot mats placed at all entrances to the terminal building, amongst others."

Meanwhile, domestic airlines have raised fares by almost 50 per cent, as checks indicated that a one-way ticket from Lagos to major destinations such as Abuja, Port Harcourt or Owerri increased by 48 per cent as the fare, which hitherto cost between N22,000 to N28,000 now costs between N33,000 to N41,000.

For instance, a one-way ticket from Lagos to Abuja on Arik Air is N32,699; for Dana, it costs N35,099 and on Air Peace it is N40, 299.

However, Air Peace has urged its customers to embrace online booking and check-in, employing its user-friendly mobile app, as a means of minimising physical contact.

In a statement, the airline's spokesperson, Mr. Stanley Olisa, said Air Peace had put in place measures to protect both passengers and staff pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight, adding that the flying public need not worry but comply with all health protocols.

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

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

Also, Dana Air has announced the resumption of its flight services today.

The airline said it would operate three daily flights from Lagos to Abuja and back while the date for the addition of Port Harcourt and Owerri would be announced later.

Chief Operating Officer of Dana Air, Mr. Obi Mbanuzuo, while speaking on the preparedness of the airlines said: "Dana Air is ready to fly safely again from the 9th of July. We have worked round the clock with the NCAA to achieve this safe resumption of flights and we are introducing other initiatives soon in line with the present realities and the need to minimise contacts at the airport.

"We have disinfected all our aircraft, provided all our staff with the recommended Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), alcohol-based hand sanitisers have been made available at our check-in, boarding gates and on board the aircraft for guests and we have an optimised cleaning protocol in place as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). We have also created a boarding strategy which will give our passengers some sense of safety onboard our aircraft."

However, Aero Contractors said it had received approval to start operations today.

Aero explained that it chose to resume flight service a day after the official restart date in order to stagger flight schedule to ensure that airport facilities are not stretched beyond COVID-19 protocol guidelines.

The airline added that contrary to some media reports that indicated the airline was denied approval to operate, it has received approval from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and it would start operations today.

"Based on the protocol and NCAA regulation in cognisance of the new airport facilitation and COVID-19 protocols, we decided to restart our operation tomorrow (today) in order to stagger the flight schedule. So we are inviting our esteemed customers who have enjoyed our service over the years to fly with us from tomorrow (today)," it stated.

Airlines Records 94% Compliance with Protocols, Says NCAA

The Director-General of NCAA, Captain Nuhu, yesterday said most of the airlines have so far recorded 94 per cent compliance level with COVID-19 protocols and guidelines.

Nuhu, while speaking to the press on the sidelines of flights resumption at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, noted: "Since the end of March we started preparations since the industry was grounded at the end of March and we communicated extensively with the industry stakeholders on the protocols and guidelines that need to be complied with before they are given approvals for them to resume operations.

"The guidelines are in two phases, the technical safety, that is the aircraft safety in terms of taking off and landing; and also the health safety, which you can see such as the floor markings, temperature checks, other health checks such as coughing and sneezing, wearing of the mask before you are allowed to enter the airport, wash hand basins are located at the airport entrance, social distance that must be followed at the check-in counters and the entire airport to ensure that people are not squeezed together.

"Also temperature checks are carried out before boarding aircraft, wearing of face mask and others."

On the level of compliance, he said there had been significant compliance by the airlines, noting that the agency has had feedbacks from the Lagos and Abuja and it was positive.

On the deployment of robots for passenger screening, he said FAAN was still working on it and it would be deployed as and when due.

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