By Ayoola Olaitan
Following the Federal Government’s decision to reopen airports there have been a gradual increase in passenger traffic leading to demands for seamless airport procedures and speed in the COVID-19 screening exercises.
While the demand for intelligent and sophisticated equipment and services is rising rapidly, the reality is that the C-19 screening procedures cannot be faster than the approved system by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and global aviation bodies.
The aviation transportation system has continued to grow rapidly, as more and more passengers regularly choose to fly. On a daily basis, flights arrive, depart, or overfly the Nigerian Airspace, while each year huge amounts of freight are transported by air into and within Nigeria. The aviation sector in the country still has challenges with physical security issues at airports.
With the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak that shut the aviation sector for four months with the industry running into huge losses. The industry needs to develop new ideas and innovative technologies of the highest quality to deal with the growing passenger traffic at the airport, and need to implement swifter and more efficient methods of passenger screening. With new airport security technologies in automation and pre-processing that reduce physical interaction with travelers.
Global spending on passenger screening technologies at airports has risen from $1.42 billion in 2014 to an expected $1.63 billion in 2020. Although the threat of C-19 wasn’t envisaged, that of terrorism continues to be the most influential market driver and there is a need for efficient checkpoint processing to reduce traveller waiting times.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) global annual airline passenger figures are expected to reach 7.3 billion by 2034, more than double from the 3.3 billion reported in 2014. As a result airports are investing in new technologies in automation and pre-processing which reduce the physical interaction with travellers during airport passenger screening, speeding up passenger flow.
Nigeria airports need to start focusing on harnessing airport security and accelerating the passenger screening process in the aviation sector. There is a need for the sector to ensure that preventive- measures are put in place to prevent attacks on the nation’s airspace.
The Nigerian aviation industry therefore may be at risk without appropriate security measures put in place for this evolving threat as the air travel industry has become dependent on information and communication systems.
Speaking with MMS Plus, Mr. Samuel Adurogboye, Head Public Relations of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) posited that technology advancement at airports is determined by the financial strength of a nation if the aviation industry.
Adurogboye argued that safety come first no matter the time spent on screaming of passengers and emphasized on the fact that the screening process at the airport is not just done in Nigeria but a global standard of curbing the spread of the pandemic.
His words, “the Covid-19 pandemic has made screening for the domestic flight to be two hours and three hours for the international flight but recently the domestic flight is now done within an hour, I can’t say about the international for now if it is also been reduced. The issue is that what we are facing now is a global health crisis. May God help us because nobody expects it and we must know that lives are at stake. Therefore, there is a need to follow due process so that we can all be safe”.
On airport security Adurogboye posits that there is no negotiating the security situation at the airport. He noted that the pandemic does not in any way affect the security situation, because the health crisis is just an added challenge which we hope to go soon but the security of the airports is very key.
He argued that the moment the security is breached and the wrong people get access to the airspace the whole country is not safe. So the security situation at the airport is not negotiable.
Although the Secretary General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative and Chief Executive Officer, Centurion Securities, Group Captain John Ojikutu (Rtd) agrees that there is a need for intelligence community at airports to strengthen the security situation, he told our correspondent that the C-19 screening measures at airports may not be streamlined anytime soon.
He maintained that the C-19 screening procedures can’t be faster than the established systems approved by the health authorities and global aviation regulators.
The aviation expert said: “How do you want to have a speedy C-19 clearance system that isn’t obtainable anywhere in the world? The aviation industry is just trying to use a process that must be placed within the medical system and accepted. If there is a quicker way of doing it, I’m sure the aviation industry will also want to have such procedures at the airports. The new or expeditious t process would have to be introduced by the medical professionals and not aviation stakeholders.”
Noting that Port Health officials are on ground at Nigerian airports, he said: “Everything we are talking about now is the responsibility of the Port Health in terms of safety and possible COVID-19 cases at the airports. We can discuss faster and smarter solutions to other security screenings at the airports but the COVID-19 scenario is a health issue.”
Even as enhancing the passenger experience should be the goal for airlines and airports, aviation experts speaking on seamless and speedy screening of passengers at the airport argue that there is no faster alternative than the laid down procedures by the industry.
However, to prevent acts of unlawful interference against civil aviation, knowledge about new threats is of fundamental importance when it comes to the adaption of airport security measures in an efficient and effective way.
The Director, Transport Research and Intelligence , Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology (NITT), Dr. Danjuma Ismalia argued that the issue of security at the airport is a process regulated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and adequate measures have been put in place to ensure security at the airports are in compliance with the ICAO directives.
According to him, “before you can be qualified to provide security at airports you must have met the recommended standards by ICAO which includes training and certification of the aviation security course, a program developed by ICAO. It is not just about attending the program but being able to provide needed facilities for security of the airports”.
Ismaila noted that there are new security challenges at airports which ICAO has been pro active about and ensuring security at the airports are not breached.