By Ayoola Olaitan
As the aviation industry commenced operations with the opening of domestic flights, local airlines are struggling to sustain operations and meet cost while the aviation stakeholders are increasing calls for the re-opening of international flights operations.
The economic costs of the shutdown of the nation’s airspace during the lockdown has been colossal and international operations has been responsible for the major revenue lost in the sector, however, airport closure have also been crucial in curbing the spread of the pandemic in the country.
Nigeria’s aviation industry was described as the fastest growing sector in 2019, in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), moving up 13.2% yearly to N83.5billion from N73.8billion in 2018, before the sector’s growth was hindered by the global pandemic.
According to the African Union (AU), the continent faces its first recession in a quarter-century and has lost nearly $55 billion in the travel and tourism sectors in the past three months.
With about 22% of destinations worldwide having eased travel restrictions since June, up from just 3% in mid-May, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization, mostly in Europe, there are strong indications that Nigeria could do the same without a fuss.
Consequently, pressure has continued to mount on the Federal Government to lift the ban on international flights and experts have warned that reopening international airspace must be accompanied by removal of the mandatory 14-day quarantine directive for returning travellers if the sector must attract the desired patronage.
Meanwhile, with the high repatriation of citizens into country recently, questions are been raised on the basis for allowing evacuation flights if the government insist the country is not prepared for international flights.
Since the industry depends majorly on aeronautical aspect of the sector to generate revenue, which is about 80 percent, without the contributions of the international communities the industry may suffer a huge setback as the international flights takes larger part in contributing to the revenue generated.
Moreso, other African countries have opened their airspace for international flights. The industry in Nigeria needs to look into adopting what other countries have done right especially the evacuation flights, since they are getting it right with all stipulated protocols and regulations the industry needs to adopt such protocols to meet up with the international standards.
There are indications that evacuation flights are scheduled till August, this means international flights might be shut for that long period, yet the evacuation continues.
Speaking on this issue last week, the Director General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu, argued that the time is not right to resume international operations, even as he stated that the decision was beyond the agency.
The NCAA boss, however, assured that the Federal Government had started working on public health protocols for international flights to begin. He further explained that the agency generated 85 percent of its revenue from international flights.
Aviation stakeholder, the President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Susan Akporiaye, expressed dissatisfaction about the continous ban on international flights as she pointed out the rapid increase in evacuation flights recently.
According to her, “before, I raised issue on the chartered flights and that has reduced but the evacuation flights have taken over and we have a situation where evacuation is done two to three times every week.”
“Most airlines are having evacuation flight and yet we say the industry isn’t ready or can’t meet the protocols for international flights to resume. The evacuation flights must be doing something right, if we consider the protocols they are using because out there our counterparts are open and waiting for Nigeria to open the airports for international flights”.
Akporiaye argued that the government should consider opening of the international flights not everyday but maybe three times in a week as airlines are ready and travel agencies have all requirements are in order and they will make sure passengers meet up with the requirements.
She said, “I suggest that the Presidential Task Force (PTF) considers opening the international flights since evacuation flights has doubled let the international flights begin at least for a test run as that will be a good move for the industry.
“If evacuation flights can go smoothly the industry can also have test run on international flights even if it is two to three times in a week we can use same frequency as the evacuation flight”.
Also, former president of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, posited that there should be steps towards restart of the international flights.
In his words, “I want to know to what extent we have made progress towards the start of the international flights and this ought to start with the protocols we have put in place especially for Lagos and Abuja which has most of the international flights”.
Meanwhile, it is important to note that some other African countries have opened their airspace to the international communities via flight resumption.
Some European nations, however, are limiting entry of people from other countries especially Africa.
This development has been described by the Ministry of Aviation as a major factor to consider before reopening the nation’s airspace to international flights.
Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika recently said that Nigeria would ban some countries with high cases of the COVID-19 pandemic when it reopens flight operations for the international air travel sector.