…As Government Sets Up Facilitation Committee
Nigeria’s Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 has said that government is working tirelessly to establish the protocols that would guide the resumption of international air travels.
Boss Mustapha, Chairman Presidential Task Force, at a media briefing, said all relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies were collaborating to achieve this, bearing in mind the importance of international air travels to the economic development of the nation.
Sen. Hadi Sirika, Minister of Aviation, disclosed 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.
The committee is 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 lamented that aviation was one of the worst hit by COVID-19 pandemic, and noted that a quick lifting of ban of international travel without adhering to the laid down protocols would amount to disaster.
Sen. Hadi Sirika bemoaned the harrowing experience and downturn in the economy of Nigeria and by extension, its impact on aviation which has made it extremely difficult for many organizations to pay salaries.
“The committee will meet today to further discuss the protocols for the re-opening. Certainly, aviation is worst hit with this. There must be passengers’ movement for us to be able to survive. We have said here on this here that salaries are becoming difficult for us to pay,” Sen. Sirika added.
“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,” Sen. Sirika stated.
The Minister also debunked insinuations that airspace in Europe and other places 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 open 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,” Sen. Sirika noted.
“This is force majeure. 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.”
“There is also a meeting at the Ministry of Interior where all the stakeholders will also meet and discuss analyze 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, and it will be soon”, Sen. Sirika noted added.
The Minister equally denied reports that some highly placed citizens try to smuggle people across borders in the name of evacuation flights, noting that it would be wrong to stop people from coming back home.
“If he has the means of coming back, he will come back. Of course, if he now comes back, he will undergo the protocols we have in place.”
Meanwhile, the Federal 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 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, Senator 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.”
“These sanctions are not punitive, they are things to make our industry work better and keep all of you safe,” Sen. Sirika noted concluded.