All appears set for the partial opening of the international airspace to commercial flight services tomorrow after over five months of COVID-19-induced lockdown. Minister for Aviation Hadi Sirika yesterday unveiled a long list of approved and unapproved airlines for the take-off. He also released comprehensive guidelines for passengers wishing to board Lagos or Abuja-bound aircraft to check escalation of the COVID-19 situation in Nigeria.

In line with the standard protocols, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), yesterday, officially notified foreign airlines and the civil aviation community of the flight resumption.

Though the global community welcomed the development, they urged the Nigerian government and its counterparts in Africa to cooperate and collectively reopen all borders for improved connectivity and faster recovery of the aviation sector.
GOVERNMENT had, after five months of the lockdown, announced that international flights operations into Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) and Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, would resume on August 29. But 24 hours before the resumption, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 team further shifted the take-off by one week.

The early phase of the ‘new normal’ would permit only a maximum of 1,280 arriving passengers or four flights per day at each of the airports. Already, more than 15 airlines have expressed readiness to resume international flight operations.

As a mark of readiness, the apex regulatory body, NCAA, confirmed that it had issued a circular to all aviation stakeholders and the foreign airlines flying into Nigeria.

The All Operators’ Letter, with reference number NCAA/AIR/11/16/225, signed by the Director-General of the NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu, stated: “Following the announcement by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 on the partial resumption of international flights, we wish to inform the industry of the following: Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, (DNMM) and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja (DNAA) will resume international operations effective 00.01z on 5th September 2020.”

In the same vein, NAMA tagged along in issuing the Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) informing concerned operators of the new development. According to the Managing Director of NAMA, Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, the NOTAM was issued immediately he received the circular from the NCAA. The NOTAM takes effect from the hour 0001UTC on September 5.

Other international airports in the country will not participate in the restart, as the NCAA circular further stated. “ Other International Airports, namely: Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano (DKNN); Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa (DNPO) and the newly reopened Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu (DNEN) will remain closed to international flights until a new date is determined and announced.”

Foreign airlines are now waiting for how 1,280 daily inbound passengers per airport will be allocated and the official COVID-19 guideline protocols, especially the digital platform where inbound passengers can fill in the required information.

World airlines also urged governments to work together to urgently find ways to re-establish global connectivity by re-opening borders and to continue with relief measures to sustain airlines during the COVID-19 crisis.

The airlines, under the aegis of International Air Transport Association (IATA), expressed industry frustration as government policies such as closed borders, travel restrictions and quarantines, continue to annihilate travel demand.

This was evident in a disappointing “peak summer travel season” that saw minimal improvements compared to the May-June period, as four in five potential travellers stayed home, based on comparisons with the year-ago period.

IATA’s Director General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Alexandre de Juniac, said governments protecting citizens must be the top priority, “but too many governments are fighting a global pandemic in isolation with the view that closing borders is the only solution.

“It’s time for governments to work together to implement measures that will enable economic and social life to resume, while controlling the spread of the virus,” de Juniac said.

Specifically, IATA calls for governments to grasp the seriousness of the crisis facing the airline industry and its consequences for their citizens. It urged governments to focus on re-opening borders, continuing relief measures and global leadership.

Meanwhile, Minister for Aviation Hadi Sirika yesterday released list of approved airlines for the two international airports.
The approved airlines include the British Airways, Delta Airlines, Emirates Qatar Airways, Kenya Airways, Middle East Airlines and Egypt Air. Others are Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, WA, and Turkish Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Air Peace, Asky, Africa Ward Ghana and Air Coted’lvoire.

Airlines that are not approved include Air France, KLM, Ethiad, Rwanda Air, Air Namibia, Royal Air Maroc, Lufthansa and TAAG Angola Air. South African Airways is restricted because the country was yet to release COVID-19 protocols for resumption of international flights.

According to the minister, all intending travellers to Nigeria must test negative for COVID-19 in country of departure and the test must have been done four days prior to departure (preferably 72hrs before boarding). He explained that, for certain countries, the PCR would only be accepted from identified laboratories. “All intending passengers are required to register on an online international travel payment portal at http//:nitp.ncdc.gov.ng, and pay for a repeat test that would be done in Nigeria,” he said.

“Once payment is completed, passengers will receive an email for selected laboratory of their choice providing them with the laboratory link to register for the PCR test on the seventh day of their arrival. Passengers would be allowed to choose a sample collection centre and appointment date and time for collection.”

He said that a list of private laboratories and sample collection centres would be available on NCDC website, adding that passengers would also fill the online self-declaration form also located at the same payment platform and either submit online or present it on arrival.

“They must ensure that the information, contact details provided on the platform are correct and verifiable and can be reached when needed. Passengers must inform port health officials on arrival of any changes in their health.

“Prior to boarding, passengers must upload their COVID-19 negative test result on the payment portal and will have a copy for presentation at the airport. Prior to boarding, all travellers will undergo screening for fever and would be questioned for COVID-19 symptoms.

“Passengers with COVID-19 symptoms will not be allowed to board the flight and airlines must only board passengers with COVID-19 test result done within the stipulated four days. Airlines that board passengers without the negative COVID-19 PCR test will be sanctioned as follows:

“Non-Nigerian will be refused entry and return to country of origin at the airlines’ cost.

“Nigerians will be allowed entry and subjected to compulsory quarantine for 14 days in government approved facility at the cost to the passengers. Airlines will be fined $3,500 per passenger for failure to comply with the pre-boarding requirements.

“Passengers who fail to submit themselves or declare their PCR test will be placed on watch list for six months and denied foreign travel.”

The minister, however, gave the assurance that the test result would be available within 24 days, just as he explained that passengers, who display COVID-19 symptoms on arrival, would not be allowed to self-quarantine but would be placed on institutional quarantine.