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Uncertainty surrounds resumption of international flights

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By Kelvin Osa Okunbor

There is anxiety over the number of international carriers that will resume flights into Nigeria on August 29, 2020 as the affected airlines were yet to meet officials of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid -19 and respective health and aeronautical agencies on the guidelines they are to comply with on the announced date.

Besides not knowing the number of airlines to operate, relevant aviation agencies are expected to communicate guidelines and safety protocols that will be in force at the Lagos and Abuja Airports when flights resume.

A source close to the regulatory agency said the Ministry of Aviation will work with the PTF on the template of operations and communicate the timeline for implementation to  carriers  cleared to operate  flights  before the flag – off date.

Towards this end, the source said meetings will begin this weekend among the concerned parties on how to achieve seamless operations.

The source also hinted that it is after the meeting that the foreign carriers could specifically set dates for resumption of flights.

It is unclear if FAAN had put in place necessary facilities required for post COVID -19 operations at Lagos and Abuja Airports slated as pilot aerodromes for re- opening of international flights.

READ ALSO: Mafoluku demarcation fence, not security threat to Lagos Airport – FAAN

Investigations by The Nation revealed that some foreign carriers may have concluded plans to operate scheduled flights effective September 1, 2020.

Sources however hinted that some carriers have pushed their resumption to October as they want to observe the situation before embarking on operations.

In an interview with newsmen at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Terminal 2, Lagos, Chairman Corporate Social Responsibility,   National Association of Travel Agencies in Nigeria (NANTA),  Mrs. Ime Victor-Ekpo  said Lufthansa, British Airways, Emirates and few others were ready to flag – off flights September 1, 2020.

She noted that the restart of foreign flights would be gradual as the airlines do not want to restart and later shut down.

“Lufthansa said they are starting on September 1, 2020.  British Airways  same September 1, 2020; other airlines are starting the same day  but others are pushing for October because they have to be ready.

“ So, whenever they are all around, you know the situation is a gradual process; we don’t want a part to have the same COVID -19 we are running from for us to come the second time so we are taking our time; so it is going to be a gradual process and in time everything will be fine”.

For countries that have not yet opened airspace to Nigeria, Mrs. Victor-Ekpo said, only countries ready to receive Nigerians will have their airspace open, adding that NANTA members were ready to start work.

“Like the webinar we had with the UAE, they are not saying we shouldn’t come; they have opened up, so we are opened up to countries that have opened up that allow us.

“We are already prepared, we have been on zoom, educating our people on the way forward, we have been in touch with all the airlines, nearly all the airlines, we have been in webinars with them and they have told us that they are prepared; definitely, if they are prepared, we will not be left out, we are also prepared because one on one we have a meeting with them.

“We have assurance now that the airport will be opened on August  29, 2020; we don’t expect all the airlines to resume immediately, it will be phased depending on their schedule.

After a five-month hiatus, Virgin Atlantic Airways said yesterday that it will be welcoming customers’ back-on-board as it makes a return to Lagos on September 10, 2020.

A statement from the carrier said to ensure the health and safety of customers and crew, Virgin Atlantic is implementing additional measures to offer peace of mind in the airport and when taking to the skies.

These include enhanced and thorough cleaning practices at check in, boarding gates and on-board including the use of electrostatic spraying of high-grade disinfectant in all cabins and lavatories before every flight, ensuring no surface is left untouched.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has revised quarantine protocol for arriving international passengers to Nigeria requiring that they must have tested negative for COVID-19 twice within two weeks pre- boarding PCR test in country of departure. Government said any test carried out less than two weeks before any travel is unacceptable.

A document obtained emanating from the Nigeria High Commission sensitizing travelers of the development reads: “The Nigeria High Commission wishes to bring to the attention of the general public that the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has issued the following Revised Quarantine Protocols for persons arriving Nigeria from abroad, including returnees and stranded Nigerians.

The notifications on pre departure and on arrival in Nigeria were specific on what needs to be done at every instance.

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