FOR close to three weeks now, the country’s aviation sector has been agog with the news of the reopening of five of the 22 airports across the country with the subsequent resumption of domestic flight operations come June 21, 2020.
The news which was credited to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 committee and taken to be authentic has since remained the basis for high preparations embarked upon by the relevant stakeholders across the sector.
As soon as the news of the June 21 date for resumption filtered out, all the key players including the aviation agencies, airlines, ground handling companies, among others, set different machineries in motion to ensure the smooth return of activities in the sector.
Suddenly, there came a bang which has again created a sort of confusion over the authenticity of the June 21 flight resumption date following the latest declaration by the PTF Committee which contradicted the earlier believe by the stakeholders.
In what looked like a clarification, the National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, said the PTF did not say airline operations would resume on June 21, but that the Aviation Ministry should prepare itself for reopening and should update the task force on the level of its preparedness on the date.
He also indicated that reopening air travels within the country would also mean a reassessment of inter-state travel restrictions and curfews, adding that whenever air travels resume, it would start with local flights.
His words: “What we said to the aviation authority is this; you need to let us know, from the June 21 onwards, if you are ready to start opening the skies. We didn’t say June 21, skies would open. We gave them a window of three weeks to prepare and I believe they are preparing.”
Without doubt, the PTF’s clarification on the issue has indicated that the resumption of flights depends on the preparations and availability of other logistics the key players, including the aviation agencies: the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) led by the ministry of aviation are able to put on ground.
Obviously, since the closure of the country’s airspace, about four months ago, the aviation authorities in Nigeria never went to sleep as serious safety meetings continued amongst the agencies’ chiefs on how to keep the airports, the navigational equipments functional with adequate safety regulations supplied by the NCAA.
Since the date for the reopening of the airports in particular was announced, the FAAN, NAMA and NCAA managements have been working round the clock to upgrade the required safety apparatuses.
Now that the presidential task force has pushed the responsibility of putting the sector in order by the aviation bodies before flight operations can resume, it is hoped that the relevant stakeholders are up to the task.
As the stakeholders led by the minister of aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika put their heads together to agree on a suitable date for the flight resumption, there is the need for them to tread cautiously by not rushing into the resumption.
Areas needed to be considered by the aviation authorities should include: the financial status of the airlines, the aviation agencies, the ground handling companies that have have lost billions of Naira to the lockdown.
As expected, the minister should prevail on the federal government to announce palliative measures which should include waivers on taxes, financial bailout for the key players to allow them reposition for the resumption.
All the airlines, the agencies and the ground handling companies are presently gasping for breath as their businesses had been messed up by the pandemic. Therefore, any attempt to rush them to recommence flights may spell disaster for the sector.
As the COVID-19 task force awaits briefing from aviation authorities, there is the need for them to look into all critical areas of safety and financial predicaments of the key players with government making available all required palliatives that will help cushion the effects of the pandemic. Only then should the aviation authorities give the task force the signal for the readiness of the sector to resume flights.
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