As a date for the resumption of international flights is yet to be announced by the federal government, the need for all stakeholders in this sensitive necessity of life to take absolute precaution becomes pertinent to avoid any imminent regret.
There has been an argument going forth and back over a particular date for the resumption of international flights which was suspended over four months ago as the Coronavirus pandemic spread to Nigeria. The tentative date being peddled for the resumption is October, a date which has been countered by the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, who said no date had been fixed.
However, in the latest development, Sirika had earlier in the week announced the inauguration of the National Air Transport Facilitation Committee to review the guidelines for the reopening of the country’s airports to international flights.
Obviously, due to the fact that 80 per cent of the revenue generation coming from the aviation sector are from the foreign carriers, the minister lamented the inability of the aviation sector to pay staff salaries because international flights were yet to resume.
His words: “The industry needs passenger movement especially international passengers to survive. It’s very difficult for us to pay salaries so we want to open more than you want to open. We daily deal with it but it is subject to several factors, all the sacrifice the industry is making is in the interest of the general public.
“We will definitely reopen very soon and when it’s safe to do so. Reopening is the work of not only the aviation industry but other MDAs. Left to us, we would have opened since, as it would help us make more money and carry out our activities, pay salaries and provide the services.
“The purpose of the delay is to see what is safe for our citizens. So, please bear with the situation as it is we know that some people are caught off from their families and businesses. But please try to understand that we will open. We are very responsible people; we will open when it’s the right time to open.”
Without doubt, Minister Sirika with his status as a trained pilot knows the implication of opening the country’s airspace to international flights at a time the pandemic is ripping through the nations of the world in the absence of thorough self precautionary measures.
Obviously, the fast spread of the pandemic has been made possible through air transport as many carriers of the virus board the same aircraft with others to their countries of destination spreading the deadly virus.
A typical example of how opening of any country’s airspace to foreign flights without appropriate precaution can spell doom for that country reared its head in the way the virus was imported to Nigeria through an Italian who flew into the country in February.
The coming of the Italian with the similar experience of the late Liberia/American diplomat, Patrick Sawyer who flew into Nigeria with the dreaded Ebola virus and the terrible consequences attached to their coming into Nigeria which may take longer than expected to be handled are examples of how air transport can help spread deadly viruses.
Therefore, Minister Sirika knows what is involved in rushing to reopen international flights to foreign airlines flying in from different parts of the world with different passengers whose health statuses can not be vouched for.
If European Union could announce the ban of airlines from some countries including Nigeria from flying into Europe even with all the stringent measures they have put in place to curb the further spread of the virus, would it not be wise for Nigeria to tread softly?
All stakeholders led by the Presidential Task Force committee on COVID-19 in which we have the aviation minister as a top member should work with all aviation authorities to know the level of preparation towards reopening of international flights before any date is given.
Already, the number of carriers of the pandemic has continued to increase with many citizens dead. It will therefore be suicidal if the measures put on ground fail to counter any subsequent challenge that may come with the resumption of international flights.
Nigerians, particularly the traveling public who are eager to resume flying across the world should reason with the government on the need to be a little bit patient to enable government work out a robust protocol that will keep the country’s international airports and Nigerians safe and secured as the foreign flights bring in international passengers.
There is no need putting the minister and other stakeholders under unnecessary pressure to reopen international flights which may turn disastrous later.
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