Dangers in rushing to reopen Nigeria’s aviation sector

As much as key players across the country’s aviation sector have expressed their desire to see the sector bounce back soonest  after five months of the closure of the airspace and suspension of flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has however become advisable for the government not to rush into reopening the airports for flights.

The need for government to tread cautiously in reopening the five airports already identified for flight operations becomes necessary following the latest revelations that came from the senate committee on aviation.

According to the Senate, opening of the aviation sector now may come with lethal consequences, following the information given unto the upper legislative house by the aviation unions.

The unions during their meeting with the senate apart from making case for urgent bailout funds, painted to the Senate a scary scenario which they said may not guarantee safety of flight operations if allowed soonest.

The unions had in their interaction with the Senate raised concerns over several safety issues which put question marks on safety compliance of the pilots vis a vis the currency of their licenses having being rendered redundant by the lockdown.

The unions also alerted of the uncertain airworthiness status of many of the aircraft having being parked for months with their certificate of airworthiness already expired.

Besides these alarms, many of the critical personnel across the sector have had their morales weakened as they have been placed on half salaries with some not being paid at all.

In his submission to the senate committee, the National President of National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), Comrade Galadima Abednego disclosed how told many of the Pilots had lost their currency as a result of the lockdown with each of the Pilots requiring $30,000 for re-currency or re-certification in the face of none payment of salaries.

“Most of the airlines have either disengaged their pilots during the lockdown or not able to pay them full salaries, treating us as modern-day slaves. Therefore, before restarting the sector, pilots and Aircraft must be re-certified for safety and security, which have not been done.”

Reacting to these, the Chairman Senate Committee on aviation, Senator Adeyemi Smith declared: “These are serious issues directly connecting to safety and security aside required intervention that must be made by the government in the form of bailouts for the operators”.

Without doubt this situation is very scary and it requires a thorough and urgent intervention by the federal government.

The submission of the aviation unions should not be taken for granted in view of their integrity when it comes to aviation affairs with many of them trained as pilots, aircraft engineers and other core professions.

While all the issues raised by the unions must be very adequate and should be treated with uttermost urgency since there is no short cut to safety.

With all these revelations, there is therefore, no need for the government to coerce the aviation authorities to put up any restart plan that may be used to reopen the sector until all the issues raised by the unions are cleared.

There is no way a pilot with an expired currency can fly safely without going for recertification and because there is no way a flight dispatcher or a critical staff that is being owed salaries can put in the best minimum effort.

Without sounding pessimistic, there is no way the reopening of airports and subsequent re commencement of flights will be realized without settling these safety issues. The job of prevailing on the government to urgently release bailout funds for the airlines to upgrade their critical personnel fails on the shoulders of the Minister of aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika on one side and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) as the regulator.

There is no point rushing to reopen flight operations that the whole country may live to regret.

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