Need for more caution as international flights resume

International flight operations are gradually picking up following the reopening of the country’s airspace to foreign flights on September 5, 2020.

Nigeria joined other parts of the world to shut their airspace to international flights following the outbreak of the Coronavirus which dealt a deadly blow to the global aviation sector through air transport.

The closure of Nigeria’s airspace kept foreign airlines away from the various airports for six months, a decision the federal government took to curtail the spread of the virus which was imported to the country by an Italian through the Murtala Muhammed International airport in February.

For the six months, the airspace was shut down though with some specially arranged flights ongoing as agreed by the affected countries and Nigeria on the need to allow their stranded citizens in Nigeria to be evacuated, aviation activities were totally grounded.

During the lockdown, countries around the world, including Nigeria, came up with different measures which, though greatly assisted in curbing the deadly virus, impacted negatively on flight activities.

After six months of applying the precautionary measures, the government of Nigeria after a series of measures put on ground across the airports, domestic operations commenced on the domestic scene with the reopening of the Lagos and Abuja airports at first and the subsequent flights into other airports in the country.

With pressures mounted on the government coupled with the huge economic losses the country suffered during the lockdown particularly as it affected international flights, which happened to be responsible for 80 per cent of the revenue being generated by the country through its aviation sector, the need to lift the suspension on foreign flights was reconsidered though not until adequate health safety measures had been put on ground by the aviation authorities in conjunction with the ministry of health and the presidential committee on COVID-19 officials.

The latest of such measures include: the directive by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control that incoming passengers to the country must conduct a COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test at least 96 hours before entering Nigeria.

In view of the directive, it was declared as serious that any passenger flying into Nigeria without carrying a negative COVID-19 (PCR) test will be subjected to a fine of $3,500.

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had earlier ordered all airlines operating international and regional flights into Nigeria to henceforth, issue Health Declaration Forms (passengers’ self-reporting forms) to their passengers including crew members before arriving Nigerian airports.

All these measures are in order but key players are still not comfortable on the premise that some of these foreign carriers may become complacent as some are already being accused of failing to provide passengers’ Health Declaration Forms.

There are reasons to express reservation over if the foreign carriers will comply with the COVID-19 guidelines announced by the federal government for so many reasons ranging from probable compromise on the part of Nigerian officials saddled with the responsibility of ensuring absolute compliance to the probability of the foreign carriers to bend rules for economic gains.

It is at this juncture that the aviation authorities in particular must be alert to their duties at the international airports by ensuring the officials in charge of scrutinizing and ensuring the COVID-19 PCR test any passenger brings is authentic.

The need to be more proactive becomes necessary so as to discourage passengers with the virus do not capitalize on any loophole to sneak into the country.

It is obvious that the fastest means of spreading the virus is through air transport as witnessed in the story of how the deadly Ebola disease was imported into the country by the Liberian born American diplomat, late Patrick Sawyer through the Lagos airport and of the index case of COVID-19, still through the Lagos airport.

Agreed that Nigeria needs the huge finances it generates through international flights, but this should not be sacrificed for health safety. Money is good but not at the expense of humans.

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