Definitely, without sounding pessimistic, two facts await the future of Nigeria’s air transport. It is either things will never remain the same again or rather, things will not be the same for years or decades due to the disaster wreaked on the global air transport system by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Since the outbreak of the virus and its spread to Nigeria five months ago, a lot of waters have passed under the ‘bridge’ connecting the country to the other parts of the world.
The consequences brought upon the global air transport including Nigeria’s air transport has put the entire country’s economy particularly the Nigeria’s aviation sector on a very dangerous precipice that will definitely reshape the future of the sector.
Without belabouring anyone, the entire sector due to the effects of the pandemic vis a vis the measures adopted and still being adopted to contain it from further inflicting more damages is standing on one weak leg that may give way if nothing concrete is urgently done.
Already, the 22 airports across the country through where over billions of Naira is generated to the coffers of government monthly has been shut down with flight operations and other business activities put on hold. Within the period of the shut down, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport alone has lost between N30 and N50 billion.
The closure of the airports which serve as the major source of income generation to the different aviation agencies has thrown the agencies into a tough economic predicaments with nearly all of them going bankrupt. Presently, the agencies cannot carry out their safety functions which require huge funding while they have placed their workers on half monthly salaries which they said they cannot even guarantee for long.
As the airports continue to bleed, the domestic airlines are the worst hit with their entire operations suspended. Parked at the various airports across the country are over 120 aircraft belonging to the different airlines with over 12, 000 workforce thrown into serious economic hardship as the troubled airlines have since stopped paying them salaries.
As countries around the world have started easing the lockdown with the airlines and the relevant aviation organizations coming up with different measures that can bring back aviation business, one obvious fact is that it will no longer be business as usual for the sector.
Firstly, passengers should expect serious changes many of which may be inconveniencing as they may henceforth be subjected to medical screening at the airport and onboard flights, with increase fares for obvious reasons and with the absence of free inflight services amongst other measures.
Similarly, passengers and crew would be required to wear face masks or face coverings compulsorily and observe temperature checks.
As each country comes up with measures that will not contradict the ongoing ease of the COVid-19 lockdown, Nigeria has announced June. 21, 2020 as the date for the reopening of airports and resumption of domestic flights.
As cheering as the news was, one fact is that life can never remain the same even for the Nigerian travelers for reasons ranging from the increase in fares, reduction in the number of airlines and aircraft, more screening, flight delays or even cancellations.
Without doubt, flight operations in the country will not be that rosy as certain issues need to be tackled between the airlines, aviation agencies and the government if the June 21st date for resumption must be realized.
The government just announced the resumption date for airports and flights, it is hoped that it has made arrangement for the bailout of the key players.
Many of the over 120 aircraft belonging to the domestic airlines which have been grounded for over two months need to be made airworthy with high cost implications to the operators. All the operators have lost billions to the lockdown and therefore need financial assistance and other palliatives.
This is the case with the aviation agencies that are seriously down with no funds to pay workers or execute safety projects. Most of the safety equipments installed at the airports which have been abandoned for over two months will have to be checked and serviced for proper functioning.
All these are required to make resumption of flights and airports reopening worth the while. One sure fact is that air travel after COVId-19 may not be for the middle class again as the cost of flying can never remain the same again and many routes with hitherto low traffic. may be jettisoned by the airlines. Above all, not all the domestic airlines may bounce back at the same time. Therefore, passengers should brace up for the coming lorry load of uncertainties.
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