By Musa Sunusi Ahmad
Nigeria may reopen its airports for international flights in, or before, October after being forced to shut as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, government officials said Tuesday.
President Muhammad Buhari had in March ordered the suspension of international flights to curb the influx of imported cases of the virus in the country.
However, while the country reopened its airports for domestic flights earlier this month, it extended the shutdown of international flights which was billed for August.
The Nigerian government has been under pressure to lift the ban on international flights after 30 per cent traffic was reportedly recorded a week after resumption of domestic flights.
Tour operators and travel management companies, who have been the hardest hit by the airport closure, are groaning about the cumulative loss incurred as a result of the continuous cessation of international flights.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had said that Nigeria’s aviation sector had been losing N24 billion monthly since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country – N7 billion monthly for aviation agencies; N10 billion for airlines and N4 billion for ground handling, catering and others and the ‘tangential’ N3 billion, a Business Day report said.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Nigeria risks losing 124,000 aviation jobs, which could amount to losing about $900 million in GDP.
During the lockdown, a major carrier in Nigeria, Arik Air, asked 90 per cent of its 1800 staff to proceed on indefinite unpaid leave, with the remaining 10 per cent subjected to an 80 per cent pay cut on their salaries, so also Max Air.
On Tuesday, the Director-General, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Musa Nuhu, issued a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) that the airspace would no longer reopen for international flights on August 19 but ‘maybe’ in October. This seems to have bashed the hopes of those expectant.
The NOTAM read: “The Federal Government has extended the closure of our airports to all international flights with the exception of aircraft in a statement of emergency.”
The NOTAM said that approval may be requested and granted for “over-flights, operations related to humanitarian aids, medical relief flights, alternate aerodrome in the flight plan and also those being used for extended diversion time operation.”
In addition, approved for exemptions are “technical landings where passengers do not disembark and cargo flights and other safety-related operations.”
Such requests would be directed to the Minister of Aviation, the NOTAM said.
Meanwhile, Mr Sirika, on his verified Twitter account, said the government is yet to name the date for the reopening of international air flights “but this may come earlier than October.”
The minister said international flights would restart in the country despite the ban placed on Nigeria by Europe and the United Arab Emirates.
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He added that the date for the resumption would be announced after consultation with necessary stakeholders including the ministries of health and foreign affairs and the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19.
“International Flight resumption date is not October. NAMA just issued a routine 90-day Notices to Airmen. In liaison with Health, Foreign Affairs, and PTF COVID-19, we will announce the agreed date, regardless of the ban by Europe, UAE, etc. may be earlier than October,” he tweeted.