After three months of closure of the nation’s airports occasioned by the COVID-19 lockdown, the aviation industry yesterday bounced back with the resumption of flight operations by domestic airlines. But, apathy trailed the sector as few passengers turned up for the few flights that operated between Lagos and Abuja.
Air Peace, Max Air, Arik and Ibom Air had considerable number of passengers with the limited flight services they operated. Although operations started late for three of the four airlines that operated out of Lagos and into Lagos, passengers who spoke to New Telegraph said they were happy to fly again. Few passengers were seen boarding the first domestic flight out of Lagos by Arik Air at about 7:05a.m. at the Lagos airport. The air line’s B737-700 plane was greeted with traditional water salute at the arrival in Abuja. New Telegraph correspondent observed that passengers observed social distancing and other precautionary measures at both GAT Alpha and MM2 terminals in Lagos. Some of the airlines that operated from Lagos to Abuja include; Air Peace, Arik Air, Ibom Air and Max Air.
The first Arik Air flight was ARA720, a B738 with registration 5NMJQ from Lagos to Abuja. It was airborne at 0620 UTC with 78 persons onboard and nine crew members. The second restart departure flight for Max Air flight was NGL1640, a B733 with registration 5NBBM.
It departed from Lagos to Abuja and was airborne at 0921 UTC with 55 persons on board and five crew members. Air Peace operated flight APK7120 B737 with registration: 5NBQP from Lagos to Abuja. It departed by 1045UTC and had 112 persons on board and nine crew members. Ibom Air, however, recorded low turnout of passengers on its flight IAN4152 CRJ9 5NBWL from Lagos to Abuja with 31 persons onboard and five crew. It departed around 1030UTC. A passenger, who declined to give her name, said she works in a law firm in Lagos while her family resides in Abuja.
The lawyer said she was scheduled to travel on March 23, 2020, the day the airspace was shut, adding that she thought the lockdown would only last for just two weeks until the Federal Government kept postponing resumption of flights due to the spread of the deadly disease. “I can’t wait to see my family. We speak with each other every day, but you can’t compare that with being with your loved ones. Family is everything. I have missed my family,” she said with so much excitement.
A businessman who simply gave his name as Stanley expressed joy at the resumption of domestic flight services. Experts, however, stated that that there will be a “significant rebound” in the aviation industry once borders start to open up. Managing Director, Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi told our correspondent that he is very confident that the airlines would bounce back, especially with the anticipation of the stimulus package that is expected to be pumped into the economy by the Federal Government. According to Sanusi, “We will bounce back, especially with the stimulus package that will be pumped into the economy. We have to accept the fact that leisure travel will definitely drop; business travel will be the one that airlines will target.
As much as business travel will be reduced to minimal, the moment there is a stimulus package injected into the economy of the country, we will be there because aviation is the facilitator of the economic growth or economic recovery.” Managing Partner, Aglow Aviation Support Services Limited, Mr. Tayo Ojuri said most of the people that travelled yesterday were people that got stuck due to the close down. “We see a spike due to the lockdown in the next two weeks, but we do not see the enthusiasm to travel because there is still the apathy towards travel due to coronavirus because there is still spike in coronavirus every day. There is no vaccine. The other, which is the driving factor in our clime, is the economy.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Airports Authority (FAAN) has commended passengers for complying with the COVID- 19 protocols put in place at the airports. The authority explained that it thought the compliance level by passengers would be poor being the first time of operating after months of closure. Speaking to newsmen in Abuja after inspecting adherence to measures put in place to ensure smooth flight, the Managing Director of FAAN, Rabiu Yadudu said: “The situation is looking very good just like we expected.
It took a lot of planning and efforts from all sides; the airlines, the handlers, agencies, stakeholders and, of course, FAAN is the primary agent responsible in this facility. “So, a lot of work has gone and right now we are here, operations are going on very smoothly and we do not foresee any issue either major or minor.” On the capacity of passengers each airline is expected to carry in order to observe the physical distancing protocol, he said: “It is not an issue of percentage or capacity.
“We are monitoring and they are doing enough spacing to ensure that the regulations are abided with. It is not about capacity. We want to make sure that all stakeholders, and not just airlines, operate at maximum capacity provided there is no violation of the regulations because of capacity changes.”