Minister mulls June ending for airport operations
The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 has said that the June 21 earlier fixed for the resumption of domestic flights in the country was no longer feasible.
It said there is more work to be done before the aviation sector resumes.
The PTF had earlier given the aviation industry three weeks to develop a protocol for proposed resumption of flight on 21st June.
However, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, yesterday disclosed that commencing operations on the earlier proposed date could be disastrous.
He added that a new date would be fixed after a report was submitted to the Task Force for review in the coming week.
Giving an update on the level of preparedness of the aviation sector to resume domestic flights, the minister, who was represented by the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu, said they were looking towards the end of the month for resumption.
The minister said: “The aviation system is a very complex system and this complex system has been compounded by the public health care concept which a lot of the aviation sector is not used to implementing. Now, we have to develop and implement these systems to ensure that the aviation industry is not a vector for mass transmission of the coronavirus.
“It is also our responsibility to ensure that operations are safe and secure. The industry has been grounded for close to three months now and we have to ensure that all aircraft are checked, whether they are airworthy, all pilots will have to check their proficiency and ensure that they are update. We have to ensure our security at the airports are up to date and so many other areas.
“We never said aviation is going to start definitely on the 21st, we were supposed to put a report forward and based on what we have currently, we have some work to do and, as such, June 21st is not a feasible date to resume domestic operations.
“The NCAA, despite all pressures coming from all quotas, will not approve the start of operations any date until we are sure and confirm that we are ready to start in a safe, secure, organise and efficient manner.
“To do otherwise will be disastrous for all of us. If we open the industry when we are not ready and we are guilty of spreading coronavirus or, God forbid, we have an incident, I believe the government will come hard on us and it is going to be counter-productive and disastrous for us as an industry.
“We are not too far, we are close, but there is a need for time to ensure that we are absolutely ready to start work.”
On the proposed new date of commencing operations, the minister said: “On our new proposed date, we are looking towards the end of this month. Hopefully, by mid of next week, we will submit a report through the Ministry of Aviation to the PTF for review and possibly set a fixed date. I know a lot of people are anxious, the industry is anxious, we understand, but to do otherwise will be a great disservice and neglect of our mandate from the government of Nigeria.
On efforts to restart the sector, Sirika said: “We developed a circular and sent to all stakeholders to develop a restart plan and submit to the regulatory body for review and approval, depending on the business of the service providers.
“The restart plan is meant to cover air worthiness, operations, passenger licencing, aviation security, safety management system, consumer protection and air transport regulation. These are the regulatory technical requirement, but most importantly, the COVID-19 protocols under the public health corridor concept.
“This public health corridor concept was developed in collaboration with federal health authorities, including Federal Ministry of Health, NCDC and Port Health Services in addition to guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other international organisations.
“Currently, a lot of service providers have provided their restart plans and the plans are supposed to be reviewed by NCAA; the regulator of the industry. We are going to review the documents and if we are happy with the documents, then we will go to each individual organization to verify what they have given as their restart plan.
“A lot of work has been done and a lot of the service providers have provided good documents while some provided inadequate documents and their documents were sent back to them. Significant progress has been made, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”
The Director-General of NCAA, Capt. Nuhu, at a webinar conference yesterday with the theme: ‘Nigeria’s Aviation Industry: Changing Times, Changing Strategies,’ said that the June 22, 2020 date slated for the reopening of some of the airports was not sacrosanct.
Nuhu, who was represented at the occasion by Director, Consumer Protection Directorate, NCAA, Abdullahi Adamu, however, said that the agency was ready for the reopening of the airports, stressing that all machinery had been put in place.
His words: “The June 22 date for the reopening of some of the airports is not sacrosanct. Aviation authorities still need to report their readiness to the PTF on COVID-19, which will in turn give the approval to reopen the airports.”
Also speaking at the conference, the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Capt. Hamisu Yadudu, regretted that this was the only time aviation activities had been grounded worldwide.
Commissioner, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Akin Olateru, in his contribution, expressed optimism that the sector would rebound post-COVID-19 era.