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It was clear that plans that resumption of domestic flights slated for today would not materialize due to the manner airlines and particularly the Federal Airports Authority (FAAN) were handling the guidelines handed to them by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
Meanwhile, statistics from the NCAA yesterday on its Webinar showed that air navigation service providers have reached 80 per cent level of preparedness, airlines 75 per cent, ground handlers 180 per cent and domestic airports 57 per cent, an indication that FAAN is a major impediment to the reopening of the airports originally slated for June 21, 2020.
Some of the airlines are yet to meet the conditions given to them by the aviation regulatory body; a situation that jolted the Federal Government into taking the decision to suspend the resumption of flights originally scheduled to begin on June 21, 2020 with five airports opened to flight operations.
A top official from the NCAA, who spoke to Woleshadarenews under strict condition of anonymity, said FAAN was the biggest reason why the resumption of flights was put on hold, stressing that the authority is the weakest link to the whole chain of guidelines to be met as virtually all the airports are not compliant with keeping with COVID-19 rules.
The checklist for resumption of flights includes airworthiness of operational aircraft, currency of airline flight crew, readiness of the airlines to abide by COVID-19 preventive protocols, essential preventive gears and training of airline personnel on handling of passengers to protect them and other conditions.
Aside FAAN’s lackadaisical approach, many of the carriers with the exception of two have shown capacity to operate if FAAN puts in place proper safety measures in place.
Air Peace, Arik and Aero Contractors have been operating specialized flights and has passed the test. Aero Contractors too has taken its aircraft out of storage and had repositioned to operate any time restrictions are lifted.
Many of the carriers that have not flown during the lock down have recalled some of their pilots, cabin crew, engineers and essential staff that were sacked in the heat of the COVID-19 crisis for test flights, paper work and online training.
However, many of the pilots, engineers and other essential crew that have their licences expired may find it difficult to renew them and go for retraining – some of which are done outside the shores of the country.
Most countries still have airspace restrictions in place; a situation that has made it extremely difficult for pilots to travel overseas for their periodical simulator training.
But Managing Director, Aero Contractors, Capt Ado Sanusi looks at the preparedness of airlines and the aborted resumption of domestic flight operations differently.
His words: “My opinion on this is that if the Federal Government was really serious about the June 21 resumption, interstate travel would have been lifted because there is no aircraft commercially that will take-off in Nigeria and land in the same state as a scheduled flight. If we are going to start flying, it means we have to have interstate travel.
“When you give the industry, company or individual some certain guidelines, the protocols they need to follow the time you start something, the onus is on the person to come and tell you he has finished and verify that he has gone through all those things.”
The airline chief disclosed that the June 21 restart date was a date chosen by the government and not by the airlines; stressing that if it came from the airlines, the carriers would have looked at their readiness to pick the date convenient for them to start.
According to Sanusi: “On the other hand, if I was going to advice, I would say, the airspace is open, interstate travel is open and any airline that meets the requirement can start flying. If I were to advice, this is what I will say. Each airline that has conformed to the protocols that we have laid down up to 90 per cent can start. There shouldn’t be a date actually. When the airline is ready to start, they can start rather than put a date to it.”
He condemned the buck passing that the airlines are not ready when there are bigger issues to be tackled, describing such insinuations as unnecessary.
“I think what they should do is focus on making sure that we start safely, we should focus on making sure that the protocols that have been rolled out by the NCAA are being followed and we should also focus on interstate travel that was banned.
“The reason for interstate travel was communal infection and it is increasing. If the Federal Government through the PTF says that it is not safe for us to start interstate travel, they should not start talking about aviation because if they feel it is not safe to start interstate travel, we are carrying passengers from place to another too. I don’t think it is rocket science. It is very simple. We try to complicate very simple, basic matters,” he added.
Aviation consultant and former Commandant, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, Grp. Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd) said the approach should be to ask NCAA how many of the operators, government and private, have complied with the established guidelines and allow the agency to declare the minimum required for operations to resume.
He explained that the NCAA at the beginning gave three months extension for pilots licenses renewal; hinting that the audit of the airlines is required to engender safety in the aviation sector.
“My take is for the NCAA to tell the operators and the nation the minimum required for operations to resume and how many operators have made that minimum. How many airports out of the five airports designated are ready to begin operations? How many airlines operators have complied with the established guidelines are ready for operations and their routes?
“How many air traffic and navigational services are available and sufficient to support flights operations and compliant to the minimum required? Same with the other ground support services; these are what we need to be hearing from the NCAA,” he stated.