Nigeria’s aviation industry was preparing to reopen domestic operations on June 21 after almost three months of closure but the Federal Government has now said the date is not feasible.
The Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Capt Musa Nuhu, said on Thursday that despite the pressure to reopen, safety was not yet guaranteed.
He said, “If we open the industry when we are not ready, and we are guilty of spreading coronavirus, God forbid we have any incident, I believe the government will come hard on us and it is going to be counterproductive and disastrous for the industry.
“We are not too far, we are close but there is a need for timing to ensure that we are ready, positively, absolutely ready to start work.”
It was learnt that 11 carriers had already tabled their resumption plans before the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. In fact, some airlines are said to be marketing flight tickets already, anticipating that the government would not postpone reopening in the face of rising cases of the novel coronavirus in the country.
The National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Sani Aliyu, had urged the industry last week to “start developing protocols to allow for domestic flights to resume anytime from June 21 onwards.” The postponement further exacerbates an already dire situation in the industry.
On Tuesday, the Africa Regional Director of the International Air Transport Association, Funke Adeyemi, announcewd that the industry lost $700m to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Adeyemi said that the last three months had been devastating for the aviation industry in Nigeria with 90,000 jobs at risk.
She said, “Even though passenger travel was down and none existent, aviation was still supporting the fight against COVID-19 by ferrying medicines and essential provisions around the continent.
“Aviation continues to maintain its criticality – it’s not just a means of transportation; it is actually an economic business, which supports the fight against COVID-19.”
However, NCAA has said their plans submitted by carriers that are ready for resumption are being examined to ensure their compliance with safety guidelines.
During the lockdown, over 5,000 registered travel agencies furloughed their entire staffers, while airlines retained only 20 per cent of workers who also took pay cuts.
There were reports of plans to make bailouts available to airlines affected by the pandemic but this has not been finalised. Without this, many airlines who have limited staff strength would struggle to restore full operations.