After three months of lockdown during which only emergency flights were able to operate, the Nigerian aviation industry roars back to life today, July 8, 2020. Flights were to resume on June 21, 2020, but the industry regulator, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, decided to hold action until all stakeholders came to full terms with protocols for safe resumption.
During the lockdown, many of the “high and mighty” private aircraft owners and charter service operators were not able to function, except for the few episodes where Caverton Helicopters and Executive Jets Services Ltd had a rough time with government for violating the lockdown ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari and some state governors.
The phased resumption of flights should be a huge relief to the business community and the domestic category of air travellers as it signals the gradual return to our economic and social livelihood.
However, great caution must be adopted by all involved. We must bear in mind that it was through aviation that the index case came to Nigeria from Italy. Air travel can be a vicious vector of transmission unless absolute care is taken.
Reopening the airspace for travellers is not a sign that we have made progress in flattening the infection curve. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic is still on a steady rise worldwide and in Nigeria in particular. As of Sunday, July 5, about 28,711 cases had been confirmed in Nigeria, with 11,665 recoveries and 645 deaths.
The key for safe aviation lies in the hands of all the stakeholders – industry regulators, operators, staff of airlines, airports workers, air travellers and industry service providers.
Government has done its bit in introducing the new rules that can minimise coronavirus transmission through air travel.
Voluntary compliance by all concerned is key. Air travellers must show a much-improved model of compliance compared to our road transport users who have mostly observed the safety protocols in the breach. We call for absolute zero tolerance for safety laxity. After three months of being on the ground, all aircraft must be fully certified safe for operation. We don’t even want to contemplate the prospects of losing valuable lives to air mishaps.
We hope that airline operators will exercise restraint in flight charges. We understand the difficulties and losses they have gone through in the past three months of inactivity; but we urge them to adopt a gradual approach in cost recovery efforts and encourage as many air travellers as possible to return within the limited capacities allowed for maximum safety.
The importance of social distancing, hand washing, use of sanitisers and facemasks and cooperation with officials cannot be overstressed. All recalcitrant passengers should not only be deboarded but also considered for suspension from air travel. We wish all air travellers safe journey.