To complement the ban on flights from 13 countries, airlines operators yesterday urged the Federal Government to immediately restrict other international flights to two airports for proper scrutiny of a potential carrier of coronavirus disease.
The operators, under the aegis of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), okayed the Federal Government’s decision to restrict foreign nationals of countries that have been confirmed to have over 100 cases of the covid-19.
Among the countries whose flights have been restricted are China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, Norway, Netherlands, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
Rising from a meeting with aviation regulatory bodies where the global spread pattern was reviewed, the stakeholders were unanimous that the Federal Government needed to be more proactive to prevent a major crisis in Nigeria.
The position was on the heels of more drastic control measures already taken by African countries like Ghana, Chad, Djibouti, Kenya, Rwanda, Egypt, South Africa, Guinea, Angola, Morocco, Tanzania, and South Africa that have earlier restricted flight operations from covid-19 endemic countries.
The chairman of the AON, Capt. Nogie Meggison, said Nigeria was about the only country in Africa yet to take decisive action in putting in place strict measures to stop the inflow of the virus into our shores.
“We can say for sure that if the situation escalates in Nigeria other countries of the world would not hesitate to stop us from flying into their country. We would like to appeal to the government to stand tall by putting Nigeria first at this time and take immediate action by restricting travel into Nigeria,” Meggison said.
He said by reducing entry points into the country to Lagos and Abuja airports only, it will allow for effective deployment of critical medical support staff and utilisation of thermal scanners and other resources as well as promote proper monitoring of those entering the country.
He, therefore, called for an immediate action to reduce the number of entry points into the country so as to be able to effectively control the influx of people into the country, as AON members are willing to offer their services to distribute travellers around the country from the two entry points.
Furthermore, the AON Chairman called on the Ministry of Aviation to take a cue from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) by directing the various agencies under its supervision to immediately put in place and extend critical palliative measures to Nigerian airline operators in order to reduce the burden of colossal loses they have suffered and continue to suffer from the impact of the virus on air travel.
“Just yesterday, March 16, 2020, the Central Bank of Nigeria issued a statement acknowledging the adverse impact of the virus on the global and Nigerian economies and announced a moratorium of one year on all principal repayments of intervention loans effective March 1, 2020; reduced interest rates from 9 to 5 per cent per annum for one year; and created an N50 billion targeted credit facility to cushion the impact of the virus on businesses.
“Similarly, we use this medium to call on the Aviation agencies through the Federal Ministry of Aviation to follow the same path by taking action to support domestic airlines that are the drivers of our national economy.
“Nigerian airlines are suffering heavily from the impact of the coronavirus issue as the passenger numbers have dropped drastically and our overheads remain the same on many fronts and even increasing significantly on other fronts. Like we all know, Nigerian airlines trade-in Naira but we do our business in Dollars and the Naira has come under pressure since the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
Aviation Security Consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said the operators’ request align with his earlier advise, saying that there is no sacrifice too big to safeguard the health and well-being of all Nigerians at this time of global health emergency.
Ojikutu said if the airports do not have enough medical manpower to properly check travellers, then the preventive measure is to reduce access to Lagos and Abuja airports.
“If we don’t have the requisite skilled manpower for both health and national security standard checks, then close the international airports to just two. Move the number of workforces available to Lagos and Abuja airports. That alone would give the market to our own local airlines to distribute to others and protect us all.
“It is an international crisis that should not involve us, but it will if we are not very careful. We cannot afford to open all our airports to everybody and expect to monitor them properly. What we need is a well-trained workforce, not all these untrained people in our airports begging for money. The agencies have a responsibility to protect us and it is most crucial now,” Ojikutu said.