Indications emerged on Thursday that Nigeria’s plan to reopen its local airports for operations on June 21 is slowed down by multiple hurdles in the aviation sector, as the most populous African country strives to navigate the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Nigerian government shut down airports for commercial flight operations on March 23, as part of the measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. The government contemplated the reopening of the airports twice but ended up extending the exercise to allow for wider consultations.
Going by the prevailing situation, the plan to reopen the airports is “unrealistic” for now, the Nigerian Senate said after a meeting between lawmakers and local aviation workers on Thursday.
“Though you emphasized the need to unlock the airport, the fact remains that there are quite a number of issues that are begging for answers,” Smart Adeyemi, chairman of the Nigerian Senate committee on aviation, told the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association who raised some concerns experienced by local aviation workers due to the pandemic.
The representatives of aviation workers said at the meeting that there was a need for special financial intervention and provision of necessary protocols, protective systems in view of the COVID-19 pandemic before reopening the airports for operations.
In addition to this, most aviation workers in the country had not been paid their wages since the country was locked down by the authorities since March, the aviation union said.
Noting the aviation sector is key to the socio-economic development of any country including Nigeria, Adeyemi said the legislature was already in talks with the executive to address the general issues.
“The aviation sector cannot be compromised for any reason, given its importance to economic development. There must be mechanisms put in place to ensure safety and confront the challenges facing the sector before unlocking the airports,” Adeyemi said.
In a similar development, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) on Thursday said the date earlier set for the resumption of flights is no longer feasible.
“We never said aviation is going to start definitely on June 21… This is not a feasible date to resume operations,” Musa Nuhu, director-general of the NCAA, told the media in Abuja.
According to Nuhu, the NCAA would not approve the resumption of flight operations until it is satisfied that the operations can be carried out “in a safe and organized manner.”
“We (the NCAA) will not be pressured to approve resumption because doing that without the appropriate checks would be disastrous,” he said further.
As a precondition for reopening the airports, aviation expert Llitrus Ahmadu said there is a need for the government to ensure the proper provision of protective equipment and other protocols, including the re-certification of pilots, airworthiness of the aircraft, and payment of the workers’ salary, among other multiple issues that are currently being raised