The airlines said it was essential that governments worldwide adopt a harmonised and coordinated approach to safely re-open borders without quarantine by using COVID-19 testing.
International air traffic has been projected to increase to about 35 per cent with additional revenue earnings as Federal Government yesterday readmitted European and Middle East carriers.
The second wave of COVID-19 in Europe notwithstanding, the likes of Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, and Qatar Airways were given approval to resume international flights in and out of Lagos and Abuja.
Similarly, all the nation’s international airports may resume international flight operations before the end of the year, as global aviation body urged nations to open borders, explore testing over quarantine control measures. Yesterday, Dana Air reopened the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.
Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said his ministry was working with the Federal Ministry of Health, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and other relevant bodies to ensure that the airports meet all safety and health requirements and protocols.
FG had, prior to the September 5 resumption, restricted some airlines from coming into the country. According to Sirika, some of the international airlines denied flight approval, include Air France-KLM, Etihad, Rwandair, Lufthansa, TAAG Angola Airlines and others. They were denied approval because international flights were yet to resume in their countries.
Aviation expert and Chairman of the Airlines Joint Passenger Committee of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Bankole Bernard, said the ban reversal was a positive development for the local air travel sector, saying that inventory and revenue would increase.
Bernard said since the international flights resumed in September, air traffic had stuck to 25 per cent of what they saw before COVID-19 disruption, with collateral effect on the entire industry. He said, with the new airlines coming into the country, traffic would still not improve maximally, given the second wave of COVID-19 and subsisting restrictions across countries.
“But we foresee an increase in traffic from 25 to 30-35 per cent. More activity is expected to pick up by next year, especially with the reported discovery of COVID vaccines. Low traffic is not in the interest of any economy. It means no foreign exchange and the entire economy is dying. It is all the same in Europe; that is why they are protesting against another lockdown.
“With Lufthansa, Air France-KLM among others coming, we expect the recovery to be faster. In fairness, we, in Nigeria, are not doing too badly, compared to other parts of Africa. In terms of recovery, we are 29 per cent ahead of others. With more airlines coming now, I expect that we should be hitting 75 per cent traffic by February or March next year,” Bernard said.
Sirika, yesterday, said all hands were on deck to ensure that logistic and policy necessities were in place to address the difficulties encountered by international travellers, especially with the impending yuletide season.
He expresses appreciation for the understanding and cooperation of aviation stakeholders in ensuring smooth reopening of the nation’s airspace.
In granting approvals to the airlines, Sirika emphasised the need for airlines operating in the country to deploy international best practices in handling Nigerian passengers, as government will not tolerate any form of maltreatment of its citizens by any airline.
Aviation Security expert, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd) said with British Airways operating in and out of Nigeria since September 5 till date, there is no valid reason why other European carriers should have been barred for this long.
Ojikutu recalled that the operation of the international carrier is most important to revenue earnings of the local industry, with foreign carriers accounting for 80 per cent Nigeria’s earnings.
Ojikutu said: “We have been losing substantial revenues from these airlines that collectively have been making 21 flight frequencies weekly. For landing alone, that is over $100,000 not to talk of another $200,000 from about 2000 passengers each paying $100.
“Calculate that loss in revenues for the number of weeks the three have been suspended after the reopening of the airports. Was their suspension reasonably justified?” Ojikutu queried.
World airlines, however, re-iterated the urgent need to re-open borders with COVID-19 testing and further financial support for aviation as the COVID-19 shutdown of air transport continues.
The airlines, under the aegis of International Air Transport Association (IATA), yesterday noted that border restrictions, especially quarantine measures, in Europe and many parts of the world had undermined free movement of people as a cornerstone of economic development.
As a result, passenger demand has plummeted and 2020 is expected to see passenger numbers down at least 70 per cent compared to 2019 for travel to/from/within Europe. Only 340 million travellers in the region are expected to fly in 2020 compared to close to 1.2 billion that flew in 2019.
This collapse in air traffic has had a devastating impact globally on aviation and the millions of workers in the industry. Research from the Air Transport Action Group estimates some 4.8 million jobs directly connected with air transport are at risk. Millions more in the travel and tourism industry are also threatened.
It is imperative that governments work together to coordinate plan to restart the industry. In the meantime, additional financial support is needed to help the industry get through the winter.
IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe, Rafael Schvartzman, said airlines were burning through cash at the rate of $300,000 a minute in the second half of 2020.
“And much of the government support that has enabled them to remain viable is running out. The prospect of catastrophic job losses is very real. Continued financial support is desperately needed until the industry can get back on its feet,” Schvartzman said.
The aviation industry has set out a clear vision of systematic pre-departure testing to give governments the confidence to re-open borders.
But the European Union’s Council Recommendation fails to set clear conditions for the use of testing to replace quarantine.
“Quarantine of any length will continue the economic destruction of COVID-19. Testing must replace, not shorten, quarantine. And testing costs should be borne by governments, in line with the WHO’s International Health Regulations. Swift and consistent action from European governments is essential if the year-end travel season is to be saved in any form,” Schvartzman said.
IATA’s survey of travellers indicates widespread support for testing in place of quarantine: 83 per cent will not fly if they have to quarantine on arrival; but 88 per cent say that they are willing to be tested to facilitate travel.
About 65 per cent agree that quarantine is not necessary if a person tests negative for COVID-19. Some 39 per cent stated that the government should pay for testing while only 25 per cent believed it should be the responsibility of travellers.