FOREIGN airlines are planning to resume flights to Nigeria at the beginning of June as the global lockdown introduced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is being gradually eased with some sort of normality returning.
In March, Nigeria shut down all her international airports and banned flights in and out of the country as part of the government’s measure to control the pandemic. This left many Nigerians stranded abroad and likewise a lot of foreigners were left in Nigeria, although special chartered flights were organised to evacuate many of them.
Over the last two weeks, however, there has been a gradual easing of the lockdown, with Nigeria allowing people to return to work so long as they took precautions like wearing facemasks and observed social distancing. With some sort of normality returning, some of the international carriers have already scheduled some flights to Nigeria from June.
As from next month, they are planning to resume flights to the Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt international airports. However, the Federal Ministry of Aviation has declared that such plans would not work until the flight ban was lifted.
Also, the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria said no foreign or local carrier could take a decision to fly to or within Nigeria if the government had not opened the airspace. Apparently, Lufthansa Airlines has included Abuja and Port Harcourt among its 20 long-haul routes where it plans to begin flight operations in June.
Lufthansa plans to resume long-haul flights in June from Frankfurt to Abuja, Port Harcourt, Toronto, Mexico City, Tel Aviv, Riyadh, Bahrain, Johannesburg, Dubai and Mumbai, among others. Virgin Atlantic recently announced that beginning from May 16, services for its summer schedule flights from March 28, 2021 would be on sale, as it had scheduled flights from London Heathrow to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.
However, senior aviation ministry officials said although it was nice to hear that airlines were making plans to resume operations, such would not happen until the ban was lifted. Ministry spokesman James Odaudu, said the presidential task force on Covid-19 had not lifted the ban on commercial flights, whether local or foreign.
He added: “They can’t operate scheduled passenger flights as long as the ban remains. The presidential task force on Covid-19 has the final say on when flights can resume, based on the level of control of the pandemic. Of course, we in the sector can’t wait for activities to resume at the airports to forestall further loss of jobs and revenue as aviation has been hard hit by the pandemic and it will be a great relief to have flights resume.”
Ilitrus Ahmadu, the Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association of Nigeria president, added: “It is not the foreign carriers that will decide for our country. It is their business but they cannot say they can fly into the country without government opening the airspace.”