African Airlines Fear Flights Disruptions over Ebola Outbreak in DRC

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Chinedu Eze

The news of outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo a fortnight ago has elicited fears among African airlines that the development could hamper flights operations.

African airlines lost about $2.3billion to flight cancelations and black listing of some destinations in West and Central Africa following the outbreak of Ebola in 2014.

Although there is strong hope that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has taken pre-emptive actions in collaborating with countries in the region to control the spread of the disease, but airlines are somewhat apprehensive that there would be panic if the disease spreads beyond Congo.

In the wake of the outbreak of the disease in 2014, many airlines’ operations were drastically affected because flights to their major destinations were cancelled.

Industry experts stated that the outbreak and spread of Ebola disease forced The Gambia national carrier, Gambia Bird, out of business while Asky, a Togo based airline, which operates largely in West and Central Africa was threatened with bankruptcy when it cut back most of its flights due to the spread of Ebola. The airline would have gone under but for the lifeline t received from Ecobank.

Also many international carriers cut back their operations to most of West and Central Africa destinations, but the most adversely affected were African carriers like Ethiopia Airlines, Arik Air, Kenya Airways, Asky, Air Coted’Ivoire, South Africa Airways and others which did not only cancel most flights to some destinations in the sub-region but some of them were not allowed to operate to European and US airports.

THISDAY spoke to the head of flight operations of Air Peace, Captain Victor Egonu who urged the Nigerian government to ensure that anyone coming from any part of Africa is thoroughly screened at the airports and the borders of the country to ensure that the disease did not come to Nigeria.

He expressed optimism that WHO and other concerned world organisations would make concerted efforts to ensure that the disease did not spread, adding that Congo has been associated with the disease at least in the last 16 years and it recurs every four or five years.

“WHO and the United Nations should be able to rein the disease so that it will not spread. It has been happening in Congo for the past 16 years and it resurfaces every four or five years; so it is not really new. But we should screen anybody coming from any African country strictly because even if the person is coming from Kenya; you don’t know where he went to before going to Kenya. It will give the world confidence to learn that Nigeria is strictly screening people at its borders and ports. We should be able to subject everybody to strict screening because you can’t be too safe,” Egonu said.

Also, the CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi said it would be very devastating if Ebola disease were allowed to spread to other parts of Africa because last time it broke, it nearly killed many airlines.

“Government must put in place deliberate measures to ensure that the disease does not spread in Africa and to even come to Nigeria. They must ensure that nobody brings the disease to Nigeria through the ports,” Sanusi said.

Sanusi who was head of flight operation then in Arik Air recalled that when the disease broke out in 2014, airlines were forced to adopt screening measures to ensure those with the disease were not allowed onboard flights, “Arik was one of the few airlines that were allowed to fly to Dubai and US because of the strict measures we adopted then.”

Experts said that the fastest way of spreading diseases, especially influenzas is through air travel.

The experts noted that aircraft can transport infected disease vectors, such as rats or malaria-infected mosquitoes, as nonpaying passengers, adding that perhaps the greatest concern for global health, however, is the ability of a person with a contagious illness to travel to virtually any part of the world within 24 hours.