By Chinedu Eze
Air Peace has debunked the claim that three members of its flight crew have absconded from the quarantine facility provided by the Lagos State Government.
The airline was referring to the flight crew that operated the flight that airlifted medical supplies and Chinese personnel, via Boeing B777-200 ER (P4 5-NBVE), which arrived the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on April 8, 2020.
According to the Chief Operating Officer of Air Peace, Mrs. Toyin Olajide, all the crew that operated the flight, which include six pilots, eight cabin crew, two engineers and one dispatch officer are currently quarantined under the supervision of the Lagos State government.
Olajide explained that before the flight departed to China each member of the crew was tested for COVID-19 and the results came out negative.
She said that in conducting the flight to Beijing, Air Peace followed the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) protocol to ensure that its crew members were protected from exposure to the virus.
She said that on arrival at Beijing airport, none of the crew members came out of the aircraft, while the aircraft was loaded with medical supplies, adding that the Chinese medical team boarded the aircraft from the central door and stayed in the business class cabin as the flight left for Nigeria.
She also explained that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) approved standard protocol to protect flight crew during the COVID-19 pandemic and NCAA adopted it, adding that it is this protocol that Air Peace followed in conducting the flight to Beijing.
Olajide said that the crew members did not know that they would be quarantined on arrival.
According to her, when the aircraft landed in Abuja and concerned authorities suggested it, Air Peace argued against it because it followed NCAA protocol in conducting the flight.
“So, discussion on it was inconclusive when the flight headed to Lagos,” she said.
According to her, the airline learnt later that while the flight was airborne to Lagos, Abuja had directed the Lagos State government to quarantine the crew.
“So, on arrival, while the engineers and the dispatcher went down to the foot of the aircraft to secure it after the long flight, the Lagos state government health team took the pilots and the cabin crew that had already disembarked from the aircraft to quarantine.
“Ignorant that they would be quarantined, the engineers and the dispatcher finished their work and went home, but later the Lagos state government contacted Air Peace and said that the engineers and the dispatcher ought to be quarantined and we called them and they went to the quarantine facility and they have been there since then”.
“So, any report that indicated that members of our crew ran away from quarantine is not true. That must be a report written in bad taste and it is not good because the crew members did a heroic thing and needed to be commended instead of being vilified,” Olajide said.
NCAA in a circular issues to airlines and other stakeholders with ref: NCAA/DG/AIR/11/110 dated March 28, 2020, outlined the protocol in handling cargo and other essential flights during the COVID-19 and among the directives include the fact that “Nigerian operators on any approved flight to any destination with over 1000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 shall ensure the provision of reinforced flight crew (two sets) for immediate return in accordance with relevant protocols.
NCAA also directed that “there shall be no servicing of aircraft (catering, water, trash etc) except refueling; and this must be accomplished with flight crew on board.”
Mrs. Olajide said the airline kept to this protocol and instead of two-flight crew; it went with three sets of flight crew and strictly kept to the NCAA protocol until it landed in Abuja.
“While we kept to the directive of quarantining the crew members that conducted the flight, we are surprised that after we followed this protocol the crew members were still asked to quarantine. ICAO’s intension with the protocol is to ensure that flight crew is not quarantined after their operation. Every day flights are operated all over the world moving medicals and other critical items. If you quarantine the pilots who will be flying these items that are needed to safe human lived under this COVID-19 pandemic?” Olajide asked.