Airlines Fear Passengers May Shun Flights on Resumption

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Chief Operating Officer of the domestic airline, Obi Mbanuzuo

Chinedu Eze

Nigerian airlines have expressed concern that despite the efforts being made to protect passengers on resumption of flight operation after the lockdown that was occasioned by the COVID-19, travellers may still shun the airports until vaccine against the virus is approved and made available.

As announced by the federal government, flight operations are expected to commence in June.

Some airline operators who spoke to THISDAY said the reason passengers might shun the airports could be because the spread of the virus had been associated with air travel. Owing to this, they said fear would still linger.

But the International Air Travel Association (IATA) has said air travel poses low risk of transmission of the disease.
One of the operators who spoke to THISDAY said without the vaccine many people may not be confident travelling, especially as the average age of people who travel for business and government transactions in Nigeria are about 50 years and above, the age bracket that face more threat with the virus.

The airline officials said if airlines don’t resume operations early, some of them might not be able to resume again and even those that would resume might not operate for a long time; unless there would be funds to inject in the business for effective start-up.

The official who spoke to THISDAY said when the airlines resume, they might not be operating to many destinations as they did before the lock down.

For example, before the lockdown, Air Peace was operating about 90 flights a day on domestic routes. There are projections that it might cut down flight operations significantly.

But the Chief Operating Officer of Dana Air, Obi Mbanuzuo expressed optimism that Nigerians would be willing to fly.

“We are optimistic that passengers will return,” he said.
Dana Air said it might start operation with two aircraft first and responds to passengers’ demand, while Aero Contractors may also kick-off with two aircraft, while its maintenance facility would become a buzz of activities, as many airlines would seek to conduct their aircraft checks there.

However, the Director of Consumer Protection, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Adamu Abdullahi, said what is important is that passengers and other airport users are protected from the virus and that was why the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) is providing protective facilities that would enable airport users protect themselves against coronavirus.

“The best we can do is to ensure that the enabling environment is ensured. Airport authorities need to sanitize and fumigate as well as provide protective gear to its staff. Airlines are expected to sanitize and fumigate aircraft, ensure safety of the crew.

“Social distancing and other directives of health authorities must be strictly adhered to. This is then to be followed by massive public awareness campaign to reassure passengers that it is safe to fly. Airports, airlines and indeed the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) are all putting heads together to achieve this,” Abdullahi said.

Meanwhile, IATA has said it approved the use of protective gear by the flight crew, including face masks, but rejected the decision to keep the middle seat of aircraft empty as form of social distancing.

IATA said it supports the wearing of face coverings for passengers and masks for crew while on board aircraft as a critical part of a layered approach to biosecurity to be implemented temporarily when people return to traveling by air, noting that it does not support mandating social distancing measures that would leave ‘middle seats’ empty.

The global body said evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is low, adding that mask wearing by passengers and crew would reduce the already low risk, while avoiding the dramatic cost increases to air travel that onboard social distancing measures would bring.

“The safety of passengers and crew is paramount. The aviation industry is working with governments to re-start flying when this can be done safely. Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is low.
“And we will take measures—such as the wearing of face coverings by passengers and masks by crew—to add extra layers of protection. We must arrive at a solution that gives passengers the confidence to fly and keeps the cost of flying affordable. One without the other will have no lasting benefit,” said, IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac.