Unease as Commercial Flights Slowly Restarts

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Chinedu Eze

Airlines that have started flight operations in Europe and some Asian countries are presently facing what some industry observers described as teething problems.

The major challenge is the lack of consensus on the appropriate protection for passengers and the implementation of government directive by airlines, even as they struggle to make passengers feel safe.

Reports indicated that passengers are not entirely satisfied with the level of protection offered by some airlines, while striving to uphold government policies.

According to reports, British Airways passengers complained during a flight on Monday about packed flights in Europe and passengers without masks.

But a spokesperson for British Airways defended the airline, saying, “We follow all the guidance from the UK Government and global health authorities, including Public Health England and the World Health Organisation.

“We have taken several steps to greatly reduce contact between customers and crew, and personal protective equipment is available to them.

“Like other forms of transport we are keeping vital links open – repatriating customers and ensuring key supplies like medicines and food are flown in. Our teams are doing an amazing job.”

Reports also indicated that British low-cost airline, EasyJet announced plans to keep the middle seat empty within banks of three seats to ensure social distancing on its flights, while passengers would also be required to wear masks and no food would be served and disinfectant wipes would be available for passengers
Similarly, Irish budget airline, Ryanair, said passengers and crew would be required to wear face masks or face coverings, and pass temperature checks, while Aer Lingus said face masks are compulsory for both passengers and staff, and would be until at least the end of August, adding that social distancing is encouraged, but not required on board aircraft.

The Spanish airline, Iberia also requires passengers to wear masks, while staff is given full personal protection equipment (PPE), insisting that air is circulated more frequently on board, using filters to remove bacteria and viruses, while social distancing is encouraged, but not required.

Air France said all passengers are required to wear face masks for the duration of the flight and social distancing would be used ‘where possible’, but is not required.

Taking a cue from what is happening in Europe, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has insisted that passengers must wear masks and airlines must check the temperature of every passenger, use sanitisers and also observe social distancing when checking in passengers.

Before airlines would resume operations in Nigeria, NCAA said they must demonstrate how they would protect the passengers and would have to certify each airline before it resumes operation.

In suggesting a guide for Nigerian operators, industry stakeholder and Lead Consultant, Etimfri Group, Amos Akpan, said the international Air Transport Association (IATA) has published broad framework of how aviation would conduct business at resumption of operations. European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has adopted the IATA framework and has instructed countries Civil Aviation Authorities (CAA) and operators to tailor their operational procedures to fit into the IATA framework.

Also the General Manager, Corporate Affairs of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, issued a statement that agency has drafted the procedures that would guide conducts in Nigerian airports.

“The airlines should come together to issue broad procedures from where individual operator will draw to implement her own procedures. The industry stands on unified standards where safety is the non-negotiable common denominator. “Therefore, we must see these guidelines to know how safety, environment, and economics are plugged into the new procedures.

“No matter the shape of the coming new order people and cargo will be moved by air and Nigeria will not fold arms and watch; we will participate. How we will participate is what we need to know now.

“This knowledge of how we will participate should not wait because every facet of how we do things in aviation is regulated. We need to know how the shift in paradigm will fit into the regulations.

“The regulator should make it known and the operators should declare it is doable or not doable,” Akpan said.