COMMENCEMENT OF INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS

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It is a welcome development

After six months and two weeks of shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Nigeria has finally reopened its airspace for scheduled international flights. It has also for the first time adopted the principle of reciprocity as countries that have refused to allow our nationals into their borders will not be allowed to fly in. The reopening is a huge relief to many Nigerians, especially parents whose children and wards study overseas. It is also a relief to foreign nationals who were trapped in the lockdown and couldn’t take advantage of the evacuation flights that operated during the period.

With the resumption of international flights, the economy is expected to receive a boost, and this may affect the prices of imported goods as they may be reviewed downwards. It is noteworthy that closer to the international flight restarting date, the dollar started losing value to the naira in anticipation that it would rev the economy, as business men and women travel to and from Nigeria, moving goods and services as it was before the lockdown. Travel agents whose jobs were under threat during the lockdown have revived their businesses with expectations that the tourism sector would again come on stream.

Domestic airlines have also looked forward to the commencement of international operations because arriving passengers from such destinations feed the domestic market as they ferry passengers to different local airports. But most significantly, the adoption by the federal government of a reciprocity policy in air travel is commendable. For any country that would not allow Nigerians to fly into their airports, citing Coronavirus pandemic as reason, their citizens would also not be allowed to fly into Nigerian airports. In the past, when such policy was used against Nigeria, it was mostly ignored.

The decision of the federal government may have been prompted by the fact that Nigeria relatively has low Covid-19 cases, and which were well managed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). The country does not have outrageous figures of deaths from the virus. But the positive implication of the government’s latest policy is that no country would treat issues concerning Nigeria with levity and any country taking decision against Nigeria would also consider the economic consequences of its airlines that operate in our shores. Also, Nigerian airlines would no more be denied approval by countries whose airlines operate into Nigeria. Since Nigeria is a lucrative route for many international carriers, this is a smart move.

While the demand for tickets has surged with the reopening of international air travel in Nigeria, the federal government has insisted that an airline cannot bring in more than 200 passengers to any of the two airports in Abuja and Lagos for now. But international airlines could take any number of passengers out of the country. The decision for limiting arriving passengers, according to aviation authorities, is to have the number of people the airports can manage, with regard to the Covid-19 protocols. Each of the two airports already designated for international flights can only process 1,280 passengers a day. But travellers and travel agents have criticised this, and cost of tests for departing and arriving passengers, which they said is comparatively higher than what obtains in other countries. That should be looked into.

Following the resumption of international flights last Saturday, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 has issued a provisional quarantine protocol for travellers arriving or departing from Nigeria. We hope the authorities will be scrupulous in enforcing the protocols so that international travels will not add to the Covid-19 burden in the country.