Passengers planning to travel by air from Wednesday, July 8, when domestic flights resume after four months of lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, should be prepared to pay almost double of their old fares. Virtually all airlines have increased their fares in a bid to abide by the social distancing protocol for all air travellers.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, recently announced that domestic flights would resume on July 8 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. The Kano, Port Harcourt, Owerri and Maiduguri airports would reopen on July 11, while other airports across the country will join on July 15.
All the eight operating airlines, yesterday, expressed readiness to hit the airspace from next week, though not all were deemed ready by the NCAA.
Investigation by The Guardian revealed that virtually all airlines have jacked up their fares by at least 75 per cent ahead of the resumption of domestic flights.
As at the time of filing this report, Dana Airline has increased its fares for Economy Discount Class of seat from N18, 000 to N33, 300, while the Business Flexible that sold for N73, 000 before the lockdown would sell for N162, 000 for Lagos-Abuja route. The cheapest class for Air Peace that sold for N23, 000 for Lagos-Abuja route before the lockdown now sells for N33, 001.
While Dana increases fares by 75 per cent, Air Peace jacked up by 43 per cent. Arik hiked its fares for the cheapest class from N21, 000 before the lockdown to N27, 000, which represents a 29 per cent increase.
However, as at press time, Azman Air, Aero Contractor and Ibom Air, which just acquired its fourth Bombardier C900, were yet to load flight schedule and fares for flight resumption.
Meanwhile, the apex regulatory body of the air travel industry, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), yesterday, made good its threat to enforce strict COVID-19 related safety guidelines, as its grounded 18 aircraft over non-compliance.
The Guardian learnt that eight among the aircraft had been grounded as at Thursday, while the other 10 were issued the grounding orders yesterday.
While the NCAA has also reiterated its plans not to allow non-compliant operators to resume flight next week, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has also issued mandatory safety protocols for all intending passengers.
Director General of the NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu, at a virtual forum with all stakeholders, said the body was not settling for less, as a total of eight commercial air planes had already been taken out of operations, while the formal sanction to ground another 10 was issued yesterday.
Though he did not name the affected airlines, The Guardian learnt that the axed equipment spread across the local airlines, including the pre-COVID-19 distressed Med-View airlines.
Nuhu said as much as he believed the industry’s ecosystem must “collectively collaborate, cooperate and communicate,” he would never condone infraction on recommended standards and practices.
He warned that all the operators, airlines, airports, air navigation service provider, weather report providers, airport health and aviation security must satisfy stipulated standard of performance and the announced opening date for flight resumption was sacrosanct only to those who fully complied with the regulation and advisories from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), International Air Transport Association (IATA) and World Health Organisation (WHO), and as domesticated by the NCAA.
He specifically accused the airlines of failure to submit their proposed flight schedule for holistic consideration in cognisance with the crowd control mechanism for adoption in aiding physical distancing at the country’s airports.
Present at the session were Sirika; Managing Director, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Capt. Fola Akinkuotu; Managing Director of FAAN, Capt. Rabiu Yadudu; Managing Director, Aero, Capt. Ado Sanusi; immediate past president of National Association of Nigeria Travel Agents (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, and airlines operators, among other stakeholders.
On the contentious issue of physical distancing onboard, all submissions highlighted the futility of middle seat removal, as it would engender higher fare on air transport and lower patronage, which would be injurious to the quick recovery of the industry.
Nuhu, however, disclosed that the regulatory body had found reservation of the aircraft last row seat for the purpose of attending to any health matters and not exclusively for COVID-19.
The general consensus of stakeholders was that the aircraft air cooling system is such that blows from up to down and as such, it does not spread any virus in the cabin, not even COVID-19; hence Nuhu said the airport and airline security would be very firm in enforcing the use of facemask in the airport and especially in the cabin throughout the flight duration to any destination.
Sirika reiterated that palliative would be given to industry player, but the amount and modality for disbursement were still in the works.
Apparently in preparation for flight operations, FAAN yesterday also released new procedural guidelines for air travellers and other airport users. The new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is aimed at protecting all stakeholders and preventing further spread of COVID-19.
Describing it as the “new normal,” FAAN requested that all departing passengers must arrive the airport, properly kitted with their facemasks on and ensure a minimum of 1.5 metres distance from one another, while aviation medical or Port Health personnel would screen each passenger and ensure compliance with other protocols.
Those travelling with pets must get necessary clearance from Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Services, while all passengers’ luggage would be disinfected before entry into the departure halls.
Passengers are required to wash their hands as often as possible and hand sanitiser would be provided for passengers before entrance, at the waiting halls/lounges and pre-boarding gates. All footwear would be disinfected by foot mats placed at all entrances to the terminal building, among others.
FAAN’s General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Henrietta Yakubu, said for arriving passengers, on disembarkation from the aircraft, they would as well observe physical distancing when boarding the Co-Buses, with hand sanitiser provided in the buses.
Physical distancing protocols must be observed at the baggage claim area, where hand sanitiser would also be provided. Disinfected trolleys would be made available for passengers. All COVID-19 protocols must be observed, while undergoing customs check.
Passengers would exit the halls and head straight to the car park for pick up.
“If you must speak to anyone around, please speak to a properly tagged Aviation Security (AVSEC) officer. Physical distancing would be maintained while waiting to be screened by personnel of Port Health Services, among others.
“We urge all our passengers and other stakeholders to respect and observe these necessary protocols put in place for our protection. Our success in achieving healthy and safe air travels is highly dependent on your cooperation in this regard,” Yakubu said.