The suspension of Emirates Airlines and the Etihad’s withdrawal from Nigerian airspace have cost the country about 20 per cent in international passenger traffic.
The decline is seen as a major setback for air travel’s gradual recovery that earlier climbed to 45 per cent of pre-COVID-19 traffic.
Meanwhile, foreign airlines have rallied behind the controversial rapid antigen tests as a better alternative to the popular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test standard for COVID-19. To that effect, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged governments to accept best-in-class rapid antigen tests following the publication of new research findings.
The Federal Government recently suspended the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) national carrier, Emirates, over the arbitrary imposition of rapid antigen testing on Nigerian travellers to the UAE, and refusal to reverse the order.
Emirates and Dubai Airport authorities took the extra safety measures following cases of fake COVID-19 PCR test results coming from Nigeria, among others, in the wake of a spike in COVID-19 cases in the UAE.
Similarly, Etihad voluntarily withdrew services from Nigeria.
Chairman of the Airline Passenger Joint Committee (APJC), Bankole Bernard, said the withdrawal of the UAE airlines was unfortunate, with a significant impact on passenger traffic.
Bernard, who is also the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Finchglow Travels, said the market’s erstwhile recovery of 45 per cent had in the last two weeks slumped to 15 per cent following the withdrawal of both Emirates and Etihad.
“That is so because Nigerians are not allowed into the UAE. Besides frequencies to Dubai, Nigerians had often connected other parts of the world through Dubai given their effective connectivity, which other destinations and airlines don’t have. So, the withdrawal of Emirates and Etihad is a big loss for all,” he said.
Bernard added that the UAE authorities were not to blame for the additional rapid antigen test controversy.
“They (UAE) value lives ahead of money. They value every life in their country, unlike us here. They found the impact of fake COVID-19 test results too huge to handle and found themselves caught in-between.
“Unfortunately, we (Nigeria) didn’t even see the fake results as a big deal, to warrant investigation and prosecution. Etihad withdrew, we didn’t even see the need to find out why and see how to work together to resolve the problem. It is a shame,” Bernard said.
But the OXERA-Edge Health report, commissioned by IATA, has found that antigen tests to be most effective. From findings, the best antigen tests provide broadly comparable results to PCR tests in accurately identifying infected travellers.
The BinaxNOW antigen test, for example, misses just one positive case in 1,000 travellers (based on an infection rate of one per cent among travellers). And it has similarly comparable performance to PCR tests in levels of false negatives.
In terms of convenience, processing times for antigen tests are 100 times faster than for PCR testing. Cost-efficient: antigen tests are, on average, 60 per cent cheaper than PCR tests.
IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said restarting international aviation would energise the economic recovery from COVID-19.
“Along with vaccines, testing will play a critical role in giving governments the confidence to re-open their borders to travellers. For governments, the top priority is accuracy.
“But travellers will also need tests to be convenient and affordable. The OXERA-Edge Health report tells us that the best-in-class antigen tests can tick all these boxes. It’s important for governments to consider these findings as they make plans for a re-start,” de Juniac said.
According to him, testing requirements are currently fragmented, which is confusing to travelers, adding that many governments do not allow rapid testing. If the only options available for travellers are PCR tests, these come with significant costs disadvantages and inconvenience. And in some parts of the world, PCR testing capacity is limited, with priority correctly given to clinical use.
“Travellers need options. Including antigen testing among acceptable tests will certainly give strength to the recovery. And the EU’s specification of acceptable antigen tests offers a good baseline for wider international harmonisation of acceptable standards. We now need to see governments implement these recommendations,” de Juniac said.
FG to enforce law prohibiting aviation workers strikes – Minister
Aviation may have a raw deal with the Federal Government should they decide to embark on strike or protest at nation’s airports as the FG has vowed to enforce the relevant law prohibiting industrial actions in the sector.
Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika said the FG would no longer tolerate strikes and riots in the aviation sector.
He spoke with State House correspondents on Wednesday at the presidential villa, Abuja, in reaction to flight disruption on Monday at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, following a strike by Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCO) staff members over salary increment.
The strike was later suspended after the management of NAHCO said it had commenced negotiations with its workers.
NAHCO provides ground handling (cargo/ramp), passenger, and other services to several international airlines including Air France/KLM, Qatar, Ethiopian Airlines, Delta Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and Turkish Air.
Sirika said the FAAN Act prohibited strikes and riots in the aviation sector.
He apologised to the public and said the government would ensure that the law was henceforth enforced to prevent future occurrences.
“This is very important to the travelling public. First, we apologise to them, our teeming passengers in this difficult moment,” Sirika said.
He also said, “This will not happen in the future by the grace of God. And the reason is simple; aviation is an essential service, the act has been assented to by Mr. President, so strikes and riots around our airports are prohibited by the laws of the land.
“Now that we have the act in place and assented to by Mr President and passed by the National Assembly, we will deal with it according to the law.
“We will ensure no essential service is being disrupted by anybody no matter how aggrieved. There are other channels of channeling issues when they arise but they are not permitted to go on strike because aviation is an essential service and is the law of the land now.
“I will give you an example, there was an airline that had to return to base because it couldn’t land. Imagine if there was a patient on that aircraft. Imagine somebody attending to a very serious issue or matter at hand or business or a student trying to catch up with an exam and then because of somebody who is aggrieved some other person will die.
“Government will no longer allow that. So it’s in the law of the land, check the FAAN act, it’s been assented to and it’s going to take place soon, in fact now, from today we will not allow that.”
He said the government was always willing to listen to any grievances, adding that there are procedures to address such.
“They should please desist from this. It is wrong, inhuman, and not allowed. It is not permitted and we will not be permitting it any longer.”
Air passengers stranded in Lagos as aviation workers strike grounds int’l fights
Many international flights were on Monday grounded at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport Lagos as workers of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc commenced an indefinite strike over salary increment.
Most of the foreign carriers operating into Nigeria are clients of NAHCO.
One of the top foreign airlines affected by the strike was Qatar Airways which could not operate its early morning Lagos-Doha flight.
The Middle East carrier which flew into the country early in the morning was forced to fly back to Doha with no passengers due to the nonavailability of NAHCO workers whose main job involves loading and checking in of passengers’ luggage.
As at the time of filing this report all the airlines being handled by NAHCO have been left in confusion just as their passengers.
Apart from Qatar Airways, NAHCO handles check-in, boarding and ramp services for several other international airlines such as Air France/KLM, Ethiopian Airlines, Delta Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Turkish Air.
An affected passenger and aviation expert, Alex Nuba, said that NAHCO staff in the early hours of Monday walked out of the international airport, saying they were on strike and would not handle any passenger.
“Even the Qatar flight I’m traveling with this morning landed and has returned to Doha as there’s no one to handle them,” Nwuba said.
He said passengers are frustrated as they have been kept outside to avoid a crisis and no information, announcement or email was sent to passengers.
The National Union of Air Transport Employees [NUATE] and the Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) had earlier put the workers on notice of the strike following what they called the uncooperative attitude of the NAHCO management towards resolving the welfare issues raised by the workers through the unions.
In the circular issued by the unions and signed by the general secretary of NUATE, Comrade Ocheme Aba and his ATSSSAN counterpart, Comrade Francis Akinjole, the workers were directed to withdraw their services nationwide by embarking on an indefibe strike until the issues are resolved.
FEC aporoves N2.29bn for light aircraft assembling in Zaria
The Federal Executive Council has approved N2.29 billion for the assembling of Hungarian Magnus light aircraft at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, Kaduna State.
The council gave the approval on Wednesday at a meeting presided over by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in Abuja.
Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who disclosed this, noted that the renewed demand for the “spin recovery aircraft” necessitated the production of the light aircraft for the training of military and civilian pilots.
Sirika said the first set of assembled aircraft is expected to fly within the last four months of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
He said his ministry presented two memoranda bordering on the local assemblage of the Magnus aircraft and a review of the cost of instrument landing system (ILS) in three airports by an additional N546.1 billion.
Sirika said, “We had two memoranda in council. The first one is the procurement and assemblage of Magnus Centennial aircraft and stimulator in Zaria,” Sirika said.
“So, I’m happy to announce today is the reality. We will indeed assemble the Magnus aircraft and will continue to do so and [in] not too distant future by God’s grace, the industry of civil aviation will begin to manufacture right here in the country. But [we’re] beginning by assembling these training aircraft.
“So, the memoranda have been passed in council. The manufacturer of the airplane is based in Hungary, and has a local company called Ingenious to be done in Zaria. And the total contract sum is N2,296,897,404 with the completion period of 18 months.”
The minister said the Magnus aircraft is a ‘spin aircraft’, adding that the world of civil aviation stopped its training programme [on] the spin and spin recovery – a navigation skill pilots must have.
He said ‘spin’ literally means to “spin something in an unusual altitude that our club go through”, and therefore, students are taught to identify when they get into a spin situation, and how to recover out of the situation before it becomes a disaster.
The minister, who said many pilots were trained in the skill, added that the need for spin and spin recovery eventually petered out as aircraft became more technologically advanced and sophisticated.
“But again, they all realise that we still get into spin or there is a need for this skill to be developed for recovery out of spin situation,” Sirika said.
“So, most manufacturers stopped producing trainers for that purpose. And so, there are not many people now that manufacture.
“The company in Messrs Maganus, realised that gap [and] started to produce airplanes that can get into spin and out of it, so that students can be trained on that. And because of our maximum attention to safety, we believe that this should come back into training in Nigeria, even the United States of America who, at some point stopped, now are back to training students on this spin and spin recovery.
“So, this airplane is fully aerobotic, goes into aerobatics. And I think the Nigerian air force and the air force around the region will be interested and excited by this development, we are taking the lead in civil aviation. It is our intention to produce them here, assemble them here, [possibly] in the future, sell them out to where we’re interested around the world.
“I think the first one or two aircraft assemblage will happen here in Nigeria and to fly them within the remaining four months that we have as a government. So, it’s another item that is ticked on our plate, and to which we remain grateful to President Muhammadu Buhari and his government”
The minister also disclosed that FEC approved the memorandum that revised the estimated total cost and augmentation, contract for procurement and installation of instrument landing system (ILS) in three airports namely: Port Harcourt International Airport, Kano International Airport, and Katsina airport.
He said the contract, which was awarded earlier, had to be reviewed due to fluctuations in foreign exchange (FX).
Sirika also disclosed that the council approved N546.11 million for the procurement and installation of category ‘3C’ landing system in 15 airports nationwide.
The installation would begin from the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa; Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano; and the Katsina airport, he added.
The category 3C landing system, he said, would enable pilots to land in zero-visibility conditions.
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