Posted by Sade Williams
The Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), on Friday, suspended the flight operations of Emirates from Lagos and Abuja over violation of COVID-19 protocols.
A letter signed by Captain Musa Nuhu, director general of the NCAA and dated February 4, 2020 with reference number NCAA/DG/AIR/11/16/285, addressed to the country manager of Emirates airlines in Nigeria, stated that the airline has violated the protocols set by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.
It added that the airline ‘has continued to airlift passengers from Nigeria using the Rapid Antigen Test (RDT) conducted by laboratories that are neither approved nor authorized by the appropriate regulatory bodies’.
The letter titled: ‘Suspension of Emirates Airlines Operations to Nigeria’, says, ‘It has been brought to the attention of the Presidential Task Force of COVID-19 (PTF) that Emirates airlines has continued to airlift passengers from Nigeria using Rapid Antigen Test (RDT) conducted by laboratories that are neither approved nor authorized by the appropriate regulatory bodies.
“This is a violation of paragraph 5 of NCAA letter with Re; NCAA/DG/AIR11/16/281 of 02 February, 2021, addressed to your good self. The Paragraph clearly states:
“Based on the foregoing and to enable the Nigerian government to put in place the needed infrastructure and logistics for COVID-19 RDT testing for departing passengers, the PTF has directed that Emirates airlines should either accept passengers without RDT pending when the infrastructure and the logistics are put in place or suspends its flights to and from Nigeria until such a time when the required infrastructure and logistics are fully established and implemented”, the letter reads.
The NCAA added that, ‘Emirates has not been in compliance with the two options given by the PTF as record obtained from the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) indicates that Emirates airline operated flights from Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
“This is in addition to an advert by Emirates Airlines for RDT by The Travel Clinic and Medicaid Mobile Laboratory in Lagos and Abuja, two organisations that are not approved by the appropriate regulatory bodies and PTF to conduct RDT for departing passengers.
The letter added that the PTF takes the violations of the instructions seriously and has directed as that that Emirates airlines should suspend its operations to Nigeria (Lagos and Abuja) effective 72 hours from midnight (23.00z) on Thursday, February 4, 2021.
It added that ‘during the 72 hour leeway, Emirates airlines is only authorized to bring passengers into Nigeria, outbound passengers are not authorized.
“Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority will impose additional sanctions on Emirates for the violations of the PTF directive and COVID-19 protocols.
“Emirates airlines will be informed in due time as when to resume operations to Nigeria”, the NCAA said.
It would be recalled that last week, Dubai Airport Authority issued some travel protocol to passengers travelling from Nigeria.
The Dubai Airport operations control Centre notice to travel partners issued last week indicates that the airport would only welcome passengers travelling directly from Nigeria.
It indicates further that passengers would not be allowed to connect Dubai from any other country or station if they have visited Nigeria or transited via Nigeria in the last 14 days to the travel date.
The concern raised by stakeholders is that Nigerian carrier, Air Peace, which operates to Dubai via Sharjah (another city/airport/station), may be affected by the new protocol since its passengers would be connecting Dubai via Sharjah.
In the notice titled: ‘Dubai Travel Protocol Update-Travel from Nigeria’ the partners were advised that effective from February 2021,
1.All passengers required to obtain a negative COVID-19 certificate, the PCR should be conducted within 72 hours of the date of departure;
2.All passengers are required to conduct a rapid COVID-19 test and obtain a negative result within 4 hours of their departure time.
3.Passengers must travel directly from Nigeria to Dubai. No passengers may enter Dubai from any other country/station if they have visited or transited via Nigeria in the last 14 days.
Commenting on the development, Olumide Ohunayo, a travel consultant with Zenith Travels, said the COVID -19 protocols were in place but faulted the fact that passengers must travel direct to Dubai from Nigeria.
According to him, more clarifications are needed from the Authorities.
“What they’ve done it to tighten the health protocols test and certification and also to protect Emirates airline. There is no gain saying that some Nigerians have been know to have flouted the COVID-19 protocols by getting fake results and that is why they are saying they must get a certification 72 hours minimum before your depart and that they must do a rapid test which must come out four hours before departure. This is to safeguard their country, even those that have tested negative here test positive when they get to Dubai. The idea is to reduce that incidence of people coming into their country without having appropriate test.
“Secondly, asking passengers to fly direct to Dubai is excessive; that is protecting only their carrier at the expense of a very huge fare that will affect Nigerians going to Dubai. Are they saying that Nigerians can move to other cities in Dubai by road and if that is not possible, there will be a serious challenge because Nigerians are now left alone with Emirates. Air Peace flies to Sharjah, this is not clear enough and I think Nigerian government need to get some clarifications from the Dubai authorities. Most importantly, to protect Nigerian airlines and passengers. While I have no objection to the health protocol, I have an objection to the fact that it is only Emirates airlines they will accept, that is not fair”, he said.
Also reacting, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd), said apart from the health protocols, the other message is clear-they do not want a private airline unless it is a flag carrier or national carrier.
Ojikutu lambasted the Federal government for not being proactive, saying it should have designated Nigerian carriers as flag carriers since it was taking many years to establish a national carrier.
He said the only reason the Dubai airport authority would want to discuss with Nigerian government before taking any decision is when the airline is a national carrier or a flag carrier.
To him, a private airline would not be treated fairly on international routes.
“They don’t want passengers to use Dubai airport as transit. They also do not want a private airline. Air Peace is a private airline and not a Flag carrier or national carrier and they will treat it as such. I have been advising government to designate carriers as flag carriers if it cannot come through with National carrier. It has taken government about six years to establish a national carrier with nothing to show.
“What I am also suspecting is that people in aviation authorities are making it difficult for government to have a national carrier of flag carriers because of the commercial agreement (outside of Bilateral Air Services Agreement) between the countries. The multiple landings are part of commercial agreement.
“Air Peace is a private airline, unless it is designated a flag carrier by Nigeria, they will not give it the respect it deserves. Federal government needs to come up with the policy to ensure airlines can be designated flag carriers. For instance, for an airline to be designated as flag carrier, its economic audit report with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority must be clean for at least four years, it must belong to a strong alliance and at least be on the International Air Transport Association (IATA) list.
“Once government has a BASA agreement with another country, it has to put in place a policy for the airlines to be ambassadors on those routes, government will recommend the airline to that country and tell them the airport they want but once that is not possible, the other country can come up with any rule.
“We have now gotten to a level where government should designate its airlines as flag carriers through a deliberate policy”, he said.
Nuhu Adam, managing partner, TMSS Logistics, described it as ‘pandemic aero-politics’, saying when statehooders were supposed to come together to achieve a common goal, the reverse seems to be the case.
While aligning with Ojikutu’s suggestion on designating Nigeria carriers as flag carriers, he said, ‘I see this pandemic aero-politics at its best. What I also notice with Egyptair passengers is that they got messages from the airline telling them that they can’t connect Dubai via Cairo again except they fly direct to Dubai. They are hiding under COVID-19 pandemic to introduce protectionism in this era where all stakeholders need to work together.
“This is a protectionist policy that needs reassessment by all stakeholders in the aviation industry. And this will also take a toll on travel and tourism as it affects traffic on that rout”, he said.