To guarantee passengers’ safety and protection from COVID-19, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has commenced the audit of airlines, THISDAY has learnt.
The federal government is also working on a bailout for the aviation industry to prevent the collapse of the airlines.
The federal government had closed the nation’s airspace for scheduled passenger flights on March 23 and extended the closure for four weeks on May 6.
Although the nation’s airspace is still closed, the government is considering resumption of domestic flights by June.
NCAA spokesman, Mr. Sam Adurogboye, told THISDAY thursday in Lagos that the main objective of the technical audit is to ensure that airlines’ fleet is airworthy.
According to him, the audit would also ensure that the airlines provide adequate safety protocol to ensure the protection of passengers from the virus infection while onboard.
The audit, he said, would ensure that pilots and cabin crew meet the conditions to fly.
A directive from NCAA to the airlines, All Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs), said the airlines would be required to review and demonstrate or submit the evidence of compliance.
NCAA also requires airlines to notify the authority of their intention to resume operations and make themselves available to the regulatory body for the post-COVID-19 restart plan assessment.
“Upon satisfactory post-COVID-19 restart plan assessment by the authority, the ANSPs will be granted approval to resume full operation by the Director-General,” NCAA said in a circular, Ref: NCAA/DG/GC/8/16/301, dated May 5, 2020.
Adurogboye told THISDAY that there are specific directives issued by NCAA for the airlines to carry out before they could resume flights operations.
He identified some of the conditions to include the training of their technical personnel during the lockdown, the storage of their aircraft and notification of the authority five days before each airline resumes operation.
“Passengers need to know that the airlines have made adequate plans to protect them from being infected by coronavirus. There are basic things the airlines are expected to do and there must be evidence of the training and NCAA will assess the training before any airline will resume operation.
“We will like to know what they have in place to ensure the safety and protection of passengers. They are supposed to carry out the disinfection of their aircraft. These are critical issues that even if there will be waivers; there are things that we cannot compromise.
“We have been working together with the airlines since the lockdown and we are partners in progress. We are going to sit down and discuss other issues if need be,” Adurogboye added.
Airlines’ officials who spoke to THISDAY confirmed that they are striving to meet NCAA conditions so that they would be certified to resume operations.
The Director of Flight Operations, Air Peace, Captain Victor Egonu, said every airline was striving to meet NCAA specifications on flight resumption.
“We are working to meet the conditions given to us by NCAA. On disinfection of aircraft, we are working with Port Health and they have watched the demonstration by our engineers. We are also working on the airworthiness of our aircraft. During the lockdown, we placed the aircraft on storage. We are now bringing the aircraft out of storage, following the manufacturer’s programme.
“We are also undergoing training on how to handle passengers during boarding and onboard the aircraft. We are supposed to send everything in softcopy to NCAA because we are discouraging physical contacts as much as possible and our target date for submission is Monday next week,” Egonu said.
He expressed optimism that the transport business (schedule flight service) could begin by June 4, if the federal government lifts the ban and said Air Peace and other airlines were anticipating they would get clearance from NCAA.
He added that there are training that would not be undertaken now, like simulator training, because it’s done overseas and most of the airline’s pilots are Nigerians, so they would need visas to travel overseas and there would be envisaged backlog when the lockdown ends globally.
He said NCAA gave waiver for crew training update till the end of June, but noted that the pilots would be given basic training in-house as many of them have not flown for two months.
He expressed optimism that NCAA would certify the pilots to resume flight operations.
Egonu explained that airlines have adopted COVID-19 protocols to prevent possible on-board infection.
“There will be no service of food on board but we can serve water. All the aircraft will be fumigated every day. We hope that we would have a short turnaround time and we ought to have checks in places to avoid complacency in the implementation of the protocols.
“The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) said there is no benefit of social distancing because there is no transmission between passengers inside the aircraft. Mask is compulsory; so passengers will come wearing their mask and leave the aircraft wearing their mask,” Egonu said.
Speaking on the level of preparedness, the Chief Operating Officer of Dana Air, Mr. Obi Mbanuzuo, told THISDAY in Lagos that the airline is working to meet NCAA requirements, adding that Dana Air’s pilots would also meet training qualification and be certified to fly.
“We are working to meet NCAA requirements. They gave us documents stating their requirements and we have submitted how we planned to meet the requirements. This includes how to resuscitate our aircraft and the training of our pilots. What we need in the training of pilots is recency.
“The pilots have their licences; so the trainee pilots will be certified and they will train other pilots. We are fully prepared and I am sure we will meet NCAA requirements to resume flight operations,” Mbanuzuo stated.
FG Works out Stimulus Package for Operators
Meanwhile, NCAA Director-General, Captain Musa Nuhu, has said the federal government is currently working on how to bail out the aviation sector after the pandemic in order to prevent the collapse of the airlines.
Nuhu said the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, had made a presentation to the presidency on the need to bail out the sector in order to sustain flight operations, which is a catalyst for economic development.
He spoke during the Aviation Web Conference on ‘Flying into Turbulent Skies, Safely Navigating COVID-19 Headwinds: Survival Strategies for Nigerian Aviation,’ organised by the law firm, AELEX, with the objective to map out ways of developing economic stimulus package for the sector.
He said the package would not be limited to the airlines alone but would include the agencies and ground handling companies.
“We have made consultations and we are still consulting; we have consulted with airlines; we plan to have another consultation with them and the ground handlers, we are developing a programme for an economic stimulus package, all-inclusive, all the heads of agencies were recently locked up in a hotel in Abuja, including the minister to map out ways of getting stimulus for the sector. The minister presented a very good case on this with the vice president.
“We need to ensure that we have procedures in place, we need to look at two major issues: airworthiness and health protocols. We have developed some guidelines in conjunction with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). We still have some issues on crew quarantine. We have agreed on certain protocols for Nigerian airlines so that when they fly out and come back, the crew doesn’t have to be quarantined. We have consulted with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) extensively to ensure that all we are doing is globally acceptable,” he said.
Earlier, Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema, had said there should not be in-flight catering on domestic flight services, which is largely one hour, noting that it would also help to bring down the cost of flying.
According to him, the pandemic is more devastating than 9/11 and measures have to be introduced to mitigate the effect on businesses.
He said, for instance, Air Peace had decided to stop in-flight catering and would not deploy all its aircraft for operations as it had also decided to reduce its workforce to 60 per cent and put the rest on redundancy who would be re-absorbed as flight operation increases.
He explained that his airline that was operating 110 flights per day had reduced to 42 flights in a day before the lockdown and so many sacrifices would have to be made by employees and staff if the business must continue.
Also speaking, the Managing Director, Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi, expressed confidence that the sector would rebound just as it did after 9/11 and Ebola virus saga.
He, however, called for mergers and acquisition of airlines, saying this would be one of the ways to revamp the sector.