By LAWANI MIKAIRU & DANIEL ETEGHE

The Federal Government has assured Nigerian intending pilgrims for this year  lesser hajj (umrah)  hitch free trip to Saudi Arabia and timely return to the country.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Aviation, Captain Shehu Iyal made this known on Wednesday in Lagos during a stakeholders meeting on how to airlift the pilgrims to the Holly Land.

Iyal said that he got briefing from President Goodluck Jonathan  that the regulatory body must certify every airline that is involved in the air lifting and there should be special attention to security too “because we are in a very, very special time.”

According to Iyal “Everything must be certified and if we have any airport that does not meet the expected standard it should not be used. Operators must look at their system of operation and there should be maximum cooperation with National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). The message from the President is that the pilgrims should be taken to Saudi Arabia safely and brought back safely,”

Addressing the stakeholders, the host of the meeting and the Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr Harold Demuren, said that there would be no compromise on the safety of the aircraft, the pilots, the engineers and the airports.

Demuren said that airlifting of 60,000 Nigerians to Saudi Arabia is a serious business so everything possible must be done to ensure their safety and to also ensure that  they depart and arrive in time as scheduled.

He remarked that there is security threat all over the world and so the airline operators and the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) must be vigilant, while the regulator body must certify the aircraft and the airlines in terms of safety.

“We want to make sure that security measures put in place are strictly adhered to. Any airline that fails to meet this requirement will not operate. The same with the aircraft, the pilot and the airports and we want to make sure that all the aviation agencies are working; there is fuel available; the same with ground handling.”

An official of NAHCON who attended the meeting pointed that that there was need for the commission and the regulatory body to work together to ensure timely return of the pilgrims, noting that the number of Nigerians that go for lesser hajj had increased from 30, 000 to 60,000 and the Hajj this year would attract about 100,000 pilgrims.

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