By Lawani Mikairu
As the country prepares to reopen its airspace and airports after their closure in March, due to the current Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria, air travelers will be confronted with new realities which have been dubbed ” New Normal”.
The federal government will also be forced to realize the need to support the indigenous airline operators, especially those undertaking international flight operations as the fares will hit the roof top and only flag carriers of each country will, out of patriotism, consider reduced fares for their citizens. That is the only way passengers will enjoy reasonable fares from airlines in the impending “New Normal”.
Passengers too will no longer be able to stroll leisurely into the airports to catch their flights. They must hurry to the airports three hours before their flight departure time.
All the above issues are caused by the new preventive health measures put in place to combat the deadly convid-19 currently ravaging the world by the World Health Organization, WHO, and each country’s Health Ministries. Most countries have domesticated the WHO preventive measures to suit their peculiar needs.
For instance, the physical distancing measure currently being used to curtail the spread of the virus is being suggested for flight operations. That means aircraft can no longer carry their full passengers capacity.
It has been suggested that aircraft should not carry more than seventy percent passengers capacity and middle seat between passengers should be left vacant and unoccupied during each flight duration.
What this translates to is that airlines might lose revenue except they increase their fares to make up for those vacant seats. Before the Corona virus pandemic, most of the airlines were not breaking even because of the high cost of flight operations. The domestic airline operators have already given notice that fares will be increased in the new era.
Speaking about leaving the middle seats vacant in a recent aviation conference, the Executive Chairman of the leading Nigeria airline, Air Peace, Barrister Allen Onyema said it would be economically suicidal for airlines to leave their middle seats vacant during flight operations.
According to him, that will amount to airlines operating at almost half capacity with resultant revenue lose. Onyema said : “Covid-19 is contracted anywhere and it could be at any environment. We, (Air Peace) have devised a way to board and reduce contact a lot by first calling for the right window seat and after that is done and they are settled, we can call for the middle seats then “.
“After that we can call the left window seat then you can call in the aisle seat at the right and then the aisle seat at the left. This will ensure interaction is minimal. If we leave the middle empty then the least ticket would be N100, 000, which will not be good for airline and passengers.”
Passengers undertaking international flights will be subjected to face the New Normal. International fares will be hiked. This is because fewer airlines will commence international flight operations. Most renowned airlines in Europe and Asia have declared losses and filed for bankruptcy in their countries.
The grounding of flight operations around the world due to the outbreak of the Corona virus affected airlines adversely. Since January this year, most airlines have not operated any international flight. Countries who had the initial importation of the virus into their countries after the outbreak in China, immediately closed their borders and suspended flights into their countries.
The aviation sector is the most affected by the virus. The International Air Transport Association, IATA, has announced that the sector has lost more than 200 billion dollars so far in revenue and could still lose more. Only few airlines will survive to continue post Covid-19 pandemic operations.
This explains why the federal government has to, as a matter of urgency, support Nigeria airlines, especially Air Peace airline to continue their international and domestic operations This has been done by several other countries. Bailout funds have been provided by these governments for airlines to continue their operations.
In the midst of the pandemic, Air Peace has undertaking humanitarian international flights for the country and many evacuation flights for different countries. The airline brought in relief medical material for the federal government from Turkey and China. The Federal Government on 5th April took delivery of the first batch of medical supplies from Istanbul, Turkey, airlifted to Nigeria by Air Peace.
Speaking about the flight, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Allen Onyema thanked the Federal Government for choosing an indigenous carrier to airlift the medical supplies from Turkey and China, observing that this is a huge encouragement to local airline operators and promotion of indigenous businesses, which create jobs for the teeming Nigerian youths.
“Another history was made yesterday, April 7, 2020 as Air Peace Boeing 777-200ER (P4 5-NBVE) landed in Beijing, China, 14:18pm, for the airlift of the federal government of Nigeria’s medical supplies for the fight against COVID-19.
”This is the first time a Nigerian airline would be doing a direct nonstop 14 hours flight to China. The aircraft operated another non-stop 15 hours fight to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. All six-man crew are Nigerians. May God Almighty be praised for everything. We are all one under one God. Congratulations Nigeria,” Onyema said.
India celebrated the first direct flight from Nigeria when Air Peace airline airlifted 312 India citizens from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, MMIA , Lagos to Kochi, India. According to the verified twitter account of Indians in Nigeria, @india nigeria, the “repatriation of India nationals from Nigeria began today (Sunday) with the Lagos-Kochi Air Peace flight with 312 passengers. It is the first ever Nigerian airline to fly directly to India.” They also commended the Nigerian government, the Indian embassy in Nigeria and others that made the flight a reality.
On Thursday, May 28, 2020, Air Peace embarked on another evacuation flight of 301 Chinese nationals and flew back 268 stranded Nigerians from China on Saturday. The 301 passengers and 24 crew members were flown directly from Lagos to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, China’s most populous, commercial city.
Recall Air Peace was also the airline that evacuated about 210 Israelis living in Nigeria late March to Tel-Aviv, Israel because of the corona virus pandemic. It also did a second evacuation of 286 Indians to Kochi from Lagos on May 31, 2020, and has been contacted by other countries for evacuation operations.
While expressing appreciation to Israel, China , India for their support, Air Peace chairman, Allen Onyema said : “Israel blazed the trail when it approved the evacuation of its citizens from Lagos and Abuja to Tel-Aviv, followed by China and India. For the three countries to engage Air Peace to carry out the evacuation exercise speaks volumes about the level of confidence they have on the airline and its safety standards, which has been attested to by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification of our airline”.
“What the three countries have done will help in creating and sustaining jobs for Nigerians and by identifying with a Nigerian carrier at this time shows that they love our country and their support has challenged us to do more by improving on our achievements”.
The need to support indigenous airlines was further brought to the fore when Onyema said that on resumption of flight operations, Air Peace airline will downsize its operations and some staff may be asked to proceed on leave until flight services increased. This is just as the airline will also stop in flight catering services.
According to Onyema , the airline took these decisions in order to cut cost due to the impact of the COVID-19 on the Industry. The Air Peace boss said : “Out of our 13 Boeing 737 in our fleet, we are only going to deploy 4 of them, out of our 8 ERJ’s, we are going to deploy only 6 because those ones are just 50 seaters, so we will manage with those ones.”
“From 100 flights per day, Air Peace is going down to 42 flights. So going to Abuja will no longer be every hour. Downsizing of your operations is good in cutting cost, so, we are down sizing our operations to almost about 60%, we are going to do about 40% of our operations and even in that 40%, we are not going to carry 40% of the passengers we use to carry before.”
“Passenger figures are not going to be the same again like what it use to be years back, everything has changed. So going into operations, a new set of regulations will emerge.”
He further said : ” So, what happens to the staff? I suggest that what airlines should do is to downsize because you cannot pretend that you can carry all of them the same time. Because when you go down, they go down finally and permanently and forever, no hope for survival again.”
“So even the staff must understand that they have a collective Commonwealth which is the airline, that airline must survive for them and their family to survive and how do make the airline survive, sacrifices must be made at this point in time, airlines must downsize their work force.”
Under the New Normal, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN has advised passengers to arrive at airports at least three hours before their scheduled flight departure time.
The advise was given by FAAN through its twitter handle as part of the new protocols for the resumption of flights amid the coronavirus pandemic. It said the early arrival by passengers would enable airport officials carry out efficient checks and screening before boarding.
The agency said ,“COVID-19 Flight Resumption Protocol for Passengers: You are advised to arrive at the airport three hours before your flight due to the new COVID-19 safety checks.” It also restate the need for passengers to maintain two metres distance from each other at the airports while noting that persons not wearing their face masks will not be allowed into airports’ premises.