The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has said that government was working tirelessly to establish the protocols that would guide the resumption of international air travels, especially as it relates to arrivals into the country.

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Chairman of the Task Force, and Secretary to Government, Boss Mustapha who disclosed this at Monday’s media briefing, said all relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) were collaborating to achieve this, bearing in mind the importance of international air travels to the economic development of the nation.

In a statement made available to Transport Day, the Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, explained that a National Air Facilitation Committee has been established to work out the modalities for a safe resumption of international flight operations in the country.

According to him, the committee is made up of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigeria Custom Service (NCS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Airport Security Committee, Ground Handlers Association, Directorate of State Security Service (DSS), Freight forwarders association, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Committee and the Quarantine service.

The Minister lamented that aviation was one of the worst-hit by COVID-19 pandemic, adding that a quick lifting of the ban of international travel without adhering to the laid down protocols would amount to more disaster.

He also bemoaned the harrowing experience and downturn in the economy of Nigeria and by extension, its impact on aviation which has made it extremely difficult for many organizations to pay salaries.

According to him, “the committee will meet tomorrow (today) to further discuss the protocols for the re-opening of the airports. Certainly, aviation is worst hit with this.

There must be passenger movement for us to be able to survive. We have said here on this platform that salaries are becoming difficult for us to pay”.

“So, we want to open more than you want us to open. We have been living with the question of when we are going to open. This is subject to so many factors and all of these sacrifices that we are making is in the interest of the public and the interest of all of us to fly safe.”

The Minister also debunked insinuations that airspace in Europe and other places had re-opened saying it was not true that Nigeria was the one holding down the return of international operations.

“Like I said, if it is on us, we would open yesterday. If we open, we will make more money to enable us carry out all our activities. The purpose of us is to be able to judge what is safe for the citizens of our country.

Please, bear with the situation. We feel your pain. We understand it as much as you do. We know that some people are cut away from their families, businesses, but this is an act of God”.

“This is Force Majure. Please, bear with the situation. We are very responsible people. We will open only when it is the right time to open and I am sure it will be sooner than later. Tomorrow, like I said, this committee will meet.

There is also a meeting at the Ministry of Interior where all the stakeholders will also meet and discuss, analyse and review the protocols and they will announce when it is safe to open. This is the similar way we went to open domestic flights.

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Having opened domestic flights, we found out that some of the domestic airports were not ready and we didn’t open them and we can see that over 80 per cent of the airports are opened.

So, therefore, international airports for international travel will be opened”, he added.

He equally denied reports that some highly placed citizens try to smuggle people across borders in the name of evacuation flights, noting that it would be wrong to stop people from coming back home.

“If he has the means of coming back, he will come back. Of course, if he now comes back, he will undergo the protocols we have in place.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has lifted the ban placed on a private airline, Executive Air Services Limited, which flew musician, Azeez Fashola aka Naira Marley, to Abuja to attend a concert mid-June.

The airline had contravened the restriction on interstate movement and closure of airports in existence at the time.

Giving an update on the development during a Presidential Task Force briefing on COVID-19 in Abuja on Monday, Sirika said, “Today (Monday), we lifted the ban on Executive Air Services Limited. They have complied substantially with all of our imposed sanctions; they’ve paid part of the fines, and they brought up premium plan.

So, we have lifted the ban today, so, they continue to do their business. These sanctions are not punitive, they are things to make our industry work better and keep all of you safe.” He said.