THREE months after the airspace was shut to commercial flights to contain the spread of Coronavirus, key airports were abuzz on Wednesday and planes tore through the skies.
There was excitement as the aviation industry returned to full operations locally, although with low passenger turnout on that first day.
The return came with fresh realities, including higher fares and mandatory compliance with rigorous safety guidelines
An economy class seat on Lagos -Abuja and Abuja -Lagos route – the only one that operated on Wdnesday, went for between N29, 000 and N33,000.
Passengers paid between N21,000 and N25,000 for such seat pre-COVID 19.
Besides paying more, passengers contended with stricter check -in measures at the terminal buildings. The measures include mandatory checking of body temperature , disinfection of luggage, physical distancing during check-in procedure and others rolled out for flights by aviation authorities.
Arik Air, Air Peace, Max Air and Ibom Air Air operated flights out of the two domestic wings – General Aviation Terminal (GAT) and Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal Two (MMA2) of the airport in Lagos.
The first flight to Abuja from Lagos was operated by Arik Air. The flight took off at about 7.15 am with boarding supervised by Officials of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
Nigeria’s oldest carrier- AeroContractors- and Dana, which did not commence flights along with Arik Air, Air Peace, Max Air and Ibom Air Air, said they would today.
Officials of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) also monitored compliance with the COVID-19 flight guidelines.
Speaking to reporters in Abuja after inspecting adherence to the measures, FAAN Managing Director Rabiu Yadudu commended passengers for their behaviour.
He said: “The situation is looking very good just like we expected. It took a lot of planning and efforts from all sides; the airlines, the handlers, agencies, stakeholders and of course FAAN is the primary agent responsible in this facility.
“A lot of work has gone and right now we are here, operations are going on very smoothly and we do not foresee any issue either major or minor.”
On the capacity of passengers each airline is expected to carry to observe the physical distancing , Yadudu said: “It is not an issue of percentage or capacity. We are monitoring and they are doing enough spacing to ensure that the regulations are followed.
“We want to make sure that all stakeholders, and not just airlines, operate at maximum capacity provided there is no violation of the regulations because of capacity changes.”
He also explained that there was no issue with passengers’ compliance with the COVID-19 protocols.
He said: ”There were no issues with the passengers. We were worried about the planning we put into this because it is only a plan.
“We thought implementation was going to be really difficult because we could not predict passengers’ response. But I must say that the cooperation has been very tremendous and we really appreciate it.”
Yadudu also hinted that the use of robots and other special measures at the airport would be gradual.
“The robots did not come on the first day of resumption, we want to do it based on practical scanners on the ground,” he added.
FAAN’S Director of Operation Muktar Muye and his Security Services counterpart, Group Captain Sadique Usman (rtd), who monitored flights out of Lagos, said passenger turnout was appreciable.
They also applauded the conduct of passengers with the protocols put in place at the terminals.
Director, Airspace and Aerodromes Standards, NCAA, Mr.. Tayib Odunowo, who flew on Arik’s first flight out of Lagos, commended the procedures and expressed joy that the work put in to achieve the restart of domestic flights paid off.
Some passengers at the Lagos and Abuja airports said they were pleased with the efforts put in place to ensure their safety.
An oil and gas expert, Mr. Daniel Ogbole, heading to Lagos from Abuja said: “My flight is for 12:30 pm I arrived three hours ahead of my 12.30 am flight. The protocol is nice. They sanitized our luggage and made us to wash our hands before allowing us access into the terminal building.
“Apart from physical distancing on the queue, they made sure everyone of us wore facemask.”
A Comptroller at the Nigerian Correctional Service, Ahmed Abu, who was also heading for Lagos, described the process as strenuous, but necessary.
He said: “We had to be here, at least, three hours before the scheduled time. We underwent strenuous protective measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during the check-in processes.
”I commend the authorities for the efforts taken to protect lives at the airport. I feel very much safe because all the necessary protective measures were put in place.”
Another passenger, Toyin Adetunji, described his experience at the Abuja airport as pleasant.
Airline operators expressed happiness with the compliance level of passengers.