The Federal Government of Nigeria announced on Sunday that a British airline company, Flair Aviation, has been grounded for flouting the “no flight” rule. The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, disclosed this on Twitter, explaining that the company was only authorized to operate humanitarian services but went on a commercial business.
“COVID-19 Flair Aviation, a UK company, was given approval for humanitarian operations but regrettably, we caught them conducting commercial flights. This is callous! The craft is impounded, the crew being interrogated. There shall be maximum penalty. Wrong time to try our resolve,” Sirika wrote on Twitter.
It could be recalled that the Federal Government had earlier this month, extended the “no flight” to four weeks, limiting flights to essential services only. The Aviation Minister said the Flair Aviation company would be penalized. However, the development tells of the struggle of the aviation industry to survive the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought it to its knees.
Punch has reported on Sunday that some foreign airlines are planning to resume flight activities to Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt airports. The Ministry of Aviation has however vowed to penalize any airline that flies into Nigeria in defiance of the ban. The Transport Service Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (TSSSAN) said no foreign or local airline is allowed to fly until the ban is lifted.
Despite the stance of aviation authorities of Nigeria on the matter, some foreign airlines are reportedly making plans to resume flight operations in June. Lufthansa Airlines has reportedly added Abuja and Port Harcourt among its 20 long-haul routes that is scheduled to kick off in June. Lufthansa has made its first batch of flight reservations available in its booking system according to people familiar with the matter.
On the other hand, Virgin Atlantic is reportedly lining up flight schedules for London Heathrow to Murtala Muhammed Airport Lagos. And beginning from May 16, services for its March 28, 2021 summer schedule flights. Though some other cities around the world are part of their flight plan, Nigerian Aviation authorities are not seeing the possibility in the nearest future unless the ban is lifted.
“They (foreign airlines) can’t operate scheduled passenger flights as long as the ban remains. The PTF on COVID-19 has the final remains. The PTF on COVID-19 has the final say on when flights can resume, based on the level of control of the pandemic.
“Of course, we in the sector can’t wait for activities to resume at the airports to forestall further loss of jobs and revenue. Aviation has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic and it will be a great relief to have flights resume,” said James Odaudu, Director, Public Affairs, FMA.
The president of ATSSSAN, Ilitrus Ahmadu, said the decision to fly is not for foreign airlines to make. He said the Federal Government reserves the right to open and close its air space when it deems fit.
“It is not the foreign carriers that will decide for our country. So it is not their business and they cannot say they can fly into the country without government opening the airspace,” he said.
The aviation industry’s revenue has plunged massively since early in the year when countries started to halt flight activities. The plague has plummeted many companies into dire financial strains and near bankruptcy status despite governments’ bailout measures.
German national carrier Lufthansa, last month demanded a $11 billion bailout from the German government, on the agreement that it will take 25.1% stake in the company. Lufthansa has been losing $1.1 million per hour as a result of the global health crisis.
Virgin Atlantic also appealed to the UK government for a 500 million pounds bailout to save the airline from going out of business. In an open letter to the British Parliament in April, Virgin Atlantic founder, Richard Branson, who has already staked his private island for fund, said the coronavirus pandemic has forced the company to seek external funding.
“Because of significant costs to our business caused by unprecedented market conditions which the COVID-19 crisis has brought with it, we are exploring all available options to obtain additional external funding,” he said.
Around the world, every aviation company is on life support that requires sustainable intervention that many governments appear unable to offer right now. It seems that the desperation to survive is pushing airlines into sharp practices, and many of them are getting ready even to dare the “no flights” rules.