The 33 foreign airlines operating flights into Nigeria may suffer a major blow as the Federal Government says it will in a few days shut the international wings of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.
The Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Capt Musa Nuhu, in a statement on Thursday announced the closure of the three other international airports in the country, namely Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, and the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, thereby restricting international flights to only Lagos and Abuja airports.
The statement noted that the closure would be till further notice effective 12am today. It noted that this was part of precautionary measures taken by the government to curb the spread of coronavirus.
On Friday, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, told journalists in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, that the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, would make the announcement at the appropriate time.
But speaking on Friday, the minister said the Federal Government planned to close every gap that could further spread the COVID-19 in the country.
He said, “Yes, we are going to shut all international airports. Domestic operations will not be disrupted. The shutdown will be in a few days, just to allow the necessary ‘Notice to Airmen’ to be issued accordingly.”
Consequently, the 33 foreign airlines operating flights into Nigeria, according to the statistics from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, might take a financial hit following the closure.
Some of the foreign airlines expected to be affected are British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, AirFrance, KLM, Delta Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, South African Airways, Kenyan Airways, Rwandair, Turkish Airlines, Egypt Air, Royal Air Maroc and Africa World Airlines.
Data from the NCAA showed that from January to December 2019, the foreign airlines recorded 15,474 flights into the five international airports in Nigeria with an average of 298 flights weekly.
This is coming barely 24 hours after the International Air Transport Association said the disruption to air travel due to the continued spread of coronavirus would cost Nigeria’s aviation industry over N160.58bn (using Bureau de Change rate of N370 to $1) ($434m) in revenue and 22,200 jobs.
IATA, which is an umbrella body for 290 airlines globally, added that Nigeria would also lose approximately 2.2 million passengers, adding that the spread of the virus would negatively impact the aviation industry worldwide.
Efforts to reach the President, Association of Foreign Airlines and Representatives in Nigeria, Mr Kingsley Nwokoma, on Friday night, were not successful.
But earlier in the week, he said the industry had been passing through a very difficult time since the outbreak of the disease.
Wokoma said there was slow traffic, cancellation of flights, and reduction in cargo traffic.
“When it started, it was like a joke and we all thought it will soon pass away; cargo and aviation generally have taken a big hit,” he said.
He said cargo warehouses had become empty as most shipments were from China.
The NCAA DG had said in his statement that the directive was as a result of the Federal Government’s travel ban on 13 countries, which rose to 15 countries following the addition of Sweden and Austria on Friday.
The government by the directive restricted entry for travellers from the countries, but noted that Nigerians, diplomats and foreigners resident in the country travelling from the listed countries would be subjected to supervised self-isolation for 14 days after arrival
The disease, which was first discovered in Wuhan, China on December 31, 2019, was first detected in Nigeria on February 27 when a 44-year-old Italian tested positive for the virus.
As of Thursday night, the number of cases in Nigeria had risen to 12, with 1,300 persons who had direct and indirect contacts with the infected persons placed under watch.
As of Friday night, the disease had spread to 184 out of 195 countries and territories around the world, with 271,598 cases recorded while 11,299 deaths had been recovered. However, 90,605 persons had so far recovered