The non-issuance of clearance to more airports to restart international fights is delaying the resumption of foreign flights at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu Enugu State, it was learnt on Sunday.
Offering clarifications on the criteria adopted by the Federal Government in the re-opening of airports for international flights, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) said only the Ministry of Health can give approval for the restart of international flights in line with COVID-19 protocols.
FAAN’s spokesperson Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu explained that while airports, such as Lagos and Abuja have since resumed international flights in the first phase, following easing of lockdown and restriction on flights by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID -19 Control, the Federal Ministry of Health has the mandate to give clearance for international flights at any airport.
She told our reporter on the telephone that it was not FAAN’s responsibility to determine which airports are re-opened, but that of the Ministry of Health.
She said : “Recall that airports are re-opened in phases after the easing of the lockdown and restriction on flights. Lagos and Abuja have since re- opened for international flights. Though Enugu Airport, it is the duty of the Federal Ministry of Health to give approval for the re- opening of any airport for international flights.”
Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt International Airports are yet to resume international flights.
In a statement in Abuja, the lawmaker said opening the airport to direct flight has become expedient ahead of the Yuletide when Nigerians visit home from every part of the world, adding that multiple stopovers exposes people to more risk.
The PTF has however advised Nigerians in the Diaspora, who might be planning to celebrate the Christmas and New Year at home to shelve such plan for now.
PTF National Coordinator Dr. Sani Aliyu, travellers must be ready to observe all prescribed protocols as stipulated by the Boss Mustapha-led committee
The Enugu Airport, refurbished at the N10 billion was earlier scheduled to be reopened in April 2020.
Okechukwu’s call came on the heels of an announcement credited to the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Director-General Capt. Musa Nuhu of the imminent reopening of the Malam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano and Port Harcourt International Airport, to international flights.
The lawmaker, who represents Aninri/Awgu/Oji River Federal Constituency, said since Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika, had earlier assured that the Akanu Ibiam International Airport had been better equipped for international operations, it made no economic sense for the airport to remain closed from international operations after investing a whooping N10 billion in upgrading it.
Okechukwu said: “The Christmas and New Year season is the period our international airports are most socially and economically relevant to both Nigerians at home and in the diaspora.
“The opportunity costs of keeping these airports shut from international operations can be quite high, ranging from higher risk of contracting Covid-19 through multiple stopovers to the issues of more man-hours, security risks, and auto crashes associated with compelling more people than necessary to travel by road.”
He stressed that working with other relevant agencies – the PTF and NCAA – were in a position to take necessary steps to restore full international operations by such airports.
The lawmaker said: “There are no peculiar health risks peculiar that should warrant the continued restriction of any international air facility from full operations at this time.
“The PTF and Ministry of Aviation should therefore do all that is necessary to ensure that this is achieved so that Nigerians will not have to suffer unnecessarily. Enough provisions have also been made in the budget; and, in any case, they can always approach the parliament should they need more support, as we are always ready to assist.”