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How Safety Guidelines Changed Airline Operations

-By Adeniyi Onifade

The novel Coronavirus pandemic has changed virtually all operations in every sector of the economy. From MSMEs, banking, media, and even governance.

Interestingly, the aviation sector is not excluded as the new measures introduced by the federal government has now altered virtually all dynamics of air operations.

Consequently, it has altered the procedure for passenger facilitation, ease of access, boarding rules, customer experience and more.

The visible safety guidelines which has made air operations a bit different and new to passengers.

It has been predicted by experts that the coronavirus spreads faster due to the air-tight nature of aeroplanes, as such, the Nigerian government moved to avert another rapid spread by introducing some measures to ensure safety.

As air travel resumed, passengers discovered that the airport terminals have been reconfigured. It is no longer going to be free access or crowd friendly.

Right from some of the car parks are new markings to demarcate and enforce physical distancing and passenger separation.

For a start, the Federal Government had since restricted flight operations to only five airports – Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Enugu and Kano – for full effect. The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), also hinted that only the travelling public would be allowed access into the terminal area. In fact, seats at the departure lounge of the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos, have been streamlined to about 500 to avoid crowding.

It means the terminals will no longer have VIP escorts, welcome parties of friends and family, trolley boys, harassing cab operators and even fake travel agencies.

Although work has not been completed at all the airports, fillers suggested that the ambience will not be the same again. It is to allow dozens of specially trained health officials to conduct multiple screening and testing of both departing and arriving passengers.

Similarly, Air Peace airline has scrapped meal services on board to reduce crew to passenger contacts. More local carriers are expected to follow.

Unlike in the past when departing passengers on local flights were mandated to arrive at least an hour before departure time, the new rule is now three hours.
International passengers, when their operations resume much later, will have to be at the airport five hours before departure.

Early arrivals are to ensure that all protocols, including safety markings, social distancing, hand sanitising, baggage decontamination, scanning of personal items and others are fully complied with. And should any of the processes, protocols or equipment go wrong, as they always do, then more time and attendant delays could be expected without entertaining much complaint from the passengers.

The same physical distancing rule will apply to aircraft too. According to FAAN, no two airlines will depart at the same time. Perhaps, the local airlines will now see the wisdom in code-sharing and interlining partnership arrangement.

The FAAN Managing Director, Capt. Rabiu Yadudu said the rationale behind the flight spacing was not to disrupt any of the airline’s schedules, but to ensure total safety of passengers, airline staff and others within the airport environment.
It implies that airlines would have to follow a strict schedule, which sounded utopian even when operations were normal.

Accordingly, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika who affirmed that all passengers must comply strictly with the directive on wearing face masks before entering the airport terminals, while the aviation authorities will provide alcohol-based hand sanitisers.

Similarly, the Chairman of Air Peace Allen Onyema, said they have devised a new boarding system which will not only minimise contacts inside the aircraft, but help maintain the health guidelines instituted by the health authorities.

“The Business Class will board last because you don’t want them to be seated and people are passing through them to go to economy. Remember, we are going to give passengers face masks and we will provide face shields. With all this, you cannot get COVID-19,” he said.

As it stands, some airlines have started jacking up prices of their tickets and passengers may brace up for a new regime in ticket fares. Besides, FAAN has raised Passenger Service Charge (PSC) by 100 per cent. FAAN in a memo, notified airlines that effective August 1, 2020, PSC rate will increase from N1,000 to N2,000 for domestic flight passengers and from the former $50 to $100 for international travellers.

Consequently, the Chief Operating Officer of one of the local carriers had confessed that times were indeed different, with fresh safety hurdles for operators to comply with. He said: “It is surely going to be a tough call for all. First, we are just resuming after three months, yet the coronavirus is still out there.

“The traffic is going to come back gradually, but you also don’t want to scare them with high costs. Yet, we have to sustain our operations. I don’t know exactly what the percentage will be, but I’m sure we all will have to share the burden,” he added.

Following the need to maintain social distancing, while using the train service, the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, recently said passengers on Abuja-Kaduna railway might have to pay double the transport fare.

Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, passengers paid N1300 for the economy cabin and N2500 for the executive coach. However, passengers may have to pay N2600 and N5000 respectively by the time train services resume.

Amaechi, who disclosed this while inspecting the Itakpe-Warri railway corridor, said: “In fact, this is more like a test run. I told them I want only 30 persons and I’m sure we are more than that. So imagine what happens when you have to deal with passengers. This test run will make us go back to the drawing board. The first thing we will put in place, when we get approval, is that the cost of transportation from Abuja to Kaduna will double, because each coach takes 88 passengers, but we will reduce it to 40 and the price will increase. We will need to talk to the President before we move on.”