The Minister of Aviation, Mr Hadi Sirika, said Monday that the federal government would open international flights only when it is safe to do so.
The minister said this at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on Control of COVID-19 in Abuja.
He said the federal government has lifted the suspension of ExecuJet airline for given false information and flying Naira Marley to Abuja for a concert on June 12.
He said the ban was lifted after the airline paid half of its fine and submitted a payment plan on how it would pay the balance.
“We have received tremendous amount of emails and WhatsApp messages and phone calls and so on and so forth, that we should open up international flights.
“And of course we’ve taken it for granted that people understood that is not a function of aviation alone, otherwise, there would not have been a task force.
“So this is a function of a lot of MDAs, function of government but National Air Transport Facilitation Committee has been established which comprises of the following membership:
Ministry of Aviation, Foreign Affairs, health, culture and tourism, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Nigeria Customs, Nigeria Immigration, Nigerian Police, Nigeria Agriculture Quarantine Service, Ministry of Interior, the State Security Service, Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Nigeria Airspace Management Agency, the Ground Handlers Association, the Freight Fowarders Association, the Air Operators Certificate representatives, airline operators of Nigeria representatives, Nigeria civilization security committee, and the airport security committee.
“They will be having a meeting tomorrow to further discuss the protocols as to open the airports. Certainly, Aviation is the worst-hit in this, there must be passenger movements, especially international passenger for us to be able to survive.
“We’ve said here on this platform, the salaries are becoming difficult and difficult for us to pay. So, we want to open more than you want us to open. We’re daily living with it, when are we going to open? But this is subject to so many factors and all of this, all of the sacrifices that aviation is making is in the interest of the public, in the interest of all of us to stay safe.
“So, government will not abdicate its responsibility of ensuring that will all stay safe. We definitely will open. I hear a lot of arguments and that a lot of countries have opened. The last time I checked, most of the European countries, if not all, there is ban that is on going anyway, so also in the popular UAE and in America.
“But definitely we will open, there is also the Self Continental Committee of West Africa, which we’ve been discussing since it is an economic union, but we will open, we’ll open very soon when everything seems to be okay and safe and like I said is a function of a lot of MDAs, is not only an aviation function, if it’s us we would have opened like yesterday because when we open it means we will make more money, we will be able to carry on activities, we’ll pay our salaries and provide the service.
“So the purpose of us heading this is to most respectfully, I must say, it’s to be able to judge and find out what is safe for our citizens, for our country, so please bear with the situation, we feel your pain, we understand it as much as you do.
“We know that some people are cut away from their families and are cut away from their businesses but this is an act of God. This is first my job.
“So, please we are aware of the situation. We are very responsible people. We will open when it is the right time to open and I’m sure it will be sooner than later,” he said.
He said the stakeholders would also meet and discuss and analyse and review the protocols for resumption of international flights.
“This is same similar way that we want to open the domestic flights, for example. Having opened the domestic flights, we found out that some of the airports, a few of the airports weren’t ready and we didn’t open them, but now gladly majority of them, over 80 percent of the airports are open. International airport travel would be open and it will be soon,” he said.