Chinelo Obogo, Lagos
Domestic carriers Air Peace is set to leave for China on Monday, May 18th, to evacuate Nigerians willing to leave the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A source in the airline confirmed that the flight would take off on Monday and may return early Tuesday morning, making it the first domestic carrier to be deployed in the evacuation of Nigerians since the beginning of the global pandemic.
The Federal Government last week designated Air Peace for evacuation flight on Thursday, May 14th, to evacuate Nigerians stranded in Canada with the flight plan to airlift passengers from Toronto and Cagliari to the country. However, Canadian authorities refused to issue the airline a landing permit, causing the entire operation to be postponed.
An informed source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs disclosed that the Canada High Commission had already opened talks with Ethiopian Airlines, which has been airlifting Canadian citizens from different parts of Africa to Canada, thus denying a Nigerian carrier the opportunity to airlift its own citizens.
The Federal Government through the Ministry of Aviation and Foreign Affairs has insisted that all evacuation flights must be conducted by Nigerian carriers. A document sourced from the Canada High Commission directed that passengers should pay $2,500 to Ethiopian Airlines, while Air Peace charged $1,134, with 319 passengers who have already made payment the domestic carrier.
The directive from the Canada High Commission asked the would-be passengers to pay for Flight ET3900 from Lagos to Addis-Ababa that would depart from Lagos by 1:00 pm Nigerian time on May 18th. The directive asked the passengers to use the booking code ‘LOSYYZ’ valid only for May 15th.
Aviation experts like Dr Gbenga Olowo, President of Aviation Round Table (ART), commended the Minister of Aviation, Captain Hadi Sirika, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama for insisting that a Nigerian carrier should be allowed to airlift Nigerian evacuees.
Dr Olowo said that a foreign carrier should not be allowed to evacuate Nigerians when there are Nigerian carriers that are capable of doing so.
‘The ART strongly supports the FG for maintaining its position that a Nigerian carrier should evacuate Nigerians from Canada and any other country. This is not a commercial flight; this is an emergency flight operated under a force majure situation. This does not require commercial agreement or Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA). But what they want to do is to intimidate Air Peace and deny Nigeria the opportunity of its own airline to evacuate Nigerian citizens. The Nigerian carrier is using a very good aircraft, a Boeing 777 ER (extended range), which is very good for the operation,’ he said.