The Federal Government has granted Air France-KLM one-week approval to operate ‘essential flights’ in order to evacuate French nationals from Nigeria to Paris.
In a letter dated March 24, 2020, which emanated from the office of the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, with reference no: FMA/ATMD/501/C.17/T2/562 and addressed to the Micheal Colleau, the General Manager of Air France KLM in Nigeria and Ghana, the government said it has given approval to operate essential flights on Thursday, March 26 to Thursday, April 2, 2020.
The letter read: “I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated March 23, 2020 on the above subject and to convey the honourable minister’s approval for your airline to operate essential flights from Lagos to Paris with flight number AF0986 originating from Cotonou.
“I am further directed to inform you to undertake the operation strictly based on the protocol guiding the kind of operation under COVID 19 as issued by the Nigerian Aeronautical Authorities, most especially, the All Operators Letter issued by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) with ref: NCAA/DG/AIR/11/16/108 dated March 23, 2020.”
The letter was signed by M S Naibi, the Director, Air Transport Management on behalf of the minister.
Daily Sun gathered that the Air France flight landed at the MMIA by 2 pm and evacuated an undisclosed number of French nationals. The MMIA manager, Mrs. Victoria Shinaba confirmed that the Federal Government gave the approval for the flight to land and that precautions were taken to limit contacts as the pilot and crew were not allowed to disembark and the nationals were escorted to the plane.
But Sirika, however, denied reports that British Airways has been given a similar approval to land in Nigeria to evacuate British citizens. Making the denial on his official Twitter handle, he said: “Henceforth only essential cargoes such as medicines, medical equipment, food, security, humanitarian supplies and related items will be allowed. Rumours such as British Airways flight landing in Lagos after the ban should be disregarded, it is false. This is a patriotic moment. All requests for flight clearance should state the aircraft type, tail number, name of operator, contact telephone, airport of departure/arrival, name of captain, crew nationality, souls on board, mission, date ,time of departure, arrival and any information considered necessary.”
The Federal Government had last week announced that from Monday, March 23, all the nation’s airports would be shut to incoming international flights.
A statement from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said all incoming international flights with the exception of emergency and essential flights would be prohibited from landing at all the airports.
A letter emanating from the office of the Director-General of the NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu and addressed to all operators with Ref: NCAA/DG/AIR/11/16/106 dated March 21, 2020 titled “Update on clarification on flight restriction into Nigeria due to covid-19 pandemic to accountable manager/country manager”, read: “Further to our earlier letter on restriction of international flights into Nigeria, we wish to inform you that effective Monday 23rd March at 2300Z to 23rd April at 2300Z, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos (DNMM) and Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport Abuja (DNAA) will be closed to all International flights.
“Emergency and essential flights are exempted from this restriction. This is in addition to the closure of Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano (DNKN), Akanu lbiam International Airport, Enugu (DNEN) and Port-Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa (DNPO) effective Saturday 21st March at 2300Z. Henceforth, all airports in Nigeria are closed to all incoming international flights with the exception of emergency and essential flights.”