Stories by Louis Ibah
Every year, millions of people drawn from various countries around the world travel to Mecca, Saudi Arabia for ‘The Hajj’, which is an annual Islamic pilgrimage and a mandatory religious duty for Muslims. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, alongside Shahadah, Salat, Zakat, and Sawm.
In fact, Wikepedia describes the Hajj as the largest annual gathering of people in the world and notes that it is one religious duty that must be carried out at least once in the lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can also support their family during their absence.
Pilgrims mostly travel to Hajj in groups. During the early 19th Century, numbers undertaking the traditional overland pilgrimage within caravans began to diminish as many pilgrims began arriving in Mecca by steamship. This continued for many years, until air travel came to predominate.
It was the North African country of Egypt that introduced the first airline service for Hajj pilgrims in 1937. And that trend has been sustained thereafter as the majority of pilgrims now opt to travel by air, including thousands of Nigerians. The exact date of the beginning of Hajj depends on the lunar calendar and this year’s Hajj started on September 9 and ended on September 14. .
Do’s and don’ts for pilgrims
Airlines insist that all Hajj passengers should have a passport valid for a minimum of six months from date of departure with a valid Hajj visa attached within the passport.
Some airlines demand for vaccination booklet showing vaccination against Meningitis.
Booklet must be stamped and signed by authorized doctor or Port health authorities.
King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz Airport in Medina have dedicated pilgrim terminals to assist the arrival of pilgrims.
Because most Hajj operations involves group movements, airlines also demand the highest form of sanitary discipline amongst pilgrims as well as strict adherence to all security and safety instructions while on board the aircraft. Airlines expect pilgrims to also travel without illegal drugs and not to be engaged in any act of drug trafficking.
Airlines, therefore, liaise with airport security to ensure that no pilgrim boards a flight with any hard drug, illicit drinks or banned substance, (even traveling with kola nuts) into Saudi Kingdom can be considered as an offence. The use or trading on narcotic drugs in Saudi Arabia is a criminal office that can attract the death penalty and airlines take extra steps to avoid such passengers on their flights. In fact, some hajj operating airlines do not serve or permit passengers to carry or drink alcoholic beverages on its flights.
Daily Sun learnt that a typical Hajj operation could cost (on the minimum) between $4,276 to $4,326 when other factors like accommodation and feeding are taken into account.
But of this figure, pilgrims would spend about $1,700 to $1,800 on airfares between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Nigerian pilgrims usually enjoy the privilege of getting foreign exchange at the official rate of $1.00 – N197.00.
Prior to securing a visa and paying for an airfare to head for the annual pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, it is important to state that in Nigeria, Hajj operations are handled or coordinated by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). Intending pilgrims, therefore have to register and meet all the requisite conditions stipulated by NAHCON.
To ease pilgrims travel and stay in Saudi Arabia during the Hajj, NAHCON has licenced about 159 registered companies to operate Hajj services. Therefore, intending pilgrims are cautioned not to patronize any company that is not on this list which has been published at the NAHCON website.
Pilgrims should ensure that their payment is duly receipted and details of services to be provided are made known to them. Pilgrims are strictly advised against accepting half-packaged visas. NAHCON also advised those wishing to plan for Hajj pilgrimage to start processing for it at least one month before their proposed departure.
Approved Nigerian airlines
In Nigeria, all the aircraft deployed for Hajj must have the capacity to carry a minimum of 450 passengers or a minimum of 300 passengers. Such an aircraft must also meet the safety and regulatory requirements of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Saudi Arabian General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA). Some of the airlines that are approved to do hajj operations in Nigeria include: Max Air; Medview Airlines; Kabo Air; FLYNAS; Skypower Express Airways; Dornier Aviation; Top Brass; and Hak Air.
Recently, Managing Director and Chief Executive of Med-View, Alhaji Muneer Bankole disclosed that the airline had airlifted over 300,000 pilgrims since it started Hajj operations 10 years ago, while attributing the airline’s successes in the past decade to sincerity, honesty and commitment to the job.
Stakeholders demand transparency in aviation policies
Some stakeholders in Nigeria’s aviation sector have demanded that the Federal Government show transparency, openness, honesty and clarity of objectives and direction in the formulation and implementation of aviation policies for the country.
They also demanded that the government should implement the law that exempts commercial transport operators and domestic airlines from paying Value Added Tax (VAT) as a way of reducing their operating costs.
The following, formed part of the communique issued by stakeholders who met at the inaugural edition of the Aviation Transaction Integrity Summit organized by Aviation Monitor Limited held in Ikeja, Lagos recently.
Other resolutions reached by the stakeholders at the end of the deliberations included the need for all investors and regulators in Nigeria’s aviation industry to exhibit integrity in their daily transactions.
The stakeholders also demanded that “undue political interference in the operation of aviation agencies violates transaction integrity and therefore, has to stop, while good corporate governance should be instituted to enable the sector grow.”
“There should be stakeholders’ engagement before introduction of any policy in Nigeria’s aviation industry while security agencies in Nigeria’s airports should exhibit integrity in execution of their duties,” part of the communique read.
“The Nigeria Immigration Service should do more public enlightenment on the Nigeria Immigration Act 2015 for proper understanding of the rights of international air travellers.
“Airlines should be faithful in the remittance of revenues to government agencies as required by law, while government should be faithful in providing required infrastructure and the enabling environment for operations in the sector and the government should display more sincerity in the development of the transport sector by producing a comprehensive transport policy for the country,” the communique added.
NAMA saves N1.5bn on TRACON maintenance
The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency NAMA) has saved N1.5 billion on the maintenance of the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) by indigenous technical personnel.
The acting Managing Director of the agency, Mr. Emmanuel Anasi disclosed this in Lagos while playing host to members of the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation led by its Chairman, Ms. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha.
He explained that the money was saved following the disengagement of the foreign maintenance personnel from Thales of France, manufacturers of the TRACON equipment and replacing them (foreign maintenance personnel) with indigenous engineers.
He revealed that NAMA was paying N1.7 billion to Thales of France to maintain the facility adding that the company left two years earlier after training Nigerian personnel on the maintenance of the facility.
Anasi who commended the local engineers however said NAMA needed more funds to enable it upgrade the TRACON system to meet the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standard as well as migrate to new technology to harmonize its activities.
He said nothing was wrong with the TRACON but explained that some of the systems were not included when the radar was installed because of the technology available at the time of conceptualization and installation.
“We are doing well; I am not saying that we have gotten there but we keep on improving. The radar is working; the contract for its maintenance by its manufacturers expired two years ago but our engineers have kept it working. But we need assistance because some of the systems need upgrades.
“We say upgrades and not an extension of the maintenance contract. Upgrade because we have to deploy ICAO standard technology so our system will be compatible with other systems.
“As the radar stands, it cannot work with the Aeronautical Information System (AIS); we need to upgrade the radar to work with the AIS and other third-party technologies. It needs to meet the current technology,” said Anasi.
Air Peace compensates passengers with free tickets
Air Peace has approved the issuance of hundreds of free tickets to passengers who flew on two of its Abuja-Lagos aircraft over the weekend.
The free tickets to 196 passengers, the airline said, were to compensate them for the delayed take-off of their flights.
Vice Chairman of Air Peace, Mrs. Alice Onyema, who was on one of the affected flights, made the announcement on that particular flight to the surprised passengers. The flights, the airline said, were delayed due to unfavourable weather conditions and VIP landings. Air Peace assured that its customers were at the core of its operations and would do everything within its powers to satisfy them. The passengers, who have already been communicated with the airline’s decision have called the airline to express the surprise as well as gratitude for its benevolence and interest in satisfying its customers.
Air Peace also recently issued hundreds of free tickets to its loyal customers under its Peace Advantage programme. “The Peace Advantage package,” Air Peace added, “is our way of giving customers a well-deserved appreciation for their decision to fly with us always. With a Peace Advantage card, the traveller gets additional travel time on any destination they wish each time they travel with us.”