Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said on Monday that international flights will be open when it is safe to do so.
This comes as he lifts the suspension of ExecuJet airline for false information and for 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 will pay the balance, saying the suspension was not punitive but corrective.
Speaking on international flight resumption, the Minister said: ‘Well, we have received a 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 states security services, Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Nigeria Airspace Management Agency, the Ground Handlers Association, the Freight Forwarders 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 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, therefore, the 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 a ban that is ongoing 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, it 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.”
Sirika said the stakeholders will also meet and discuss and analyse and review the protocols for the resumption of international flights and then we will announce and then it will be opened.
‘This is the same similar way that we want to open domestic flights, for example.’
He said: ‘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 per cent of the airports are open.
‘So, therefore, international airport travel would be open and it will be soon.’
Sirika also denied allegations that under the guise of evacuation people are being smuggled in.
He said I’m sure minister of foreign affairs will respond to that most efficiently. You cannot deny your citizen from coming back if he wants to come back and he has a means of coming back, he will come back.
‘But when he comes back, he will now, of course, respect the protocols that are put in place.
‘So, please be fair to us. We really honestly want to serve, we are actually serving in the best way that we think we should serve and we believe that we are doing the right thing.
‘But we, of course, we would listen always land we will tweak where we think that things are not going the way that they should go.’