By Olatunji Saliu
Activities were resumed at the international wing of Nigeria’s ever-busy capital airport Monday, as the country recorded its first batch of scheduled flight operations at the facility after about six months of shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An aircraft operated by Ethiopian Airlines, carrying 120 passengers and 13 crew members, landed at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport in Abuja at exactly 1:32 p.m. local time (1232 GMT), according to local officials.
It was the first aircraft to land at the airport since March 23 when airports in the country were shut down as part of the measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
According to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), British Airways, Emirates, ASKY Airlines, and Air Cote d’Ivoire were also scheduled to fly into the Abuja airport on Monday.
Local aviation industry experts and officials have described the resumption of international flights as a huge breakthrough in the aviation industry in the most populous African country.
“The international flight that just arrived is a life-saver to all of us in the aviation industry,” said Rabiu Yadudu, head of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria.
Domestic flight operations have been resumed in the country since July 8. “The first flight that did come into domestic wings gave us a lot of confidence that we were coming back,” said Yadudu. “Now the international flight. I believe every stakeholder in the aviation sector is happy.”
Ahead of the resumption of international flights, the Nigerian government on Saturday barred eight foreign airlines from entering the West African nation, namely Air France, KLM Royal Dutch, Lufthansa, Etihad Airways, RwandAir, Air Namibia, Royal Air Maroc and TAAG Angola.
Some of them were denied permission to enter because Nigerians with tourist visas have been banned from entering those countries.
Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika said the country will not allow nationals and airlines of countries that barred Nigerians to enter their territories amid the pandemic.
On Aug. 27, the Nigerian government announced a one-week postponement of the planned resumption of international flights from Aug. 29 to Sept. 5, saying the move was meant to make adequate preparation in line with the COVID-19 protocols.
Musa Nuhu, director-general for the NCAA, had told the media here that the forms for COVID-19 tests and all other preparations to forestall the spread of the virus had to be fully put in place before international flights could resume.
The country’s ministry of aviation said in a statement that about 1,280 passengers would be allowed into Abuja and Lagos airports on a daily basis.