The resumption of airline operations in Nigeria shows that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has no plan for safety on the flight, as the FAAN's COVID-19 measures and preparation is only for ground operation. While the aviation authority ensured social distancing before passengers were allowed to board the plane, the same action wasn't taken on the plane.
Domestic flights had resumed operation on July 8, 2020, amidst fear and anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic. The resumption of flights began after four months of lockdown of Nigeria's aviation. The lockdown had been a part of the protective measures adopted by the government to prevent further spread of the virus which has killed 689 people in Nigeria.
The lockdown cost airline companies millions of naira, with about N20 billion said to be lost by Nigeria's aviation each month of the lockdown period. Now, it seems the airlines are risking the lives of passengers to recoup revenue as much as possible. While FAAN did the groundwork of the usual temperature check, sanitizer, and ensure adherence to face mask, airlines like Air Peace didn't observe the social distancing on its flight.
In its guidelines for the reopening of the aviation sector, FAAN had released its guidelines for flight operations, among its measures, social distancing on flights was neglected, and an image proved this when flights resumed, with Air Peace running its operation like it was before the coronavirus was detected in Nigeria.
Airlines were expected to leave the middle seat vacant like buses were compelled to leave spaces in between passengers since the outbreak of the coronavirus, but Air Peace passengers were made to seat to full capacity - three each in a row. The disclosure that Air Peace didn't keep to social distancing on their plane led to criticism of the company.
Many Nigerians wondered why FAAN will approve social distancing before boarding the plane only to allow passengers to sit without the same protective measure applied on the plane.
While the FAAN might have ensured passengers adhered to other measures such as sanitizers and face mask, there have been cases in Nigeria when passengers didn't show signs of COVID-19 symptoms before and during the flights, only to fall ill in Nigeria, and tested positive for COVID-19.
Recall that three out of the 256 Nigerians evacuated from Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), had landed in Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, on May 6, 2020, only to test positive for COVID-19 on May 17. This is despite the usual COVID-19 safety protocol. So the present FAAN guidelines are incomplete and put the lives of passengers at risk if the social distancing is not implemented on the plane.
As stated earlier, there have been talks about airlines leaving the middle seat empty to form distance between its passengers. To do this, airlines were expected to pass the cost to passengers. The airlines are careful of increasing flight costs, but if leaving the middle seat empty becomes necessary or forced on them, passengers will bear the cost.
This means flight costs will increase as the airlines are not ready to bear the cost. So its either to sit at full capacity or increase the flight cost by leaving the middle seat empty - meaning passengers either risk their lives for less expensive flight or be safe at a high cost.
While reacting to the image that circulated on Twitter, Air Peace stated that "Air Peace aircraft are all equipped with HEPA filters that help filter 99.9% of airborne germs and viruses. Our aircraft undergo regular deep cleaning and disinfection as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19."
A quick check by AllNews showed that the HEPA filters, also known as High-Efficiency Particulate Air filter, is used on planes to prevent mouth particles from moving around. HEPA filters even the smallest particles of germs and viruses, of which coronavirus is part of. Aside from HEPA, there are other filters like EPA (efficient particulate air filter) and ULPA (ultra-low penetration air filter).
EPA is the least effective with 85% – 99.95%, HEPA is the second most effective filter as it has a capacity of 99.95% – 99.999% work rate, while ULPA is the most effective filter as its effective above 99.999%.
But despite having such preventive measure and not leaving the middle seat empty, Air Peace still increased their flight cost. Some Nigerians complained of their flight cost after flight resumption, stating that there shouldn't be a hike in their charges for flight. Recall that AllNews had reported that flights in Nigeria might increase, but the projection was made for airlines that left their middle seat empty.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aero Contractors, Ado Sanusi, had stated that “If we have data that shows that if we block the centre seats, it will reduce the rate of transmission then we will do that and increase the flight costs because somebody must pay for the centre seats".