On its website, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines announced it would be resuming flights to Nigeria. The airline will fly from Amsterdam to Nigeria starting in December. Nigeria suspended all international flights in March and has slowly been allowing airlines back into its airspace. Nigeria previously banned KLM and seven other major airlines from resuming operations.
In September, the Nigerian Government announced several retaliatory bans against eight airlines. The bans prevented Air France, KLM Royal Dutch, Lufthansa, Royal Air Maroc, Air Namibia, Etihad Airways, and TAAG Angola from operating flights into Nigeria. Additionally, nationals from each airline’s home nation could not travel into Nigeria using another airline.
The ban came in response to several Nigerian nationals traveling on tourist visas being denied entry into other countries amid the ongoing pandemic. Nigeria made it very clear that its airspace would only be open to those who would reciprocate the agreement.
However, the ban seems to have been lifted for KLM as it announced flights would resume in December. Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika confirmed the news with a tweet stating that Air France and Lufthansa have also been given the go-ahead to resume flights to Nigeria. The Nigerian government also approved Qatar Airways for flights to Abuja.
As well as granting permission to Air France, KLM and Lufthansa, Nigeria is working hard to open other airports in the country and strengthen its international operations. The government shut down all airports in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19, except for humanitarian aid and repatriation flights. In July, the country opened up all airports for domestic routes but only opened Lagos and Abuja airports for international operations.
Now, Nigeria is looking to reopen its other airports, including Kano, Port Harcourt, and Enugu, for international routes. In a briefing at the end of last week, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority director, Musa Nuhu, said that opening other airports is now crucial to help decongest Lagos and Abuja airports.
However, a lack of staff members and several infrastructure issues prevent the airports from reopening immediately. Nigeria’s Coalition Against COVID-19 is working with the aviation authorities to fix issues and provide manpower. Because of the ongoing problems, there is no set date for when the airports will reopen.
Part of the issues stem from the ground handling operations in Nigeria. According to local media, two major companies in Nigeria, Skyway Aviation Handling Company Plc (SAHCO) and the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCO), have suffered since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the closure of airports.
Both ground handling companies have let people go since the start of the pandemic in attempts to minimize losses. With new, stricter checks and fewer staff on the ground, turnaround times will take longer. Getting an airport up and running again is more complicated than just restarting operations. With social distancing, new testing facilities, restrictions, and staff layoffs, Nigeria, like other countries, has an uphill battle to get all its airports ready for international visitors.
By Emily Derrick