There were indications on Wednesday that some international airline operators may have been violating the ban on international commercial flights as Ethiopian Airlines indicated that it would fly the Lagos-London route on Friday.
The Federal Government had imposed a ban on both domestic and international flights in March as a measure to contend the spread of coronavirus pandemic.
Domestic flights, however, resumed on July 8 while the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, recently announced that international flights would resume from August 29.
However, ahead of the resumption from August 29, Ethiopian Airlines is scheduled to operate a commercial flight from Muritala Mohammed International Airport on Friday, August 21.
Checks by one of our correspondents showed that the airline would operate two commercial flights to London from Lagos on Friday.
As of the time of checking the website of the airline www.ethiopianairlines.com on Wednesday, one of the flights was said to have only seat left.
The first flight will leave Lagos Murtala Mohammed International Airport at 11.40 for London Heathrow Airport, with a stopover at Addis Ababa airport. The ET 553 Boeing 787-8 flight will leave Lagos and stopover at Ethiopia, switching to an ET 700 Airbus A350 flight for the remainder of the journey. Its cost was quoted as from N619, 561. The duration was put at 19hrs 20 mins.
The second flight is scheduled to leave Lagos Murtala Mohammed International Airport for London Heathrow Airport at 16:30 with a stopover at Addis Ababa airport. The ET 509 Boeing 787-8 flight will leave Lagos and stopover at Addis Ababa, switching to an ET 700 Airbus A350 flight for the remainder of the journey. The cost was put at from N390,269 with only one seat left. The duration of the flight is 14hrs 30 mins.
When asked why the airline was running the commercial flight before the reopening of the international flights, Ethiopian Airlines media consultant, Mr Ikechi Uko, said he was not aware of the status of the flights.
He said, “I do not know which website you saw. I do not have a clue. I do not know if they are doing evacuation flights to London.
“I know the Nigerian government hired them to do evacuation flights from America. Nigerian government uses Air Peace and other private airlines. This one, I have no clue.
He added, “The Nigerian government is the one doing evacuation flight and if it is a private company, they will advertise. If you saw one and it is not the government, maybe you find out from the company.
“What I know ET is doing is on behalf of the Nigerian government from America. I have no clue. I know Nigeria has not opened an airport.”
The airline also scheduled to fly from Lagos to London on both August 29 and 31, subject to approval by the Nigerian government.
When contacted, the Director, Public Affairs, Federal Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu, said no commercial flight had been cleared to lift passengers.
He insisted that commercial international flights would only resume operations on August 29 as earlier announced by Sirika.
Odaudu said, “I don’t have the details of that (Ethiopian Airlines) flight, but if it is on August 21, then it is likely to be an evacuation flight. Commercial flights on international routes are to begin August 29.
“All evacuation flights are to end on August 25, but before then there is no commercial flight that is cleared to carry out commercial international operations.”
Sunday PUNCH had on August 2 exclusively reported that some charter airlines had begun offering services to members of the public despite the ban on international flights by the Federal Government due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stakeholders, however, had stated that the special/evacuation flight plan of government had been abused.
The Secretary-General, Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative, and an aviation security consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (retd.), had stated that there was a need to define what the government meant by special flights.
Ojikutu said, “Evacuation needs to be done by government or an internationally recognised organisation such as the Red Cross, United Nations, who pay for the flight while moving people.”
He added, “But when an individual is now paying for his or her flight, I wonder what kind of evacuation that is because such individual is now a passenger of that airline he is paying to.”
Meanwhile, the Overseas Security Advisory Council in its August 11 Health Alert said that the U.S. Consulate General in Lagos scheduled two evacuation flights from Lagos to Washington, D.C., via Addis Ababa, on Ethiopian Airline flights.
It set August 13 and 21 as the departure date, discounting its announcement August 9 that all evacuation flights would end August.