Emirates Airlines will resume flights to Nigeria from June 23, five months after it banned outbound flights from Abuja and Lagos. This followed the withdrawal of the Rapid Antigen Test the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had insisted passengers from Nigeria travelling to Dubai must take four hours before boarding their flights.
In another development, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) confirmed it had fixed the airfield light at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, Runway 18R, to enable flights land in the night. Regional Terminal Manager in charge of MMIA, Mrs. Victoria Shin-Aba, stated this on Saturday in an interview with THISDAY.
The UAE antigen test requirement was against Nigeria’s policy that passengers travelling out of the country should conduct Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test 72 hours before their flight.
But on Saturday, UAE issued a statement conceding that Nigerian passengers that wished to travel to Dubai “must have received a negative test result for PCR test taken within 48 hours before departure.”
The statement posted on Instagram by the Dubai media office also said passengers travelling from Nigeria should present a negative PCR test certificate with a QR Code from labs approved by the Nigerian government. It stated that all passengers must undergo a PCR test on arrival in Dubai, adding, “Transit passengers should comply with entry protocol of final destination.”
The media office said the new regulation was part of measures aimed at easing inbound travel restrictions by Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management. The committee introduced new entry protocols for passengers effective June 23.
Besides the new condition for Nigerian travellers, UAE has new regulations for passengers travelling from South Africa and India to Dubai.
For South Africa, the new rules stipulate that passengers should have received two doses of a vaccine approved by UAE authorities.
“Passengers must present a negative test result for a PCR test taken within 48 hours before departure; UAE citizens are exempted. All passengers must undergo a PCR test on arrival at Dubai airport. Transit passengers should comply with entry protocols of final destination,” the statement said.
For travellers from India, UAE said passengers should have received two doses of a vaccine approved by UAE authorities and passengers must have received a negative test result for PCR test taken within 48 hours before departure, in addition to the other conditions given to Nigeria and South Africa.
Confirming the withdrawal of the antigen test, Emirates Airlines issued a statement signed by its management, which said, “Emirates welcomes the latest protocols and measures announced by Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management to allow the safe resumption of passenger travel from South Africa, Nigeria and India to Dubai. We look forward to facilitating travel from these countries and supporting various travellers’ categories.
“We will resume carrying passengers from South Africa, Nigeria and India in accordance with these protocols from 23rd June. We thank the Supreme Committee for their continuous efforts in monitoring the development of the situation and announcing the appropriate guidelines and protocols to protect the community and safeguard travel sector.”
Reacting to the new development, President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Mrs. Susan Akporiaye, said UAE had done what the Nigerian government wanted. Akporiaye said the new development had shown that no country could rubbish Nigeria if it insisted on a position popular with its citizens.
The NANTA president said there would be a price to pay if a country stood its ground, regretting that Nigeria had often tended to shy away from the reality of that price.
Akporiaye stated, “Some of the prices include the fact that many Nigerian students studying overseas that were due to travel back found it very difficult doing so without Emirates flights from Nigeria. We travel agents also paid a huge price because if Emirates flights were operating, we would have made money; we wouldn’t have been at the state we are now financially.
“We give kudos to the federal government and travel agencies. We will now wait for the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to lift the ban on Emirates.”
UAE had made the Rapid Antigen Test compulsory for Emirates Airlines, which was to start administering the test on Nigerian passengers from February 4, 2021.
In response, the federal government temporarily banned the Middle East carrier, insisting passengers travelling out of Nigeria are only required to have PCR test 72 hours before their flight. The government said it did not have the facilities for the antigen test demanded by Emirates.
Following Nigeria’s insistence, Emirates banned its outbound flights from Nigeria and later its in-bound flights, which it had operated for several weeks after the ban on outbound flights.
Meanwhile, for over one week the centre lights at the MMIA runway were unserviceable, prompting the agency to issue Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) and provide bar stopper light at each end of the runways to guide pilots to land after dusk.
Shin-Aba told THISDAY that the airfield lighting on the runway had been fixed and all airlines could now land their planes at the airport.
However, insider sources at FAAN told THISDAY that a temporary measure was put in place to enable flights land, as the second runway, known as Runway 18L (domestic runway), had no airfield lighting for years since its rehabilitation in 2008.
The status of the runway lighting before it was fixed on Saturday might have prompted British Airways to divert its Lagos flight to Abuja on Friday, but other airlines landed their flights at the airport in Lagos.
The FAAN regional manager stated, “The runway lights had been bad since over a week, but FAAN issued NOTAM to notify airlines and pilots globally, so any airline coming to Nigeria knew the problem with the runway.
“But FAAN installed bar stopper light at the two ends of the runway to guide pilots that wish to land at the runway in the night. This is a big challenge for us because it is not about getting the airport certified; it is about sustaining the standard achieved to earn the certification.
“I don’t know why BA diverted its flight to Abuja, but the airline was aware of the status of the airport even before it left London to Lagos.”
Chinedu Eze and Michael Olugbode