TWENTY-FOUR hours after Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport Abuja re-opened for domestic operations three months after it was shut due to COVID-19 pandemic, business activities are yet to pick up.
When The ICIR visited the airport on Thursday, there were few passengers at the ticketing and checking lounge of the airport.
Domestic flight operations were suspended in the country late March as cases of COVID-19 were growing after the index case was recorded on February 27.
At about 9 am when this reporter arrived at the airport, it was observed that life was yet to return to the ever-bubbling airport, as it witnessed low passengers’ patronage.
Compliance with COVID-19 guidelines
Hours passed, then passengers started arriving, each subjected to strict observance of COVID-19 guidelines.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had issued guidelines for the re-opening of airports to be observed by passengers, airport staff and security operatives.
Almost everyone at the airport was wearing face masks with security men prompting those who wore their own on the chin to wear it properly to cover their mouth and nose, while those without it were sent back at the terminal.
Hand sanitisers, water and soap were placed at strategic locations at the airport while security agents ensured that passengers wash hands before entering into the terminal.
Passengers’ luggage was also decontaminated at the entrance with people maintaining social distancing both inside and outside the terminals.
The ICIR observed that sniffer dogs were also deployed to screen bags for contrabands and explosives ahead of the bags’ disinfection protocol.
Two environmental health officers were seeing at the entrance of the airport screening people’s temperature with thermometers.
Although not many passengers arrived at check-in two hours before departure time, those who accompanied their relatives and friends to the airport were disallowed from entering the terminal building.
Airline and business operators complain of low patronage
For operators of different businesses at the airport, patronage has not been so encouraging since Wednesday when the airport re-opened. Airline operators and shop owners at the airport also lament of low patronage.
One of the shop owners inside the airport, a middle-aged man, who simply identified himself as Mallam Garuba said he has not recorded any sale for the day.
Garuba sells phone accessories in one of the shops located within the airport. While he was yet to record patronage for the day, he was optimistic things would get better in the coming days.
“I am yet to sell a single thing today but I believe the market will start moving in the coming days,” Garuba said.
At the time of filing this report only five airlines were operating at the airport― Air peace, Dana air, Arik, Aero Contractor, and Ibom Air with their ticket fees ranging from N32,500 to N33,000 for economy class and N66,000 to N70,000 for business class. Previously, economy -class flight tickets cost between N21,000 and N30,000.
One of the Aero Contractor ticketers anonymously told The ICIR that the only airline’s flight scheduled for the day would be moving to Lagos by 2:15 pm, even as just a few people had purchased the ticket from her hand.
“Our flight would be departing for Lagos by 2:15 pm and from my end here, I just sold out close to 30 tickets.”
Another airline worker, who works with the Air Peace but would not want his name mentioned, said the flight that departed for Lagos in the morning had only 74 passengers on board.
While the airline workers were complaining of low patronage, the passengers were glad that the airport had commenced operations.
One of the passengers scheduled to travel to Lagos on Dana Air, Mariam Subair said she was happy to witness the flight resumption, adding that she had been anticipating the reopening of the airport for a while.
“I have been here for over two hours, though my flight is scheduled for 1 pm, that is to let you know how excited I am to fly to Lagos,” she said.
Samson Adelowo, another passenger boarding Arik Air was happy about the atmosphere at the airport, noting that everything was in order.
“I like how everything is in order. No crowd, and social distancing is being strictly observed,” Adelowo said.
Taxi drivers’ endless wait for passengers
Outside the airport were the taxi riders who were just sitting under a shed as a result of no patronage. Most of those who spoke to The ICIR disclosed how it has been difficult for them to make ends meet since the closure of the airport.
John Odeh, one of the airport taxi drivers who recounted the hardship he had faced since the airport closure said he was forced to go into farming in the neighboring Nasarawa state.
“Our business was greatly affected during the pandemic and I had to just park my car at home while I moved to Nasarawa to start farming.
I resumed back here yesterday upon reopening of the airport but we are being faced by low patronage again,” Odeh narrated.
Another taxi man who gave his name as Ibrahim Abdul said he has not been able to pick any passenger since Wednesday when the airport reopened.
Low turnout of passengers, he noted poses a serious threat to their business.
“I came here yesterday, no passenger and today again, I am yet to carry any passenger, though I think business should start moving from next week when more passengers are more likely to come to the airport,” Ibrahim said.
Airport official reacts
Idris Abu, an official of the airport who spoke with The ICIR noted that the airport authority has put in place several protocols to ensure the safety of everyone who comes into the airport.
“We have put in place several measures to ensure people who come into the airport, either as a worker in the airport, passenger or anyone who accompanies passenger down here are well protected,” he said
He also noted that although the airport is currently being faced by low patronage but would come back to life soon.
“The airport just reopened yesterday and that’s why everywhere is dry like this but I can assure you that this place would soon start recording a large turnout of passengers in the coming days,” Abu said