A chartered Air France Flight AF0986 Thursday evacuated 260 European citizens from Nigeria and additional 118 European citizens from other West African countries through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA).
The British High Commission is also exploring options for sending its staff, dependents and other Britons to the UK. The Air France flight landed in Lagos via Cotonou with 118 passengers on board at 3 p.m. local time. It was gathered that 260 passengers boarded the flight from Lagos and the aircraft took off to Paris about 3.44 pm local time. Investigation revealed that the landing of the aircraft was delayed for two hours over what NCAA called “load sheet balancing.”
The aircraft was a Boeing 777-328 (ER) with registration number F-GZNP. The federal government granted Air France – KLM one-week permission to evacuate European citizens from Nigeria. However, the airlines are also mopping up European citizens from the West Coast because of the projection that COVID-19 spread in Africa might spike in the coming days.
In a letter dated March 24, 2020, which emanated from the office of the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, with reference no: FMA/ATMD/501/C.17/T2/562 and addressed to the General Manager of Air France- KLM in Nigeria and Ghana, Mr. Micheal Colleau, the federal government said it had approved for the airline to operate essential flights from March 26 to April 2.
The letter read: “I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated March 23, 2020 on the above subject and to convey the Honourable Minister’s approval for your airline to operate essential flights from Lagos to Paris with flight number AF0986 originating from Cotonou (COO 0745 LOS 0820, LOS -0950 CDG 1615).
“I am further directed to inform you to undertake the operation strictly based on the protocol guiding the kind of operation under COVID-19 as issued by the Nigerian Aeronautical Authorities, most especially, the All Operators Letter issued by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) with ref: NCAA/DG/AIR/11/16/108 dated March 23, 2020.”
The letter was signed by the Director, Air Transport Management, MS Naibi, on behalf of the minister. The General Manager, MMIA, Mrs. Victoria Shinaba, confirmed to THISDAY that the federal government approved the flight to land, adding that precautions were taken to limit contacts as the pilot and crew were not allowed to disembark and the nationals were escorted to the plane. Sirika has, however, denied reports that British Airways has been given a similar approval to land in Nigeria to evacuate British citizens.
Making the denial on his official Twitter handle, he said: “Henceforth only essential cargoes such as medicines, medical equipment, food, security, humanitarian supplies and related items will be allowed. Rumours such as British Airways flight landing in Lagos after the ban should be disregarded, it is false. This is a patriotic moment. All requests for flight clearance should state the aircraft type, tail number, name of operator, contact telephone, the airport of departure/arrival, name of captain, crew nationality, souls on board, mission, date, time of departure, arrival and any information considered necessary.”
The federal government had last week announced that from Monday, all the nation’s airports would be shut to incoming international flights. Meanwhile, Ghanaian media have reported that a British Airways flight A81, Boeing 747, bound for Accra, the Ghanaian capital, took off from London on Monday, March 23 and was expected to land in Kotoka International Airport, Accra but returned to the UK despite initial permission for the British High Commission to evacuate over 300 people mostly UK nationals from Ghana to the UK.
An initial agreement to a request by the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority said the approval was given by the inter-ministerial committee on COVID-19. But the decision was rescinded even before the flight could land in Ghana, leaving the nationals stranded. Over 200 persons have lost their lives in the UK after getting infected with the virus. Also thursday, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ms. Catriona Laing CB, said in view of the absence of commercial options, the mission was exploring options for sending its staff and dependents to the UK.
She added that in view of the airport closures, the commission is also exploring flight options for British nationals who wish to return to the UK. In a statement she issued yesterday, Laing stated that the mission had taken the decision to reduce the number of UK staff and their dependents in the High Commission She said the mission would continue to provide uninterrupted essential services, including consular assistance.