Aircraft parked on the tarmac during lockdown- Photo from Captain Simousa's tweet
  • Middle seat removal debate still on as stakeholders canvass more investment in sector

AVIATION players, industry regulators, service providers this morning gathered virtually to discuss the  way forward for the sector following the numerous changes that must have to take place in the post Covid-19 new normal era especially with regards safety and protection of passengers as the sub-sector is set to restart.

Most of the participants canvassed technology as a major solution to unburden the system and aid in reducing physical contact to the barest minimal.

The webinar organized by the League of Airports and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC) titled “Nigeria’s Aviation Industry: Changing Times, Changing Strategies” examined steps that should help protect air travelers when restart becomes official as well as aid airlines and other players attain economic viability.

Dr. Gabriel Olowo, President of Sabre Network West Africa, who spoke said that check-in would pose a serious challenge asking how ready the industry is to do business with minimal contact.

A former Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren advised the industry  to take advantage of the present disadvantage  and automate properly as this will help reduce contact.

He said, “You can do every ticket purchase, every check-in, even choose a seat via your laptop. You as journalists can help us advocate this. You cannot process 1000 people one by one and you should not have to, so the industry needs automation.

“Airport infrastructure also needs to improve,” he canvassed.

Also speaking on airline’s response to facilitation and safety during restart,  Chairman of Air Peace, Chief Allen Onyema said although still in discussion, but airlines do not support the middle seat removal and have all devised ways to ensure limited contact during boarding as well as safeguard passengers. Read also: Aviation restart: Stakeholders discuss middle seat removal, airline air worthiness, economics

According to Onyema, apart from the constant disinfection of aircraft, passengers are not likely to catch the or any virus on board the aircraft but could do so around the airport or any other environment before even getting to boarding point.

He also said that on boarding they have created a way to minimize contact,” Covid-19 is contracted anywhere and it could be at any environment. We have devised a way to board and reduce contact a lot by first calling for the right window seat and after that is done and they are settled  we can call for the middle seats then. After that we can call the left window seat then you can call in the aisle seat at the right and then the aisle seat at the left. This will ensure interaction is minimal. If we leave the middle empty then the least ticket would be N100, 000, which will not be good for airline and passengers.”

Principal Managing Partner of Avaero Capital, Sindy Foster also backed claims that removal of middle seats from the equation is not to anyone’s advantage.

She said,” It is a ridiculous idea for airlines and it won’t work, it is unnecessary and we have to look at the disadvantage and majorly, a lot of people will have limited capacity for travel by air.”

Foster who spoke also on the need for infrastructure upgrade  said the country needed to attract  investment into the aviation industry explaining that the only way to do so was to make the industry attractive for any investor.

“The industry needs to attract investment.  Investment in aviation is important and it is the responsibility of everyone in the industry to make the industry attractive. Meaning there must be corporate governance in every aspect of the industry and majorly airlines and the negative publicity needs to stop. Players have to be law abiding, recent events in all media have painted the industry negatively so as players it is our responsibility to end that.

Foster also canvassed for capacity to develop cargo, stating that broadening that market has potential.

“ …there  is need to extend airport operations and lay some more emphasis on cargo, broadening cargo is the right way to go as many goods go through our roads  and 60% of cargo are lost on these roads. We need to do something to attract flying cargo with the right pricing…”


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