The Federal Government yesterday lifted the suspension slammed on Emirates Airlines from operating outbound flights from Nigeria (Lagos and Abuja) for 72 hours, effective Thursday, February 4, 2021, after the airline agreed to withdraw the COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Testing (RDT) for Nigerian passengers prior to the departure.
Due to the development, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 directed the immediate lifting of the suspension placed on the operations of Emirates Airlines in Nigeria.
The letter signed by the Director-General of NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu expected the airline to comply with the directives by the PTF on COVID-19 and other protocols of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“Emirates Airlines will be duly informed of ongoing enforcement actions by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority with regards to the established non-compliances to PTF directives and protocols as enumerated in our letter of February 4, 2021,” the letter read.
Similarly, the airline expressed its desire to continue flying to Nigeria as it thanked the authorities for their support.
It read, “Emirates can confirm that we will continue to operate services to Abuja and Lagos. We are strongly committed to Nigeria and would like to thank the local authorities for their trust and support. We look forward to continuing to safely connect our customers, and meet air travel demand from Nigeria to and through Dubai to Emirates’ global network.”
The federal government and the airline had been at loggerheads over additional COVID-19 examination made mandatory for the airline’s passengers.
The airline had late in January sent a circular to its passengers notifying them that it would conduct the compulsory rapid COVID-19 test, four hours before departure from Nigeria, as mandated by the UAE government, in addition to PCR tests done within 72 hours before leaving, at laboratories approved by the Nigerian government.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) rejected Emirates’ extra test and insisted that the airline may be stopped from operating out of Nigeria unless it drops the idea.
The NCAA wrote to Emirates last Wednesday, suspending it from operating outbound flights from Nigeria.
The NCAA ordered that during the 72 hours leeway, Emirates Airline was only authorised to bring passengers into Nigeria, as outbound flights would not be authorised.
The NCAA stated that additional sanctions would be imposed on Emirates Airline for violating PFT directives and COVID-19 protocols.
A letter dated 2nd February 2021 and signed by the Director-General, NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu stated: “It has been brought to the attention of the presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 (PTF) that Emirates has continued to airlift passengers from Nigeria using Rapid Antigen Detection Test (RDT) conducted by laboratories that are neither approved nor authorised.”
“It is in violation of paragraph five of NCAA letter of February 2, 2021 addressed to your good self.”
The NCAA said its February 2, 2021 letter sent to the airline had clearly stated that: “Based on the foregoing and to enable the Nigerian government to put in place the needed infrastructure and logistics for COVID-19 RDT testing for departing passengers, the PTF has directed that Emirates Airlines should either accept passengers without RDT pending when the infrastructure and logistics are put in place or suspend its flights to and from Nigeria until such a time when the required infrastructure and logistics are fully established and implemented.”
NCAA said Emirates Airlines did not comply with the two options given by the PTF as records obtained from Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) indicate the airline operated flights from both Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos and Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja, with passengers subjected to RDT.
NCAA is also not happy that Emirates has allegedly been using laboratories not approved by the government for the RDT.
It said the two organisations advertised for the tests – Travel Clinic and Medicaid Mobile Laboratory in Lagos and Abuja respectfully -were not approved by the appropriate regulatory bodies and PTF to conduct RDT for departing passengers.
The Middle East mega carrier explained why it insisted on RDT test: “As part of the UAE Government’s ongoing efforts to ensure a safe and healthy environment in its fight against the COVID pandemic, a range of health requirements and testing protocols have been put in place. Similarly to the measures taken by governments around the world, including the Nigerian government, protocols like testing frameworks undergo reviews and updates based on the prevailing situation at the time.”
Emirates said this resulted in the latest updated RDT requirement.
“In line with its ongoing commitment to Nigeria, Emirates is keen to ensure that flights between Nigeria and Dubai continue. We moved very quickly to ensure that RAPID COVID-19 testing facilities were ready in Abuja and Lagos for our passengers,” added.