Travellers to face longer processing time over protocols, traffic

• Aero Contractors opens Bauchi, Maiduguri routes

Ahead of summer travels and imminent boom in international traffic, airlines have warned that chaotic scenes await passengers at airports over COVID-19 travel protocols.

The airlines said compliance with mandatory tests and vaccine certificates at departure and arrival terminals may cost passengers between three to eight hours of delay, “which will be discouraging for customers and an industry in recovery phase”.

In a related development, Aero Contractors airline has disclosed plans to reopen Bauchi and Maiduguri operations as part of its route expansion programme. Deploying its Boeing 737-400 aircraft just back from C-checks, the airline will open Abuja-Bauchi route tomorrow, and subsequently follow with the Maiduguri operations.

Foreign carriers, under the aegis of International Air Transport Association (IATA), said the prior warning avails an opportunity for Nigerian government, among others, to deploy automated screening facilities to manage travel health credentials and other COVID-19 measures to achieve pre-COVID-19 passenger facilitation time.

At pre-COVID-19 levels, passengers, spend an average of 1.5 hours in travel processes for every journey, that is, check-in, security, border control, customs, and baggage claim.

Current data indicate that airport processing times have ballooned to 3.0 hours during peak time with travel volumes at only about 30 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels. The greatest increases are at check-in and border control – emigration and immigration – where travel health credentials are being checked mainly as paper documents.

Modeling suggests that without process improvements, the time spent in airport processes could reach 5.5 hours per trip at 75 per cent pre-COVID-19 traffic levels, and 8.0 hours per trip at 100 per cent pre-COVID-19 traffic levels.

IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh, yesterday, said without an automated solution for COVID-19 checks, significant airport disruptions remain imminent.

“Already, average passenger processing and waiting times have doubled from what they were pre-crisis during peak time—reaching an unacceptable three hours. And that is with many airports deploying pre-crisis level staffing for a small fraction of pre-crisis volumes. Nobody will tolerate waiting hours at check-in or for border formalities.

“We must automate the checking of vaccine and test certificates before traffic ramps up. The technical solutions exist. But governments must agree digital certificate standards and align processes to accept them. And they must act fast,” Walsh said.

Over the past two decades, air travel has been reinvented to put passengers in control of their journeys through self-service processes. This enables travellers to arrive at the airport essentially “ready to fly”.

With digital identity technology, border control processes are also increasingly self-service using e-gates. Paper-based COVID-19 document-check would force travellers back to manual check-in and border control processes that are already struggling even with low volumes of travellers.

If governments require COVID-19 health credentials for travel, integrating them into already automated processes is the solution for a smooth restart. This would need globally recognised, standardised, and interoperable digital certificates for COVID-19 testing and vaccine certificates.

“This cannot wait. More and more people are being vaccinated. More borders are opening. Booking patterns tell us that pent-up demand is at extremely high levels. But governments and the competent authorities are acting in isolation and moving far too slowly. A smooth restart is still possible. But governments need to understand the urgency and act fast,” said Walsh.

Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Capt. Abdullahi Mahmood, yesterday, in Lagos, said it was a proud moment for Aero Contractors, Nigeria’s oldest commercial airline, to open the flight services into Bauchi, and Maiduguri.

“We are confident the flights will serve our customers well and give them more choices and flexibility in planning their business, family and leisure trips. The airline will fly from Abuja to Bauchi four times a week; every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.

“We believe that these routes will add fresh breadth to our schedule and complement the quest to rebuild our network to other cities as part of our strategy to expand. Bauchi and Maiduguri are some of the underserved cities in Northern Nigeria.

“The Boeing 737-400 aircraft, which will be used for these new routes, has just been released from C-Check by our MRO team. We are proud of our team for their expertise and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for their professionalism and support.

“Our Aircraft Maintenance Organisation (AMO) allows us to handle total repair with certified maintenance facility where commercial and private aircraft maintenance can be completed. The airline’s foundation is built on a proven safe, reliable and on-time transportation while delivering to customers the highest standard of safety and efficient services,” Mahmood said.

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