There was palpable joy on Saturday as the first international flight landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that this was coming after five months of closure of the Nigerian airspace due to the lockdown occasioned by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Middle East Airline (MEA), which took off from Beirut, Lebanon, made history as the first international flight to land anywhere in the country as it touched down at the MMIA at exactly 2.30p.m.
The aircraft was ceremonially welcomed with a water cannon demonstration by the officials of the Aerodrome and Rescue Fire Fighters, a Department in the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
NAN also reports that officials of FAAN, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Port Health Services (PHS), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other relevant agencies were on ground to attend to the passengers brought in by the airline.
On arrival at the terminal, passengers presented their documents, including COVID-19 PCR test results for screening by the Port Health Services officials, while their travelling papers, passports and visas were handled by the immigration officials at the airport.
However, there was no much work to be done by the officials on ground as the aircraft landed with just 200 passengers as approved by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.
The passengers, comprised Nigerians and foreigners, conducted themselves orderly and went through the protocols as approved by the PTF.
At the arrival and departure halls of the airport, the arriving and departing passengers observed the social distancing protocols, just as it was being currently observed on the domestic routes.
Speaking on the procedures, Abdullahi Usman, Comptroller, NIS, MMIA, said the process was seamless and passengers were cooperative while travelling documents were requested from them by the officials.
Mr Usman explained that on arrival, Nigerians onboard need not to fill another travel card, saying that when necessary; the immigration service would give them the right form to fill.
He said: “As you can see, the passengers are coming in quantum, not in a mass.
“The control of the passengers start from the disembarkation of the aircraft and you can see it yourself how orderly things were done.
“The procedures remain the same. Social distancing is there. Nigerians have no need to fill another card.
“Once we have any other information to get from them, we will give them another card. We want to ensure seamless passengers clearance at the counters.”
Also, Victoria Shin-Aba, Regional Manager, South-West, FAAN, expressed gratitude to the Federal Government and the management of FAAN for ensuring smooth return of flight services on the international scene.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA has said that incoming flights are only permitted to carry a maximum of 200 passengers.
This was disclosed in a memo signed by Musa Nuhu, Director-General/CEO of NCAA, on Friday.
Nuhu, however, confirmed that there was no limit on the number of outgoing passengers.
“Following the announcement by the presidential task force (PTF) on COVID-19 on the partial resumption of international flights effective September 5, 2020.
“Kindly note due to the limited number of approved incoming passengers (1,280) allowed daily per each airport, it is not possible to accommodate the requested schedule of airlines.
“The approved schedule is based on a maximum number of 200 passengers per each incoming flight to Nigeria. There is no limit on the number of outgoing passengers.
“Each operator has only one frequency on an approved day of operation irrespective of the capacity of aircraft utilised.”
According to the memo, the approved airlines for international flight schedule for both Abuja and Lagos airports include Turkish Airlines, Air Senegal, Virgin Atlantic, Qatar, Africa World Airlines (AWA) Ghana.
Others are Emirates, British Airways, Ethiopian, Asky, Air Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt Air, Delta, Middle East and Kenya Airways.
The NCAA said the limit on the number of passengers on incoming flights will be increased in the coming weeks and additional flight frequencies will be allocated to airlines.