By Ese Awhotu
The General Authority of Civil Aviation, Saudi Arabia, has set 3rd of March 2019 as deadline for airliners to submit request for slots allocation for 2019 Hajj operations.
This was disclosed at the recently concluded 2019 Hajj preparations meeting between the Authority and NAHCON representatives in Jeddah,
Saudi Arabia. Besides, both parties agreed that delays and some flight cancellations experienced during 2018 Hajj were not due to shortcomings of the carriers but as a result of the dynamics of Hajj services and other environmental factors.
It would be recalled that during 2018 Hajj operations, some challenges faced by Nigerian Hajj organizers included airlift slots allocation and issue of small capacity of aircraft deployed to convey pilgrims back and forth Saudi Arabia in some cases. The conditions regrettably led to some inconveniences and additional operational costs to carriers awaiting slots allocation.
Consequently, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON, made a strong case to representatives of GACA, on the situations when the two sides met in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, during the just concluded first pre-Hajj visit.
Speaking on behalf of the Commission, the Commissioner of Operations, Alhaji Abdullahi Modibbo Saleh, spelt out NAHCON’s plans to forestall a repeat of 2018 challenges. Among which is the Commission’s resolve to determine early allocation of air carriers to states with the corresponding number of pilgrims to each carrier based on an agreed criteria. In addition, the Commission has taken over the sourcing of Basic Travelling Allowance of pilgrims to address the delay usually caused by it.
Likewise, as disclosed by the Director General of NCAA (Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority), represented by his Special Assistant (technical), all approved airlines for 2019 Hajj operations in Nigeria are to comply as required by rules and regulations of the authority, to apply for inspection of aircraft 90 days in advance, and not to wait until beginning of operations before doing so.
The Commissioner of Operations further appealed to GACA not to introduce new regulations belatedly when operations have commenced therefore making it difficult to ensure compliance. Additionally, Alhaji Modibbo Saleh, D.G NCAA and representative of Airline Operators of Nigeria collectively re-emphasized an earlier request for GACA to waive multiple bank guarantees imposed on carriers. The Commissioner explained that granting this waiver would enhance the carriers’ financial ability in meeting their operational demands. Besides, NAHCON, as a government agency, is already a guarantor for the approved carriers in certain ways.
Another important request tabled by the NAHCON team is for FlyNas to utilize larger capacity airplanes in the airlift of pilgrims during 2019 pilgrimage and beyond.
Responding to the issues raised by the NAHCON delegation, Mr Samir Shami, leader of the GACA team expressed doubt on the possibility of GACA introducing new regulations belatedly. However, he stressed on the need for carriers to beat deadline for request of airlift slots, which has been slated, for 3rd of March, 2019. Towards this time limit, they expect strict compliance; in addition to furnishing GACA with Advance Passenger Information Certification for which certificates of compliance are available with the Saudi authorities.
Mr Samir further revealed that two Saudi Arabian airlines would be designated to airlift the Kingdom’s passenger quota for 2019 Hajj based on the sharing formula agreed between the two countries in July of 2018. Therefore, he urged that allocation of passengers to all approved carriers should be done early enough.