• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Pilgrimage: Stakeholders commend airport authorities over conduct of exercise

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As the 2024 airlift of Muslim pilgrims to Saudi Arabia commences, stakeholders and pilgrims have commended the airport authorities for the smooth conduct of the exercise.

The pilgrims specifically hailed the partnership between the Federal Airports Authorities of Nigeria (FAAN) and the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) which has ensured the smooth conduct of the exercise since the commencement of inaugural flight.

Since the inaugural flight was carried out on May 15th, no fewer than 29,621 pilgrims have been airlifted in 71 flights as of Thursday’s afternoon.

It would be recalled that two flights took off simultaneously in the FCT and Kebbi on the 15th of May when the airlift commenced and at the moment 60 to 65 per cent have been airlifted with stakeholders expressing optimism that Nigeria would meet up with the June 10 deadline set by the Saudi Arabian authorities to complete airlift of pilgrims.

There are no fewer than 57,000 pilgrims under the NAHCON/State Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards.

From the 15th of May, airports across the country have been busy with the Hajj Airlift. From the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, among others, General Tunde Idiagbon International Airport, Ilorin, airlines have been airlifting pilgrims to both Makkah and Madina in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The airlines participating in the airlift are Air Peace, Max Air and FlyNas.

Shehu Wada, Executive Director of Max Air, said so far so good the airlift has been going on smoothly.

Wada said, “We have been receiving necessary cooperation from authorities especially FAAN since the airlift commenced. In few places where there is daylight operation, we have been trying to manage the operation to ensure the pilgrims were not stranded.”

Ibrahim Muhammed, Coordinator of Independent Hajj Reporters (IHR), said, “So far, so good. They are complying with the airlift so far. Unless some few hitches where we have postponement by airlines. Most of the challenges we have noticed have to do with states that have to move their pilgrims to another state to take off.”

He stated that airport authorities have been doing their best to ensure the smooth conduct of the exercise.

He however observed that some Hajj officials failed to realised that airport operation is global and airports are security enhanced environment but some pilgrims fail to realise this and they tend to cross the boundaries by trying to pass through restricted areas of the airport.

Speaking on the ongoing airlift, Obiageli Orah, the FAAN Director Public Affairs and Consumer Protection, said the airlift has been a success due to the early planning and preparation by the authority.

Orah said, “Festus Keyamo, the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, commissioned a new hajj terminal in Sokoto recently which made passenger facilitation easy.

“He had earlier carried out inspection of Hajj facilities in Kano State and Flagged off Hajj exercise in Kebbi State ensuring a smooth Hajj operation. We looked at the issues that constituted constraints in the past and eliminated them. We provided the needed infrastructure, reinforced security personnel at the airports selected for the service.

“We also had early interface with airlines to ensure on time performance by making the airports ready with critical facilities. We have been receiving commendations because this year’s operation was positive departure from the past and we intend to sustain and improve on what we have done.

“We deployed more personnel temporarily at the airports where the would-be pilgrims were airlifted and despite the huge number it was smooth operation.

“We give kudos to our amiable and very efficient Managing Director who was pre-emptive in getting the airports ready. In fact, under her management and coordination, a new trajectory has been set and I assure you FAAN will continue on that line and improve on our achievements.”