No fewer than 4,600 flights were affected by COVID-19 and bad weather in the last week globally.
The disruption was caused by harmattan haze and snow, coupled with pandemic restrictions in some countries and Covid-19 illness among airline crew.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) has warned of poor visibility in parts of the country in early January.
The agency’s Central Forecast Office stated that dust raised over Faya Largeau in the Chad Republic is expected to disperse towards Nigeria, reducing visibility ranges in the Northern parts of the country. The dusty heavy wind will affect local flights and most likely worsen flight delays and cancellations.
Already, over 4,600 flights worldwide were cancelled in the last four days, with more than 2,500 of them in the U.S., air traffic site FlightAware reported. Airlines have been struggling with staffing problems with crew quarantining after contracting Covid.
From the U.S. cancellations, more than 1,000 are from Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports.
“Today’s cancellations are driven by Omicron staffing and weather-related issues. We did pre-cancel flights in anticipation of inclement weather. We’ve been contacting passengers early if their flights are cancelled to give them time to rebook or make other plans,” United Airlines said in a statement.
Airlines have been trying to woo crew with extra pay to tackle the staff shortages. But unions said workers fear contracting COVID-19 or having to deal with angry passengers.
The U.S. is facing a surge in COVID-19 cases powered by the Omicron variant. New York City has seen record cases despite high vaccination rates. The virus has hit everything from the police force to Broadway shows, although there has not yet been a significant hike in hospitalisations.
NiMET General Manager, Public Relations, Muntari Yusuf Ibrahim, also revealed that the raised dust should be transported into the country from 0500LT of January 2.
“Cases of thick to moderate dust haze are expected over the extreme North. Areas to be most affected include Yobe, Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, Kaduna, Bauchi, Gombe and Borno where horizontal visibilities should be around 1000m and below,” Ibrahim said.
NiMet further cautioned that flight operations might be disrupted; therefore, airline operators are required to pick up their flight folders and adhere to regulations, especially at aerodromes in the Northern parts of the country.
Scheduled reliability among local airlines is already poor and may get worse in the days ahead. For instance, of the 14,662 domestic flights operated in the country in the first quarter of this year, at least 7,554 were delayed. A total of 149 flights were cancelled according to figures released by the NCAA.
In 2019 alone, the NCAA recorded 65,401 flights, of which 37,510 (about 57 per cent) were delayed and 356 cancelled.
Secretary-General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said the delays and cancellations are not unconnected with airport infrastructures that are getting overstretched by yuletide’s high demand and slowing passenger facilitation.
Ojikutu said: “The terminals are taking more than they can ordinarily accommodate. The solution is that each terminal should begin to allocate slots to the airlines’ flights hourly and daily. Failure to operate within the slot hour should attract extra charges.