By Lamin Njie
Assistant Information Officer
Ministry of Transport, Works and Infrastructure
As countries around the world are considering reopening of their airports to both domestic and international flights, hopes are high that the country’s only airport, the Banjul International Airport (BIA), will reopen by the end of October, but under tight health related regulations against the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
This information is contained in a review Report presented to the Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 on the 3rd September, 2020 by Hon. Bai Lamin Jobe, Minister for Transport, Works and Infrastructure.
The Report particularly highlights how the re-opening of BIA is important for the tourist season in The Gambia, which peaks around October and ends around April. During this period the airport usually processes significant traffic in terms of passenger, cargo, and aircraft movements.
However, under the current state of public emergency, declared by H.E. the President on 27 August for 21 days, to last up to 16 September 2020, the airport is closed; only cargo, medical and special flight operations are approved by special permits issued by the Executive. These approvals are forwarded to GCAA to relay the Landing Permits to the concerned air carrier.
According to the Report, in the event that the airport is re-opened, preventive and mitigation measures must be in place, such as quarantine, in order to enhance safe and efficient operations of air transport, pilots and crew.
The report states that pilots and crew can be quarantined in either of the following ways: to remain on board the aircraft during turnaround times and be in position on the aircraft where they won’t interact with cleaners.
In the event where they have to stay overnight, they will be taken to a hotel, lodged in separate rooms and confined for the duration of the night. Their period of quarantine will not be more than their required stay for the return flight, the Report explains.
All persons (arriving and departing) are required to have negative PCR COVID-19 test certificate conducted within 72 hours prior to arrival or departure.
The Report states that each passenger above the age of 16 and travelling alone will be required to complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF). Persons under 16 years old and traveling with a guardian/parent may not need to complete their own Form, provided that: they will arrive and leave together; they will stay at the same address in The Gambia; and the details of their dependents are included in the guardian’s/parent’s Form. The Passenger Locator Form (or Traveler Screening Form) will have the following information requirements: passport information, travel details, including times and dates and a Negative PCR COVID-19 test certificate.
The Report further states that Airlines shall not transport any passenger to the Banjul International Airport who does not present a COVID- 19 test certificate. Any airline that defaults shall be liable to a fine of (to be determined by Government of The Gambia.) Travelers arriving in The Gambia without a COVID-19 Test Certificate or presenting one of the COVID-19 symptoms will be considered as SUSPECTED CASES and will be screened and tested upon entry and the cost of testing shall be borne by the passenger (cost of test to be determined by the Government of The Gambia.)
All areas with potential for human contact (chairs, elevator, door handles, toilets, immigration and check-in counters, restaurants will be disinfected at least three times a day, and more frequently depending on the increase in traffic (ECOWAS Guidelines). Non-touch / sensor sanitizer stations must be provided throughout the area of passenger journey for frequent cleaning and sanitizing of hands. Distance marking signs and markings will be made on the floor of all areas where passengers are expected to queue (check-in area, immigration area, customs area, baggage carousel area, toilet area, etc.) to ensure that passengers stand 1.5 meter apart (EOWAS Guideline)
On face masks, the Report states that all passengers must wear face masks or face coverings upon entry to the airport. The passenger is responsible to provide extra masks for the duration of their journey. All airport workers must wear face masks at all times and all passengers must have their temperature checked before entering the Terminal.
It further explains that all airport workers must have their temperature checked before and after their work (ECOWAS Guideline); thermal imaging cameras will be set up at the main entrances used by airport workers to monitor their temperatures; and Government will support the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) including face masks. (ECOWAS Guideline).
Furthermore, all luggages will be disinfected before entering the conveyor belt system. Speedy baggage claim processes shall be enhanced in order to ensure that passengers are not made to wait for longer periods in the baggage claim area. Therefore, the Report states that GRA must ensure that the customs clearance process is as speedy as possible and that appropriate measures are taken in case of physical baggage inspections.
Cleaning schedules shall be aligned with flight schedules to ensure frequent, in-depth disinfection of luggage carts, and conveyor belts. Self-service kiosks or online options for passenger needing to report lost or damaged luggage shall be made available. The use of retractable stanchions and floor markings shall be considered as temporary measure to encourage physical distancing at the baggage carousel area.
The use of baggage delivery services, where the passenger’s baggage can be delivered directly to their hotel or home, shall be encouraged, especially for tourist flights where the passengers may be going to the same hotel. Baggage tracking information shall be shared with passengers so that they are able to make a baggage claim, in case of baggage mishandling, without waiting in the reclaim area.
In addition, all vehicles shall abide by the preventive measures announced by the Ministry of Health, especially as regards to capacity load, wearing of face masks and maintaining safe physical distance from others (at least 1.5 meter apart)
In a recent interview at the airport, Mr. Malang Touray, Director of Engineering and Maintenance, who also doubles up as the airport Project Engineer, said there was need for the much-awaited renovation because the Terminal Building had some functional issues, including space constraints.
“This really affected the processing of passengers, and it was time consuming, therefore the need for this renovation” he said.
According to Mr. Touray, renovation works are also on-going at the Control Tower as well, and it is at the finishing stages.
“The Control Tower will have new equipment and gadgets which include a new control desk in order to make the work more secure and efficient,” he added.
Mr. Abdoulie Colley, Director of Operations, noted that safety and security are pillars that they don’t compromise. “These pillars are jealously guarded in compliance with international standards,” he added. On when flights would resume normal operations, Mr. Colley answered that everything will have to depend on the situation on the ground, as the pandemic is not yet history.
“If all goes well, The Ministry of Health will communicate to us and we will in turn relay the message to airlines, that BIA is back on full time operations,” he said.
Meanwhile, the ongoing renovation works in the main Terminal Building, despite the advent of Covid-19, are almost 90 percent completed. A new cooling system has been installed, the tiles of the new Terminal Building are in place, the immigration boots are installed, and so are the machines for baggage checking in the arrival hall, and the refurbishing of the VIP hall. The Control Tower has been refurbished and repainted, and fitted with fire proof doors, toilets, and communication desk with new equipment and gadgets.