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Friday, December 8, 2023

Nigerian travellers risk higher fares as Niger shuts airspace

Niger Republic’s closure of its airspace is expected to push up the cost of flights from Nigeria to Europe, Asia and the United States, stakeholders have said.

Nigerians are already paying more than N1 million to travel to Europe, Asia and the US as a result of airlines’ trapped funds and exchange rate depreciation.

Flights from various countries enroute Niger Republic since Sunday evening have had to divert as the country shut down its airspace because of the “threat of intervention.”

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demanded that Niger restores President Mohamed Bazoum or risk military action.

The military junta has announced the closure of Niger Republic’s airspace amid ECOWAS’ threat to carry out a military intervention in the country should the ousted president not be released and reinstated.

As a result, there have been diversions, U-turns and cancellations. Air France had to divert flights to Abidjan, Lagos and other African countries.

Atedo Peterside, a popular Nigerian entrepreneur, investment banker, and economist, noted on Twitter that the closure of Niger Republic’s airspace will increase the cost of flights from Nigeria to Europe.

“If Burkina Faso and/or Mali join Niger in declining overflight rights to Nigeria-bound aircraft, then inbound and outbound flights from Nigeria to Europe will become very expensive,” Peterside said.

Ibrahim Mshelia, owner of West Link Airlines Nigeria and Mish Aviation Flying School, said that Europe to destinations in West African states from Lome eastwards covering Benin and destinations in entire Nigeria will have increased flight times based on the current Airways available.

According to Mshelia, coming to Nigeria will be toughest if that airspace is closed.

“Airlines will fly to Ghana northwest border first and request direct Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) special approval routes if safe and not conflicting at the time or else they fly to Accra before turning 90 degrees left… to Lagos or any other Nigerian city after Polto [Turin, Italy],” Mshelia said.

He said there is no Eastern Airways routes that run parallel to the southern Niger border leading to Abuja or Lagos, meaning there would be serious course diversions.

He said Nigerian passengers should expect more increases and more flying hours, adding that airlines would also incur losses.

“This is a typical example of ‘when two elephants fight, the grass suffers’.

“The Nigerian government should begin meeting carriers to discuss cushioning efforts to keep the status quo or else we may soon see a jump in ticket fares along affected routes.

“It’s all destinations to Europe for all Nigerian travellers, no doubt. Shylocks carriers like British Airways will cash in and you can’t blame them,” Mshelia said.

Bankole Bernard, chairman of Airlines and Passengers’ Joint Committee (APJC) of the International Air Transport Association, said the closure of Niger’s airspace will only cause operational hazards, which will eat into their profits.

Kingsley Nwokeoma, president of the Association of Foreign Airlines and Representatives in Nigeria, said that with the closure of Niger’s airpace, connecting flights to Europe and US will be more expensive as flight options will be limited.

“We are already grappling with foreign exchange scarcity and trapped funds, which have increased the cost of fares. This will only be more trouble for us and I hope the issue will be resolved as soon as possible,” Nwokeoma said.

This story first appeared in BusinessDay

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