More international carriers are gearing to join the Emirates Airlines which announced, on Thursday, the suspension of its flight operations in Nigeria from September 1, 2022.
The international airlines are halting operations in Nigeria and raising airfares because of their inability to repatriate funds to their home countries.
The International Air Transport Association had expressed concerns over the decision by the Federal Government of Nigeria to block foreign airlines from repatriating ticket sales revenue running into $450m (N188.6bn) into their respective countries.
Nigeria gets about 90 per cent of its United States dollar from the sale of crude oil. However, the country has consistently not been able to meet its approved crude production quota on a monthly basis due to massive oil theft.
This has severely impacted on the country’s foreign exchange earnings, making it tough for the Central Bank of Nigeria to make dollar accessible for repatriation by foreign airlines with operations in Nigeria.
As a fall-out of the continued inability of Emirates Airlines to repatriate its funds, the carrier announced in a statement on Thursday that its flight operations in Nigeria would be suspended from September 1, 2022.
In its statement, Emirates Airlines stated that it “has tried every avenue to address our ongoing challenges in repatriating funds from Nigeria, and we have made considerable efforts to initiate dialogue with the relevant authorities for their urgent intervention to help find a viable solution.”
It added, “Regrettably there has been no progress. Therefore, Emirates has taken the difficult decision to suspend all flights to and from Nigeria, effective September 1, 2022, to limit further losses and impact on our operational costs that continue to accumulate in the market.
“We sincerely regret the inconvenience caused to our customers, however the circumstances are beyond our control at this stage. We will be working to help impacted customers make alternative travel arrangements wherever possible.”
It, however, noted that should there be any positive developments in the coming days regarding Emirates’ blocked funds in Nigeria, the airline would, of course, re-evaluate its decision.
“We remain keen to serve Nigeria, and our operations provide much needed connectivity for Nigerian travellers, providing access to trade and tourism opportunities to Dubai, and to our broader network of over 130 destinations,” the global carrier stated.
Reacting to this, the President, Association of Foreign Airlines and Representatives in Nigeria, Kingsley Nwokeoma, said more international carriers would join Emirates Airlines soon if nothing was done to address their concerns.
He said, “This is just the beginning. It is over $1 billion dollars that is being held and they (foreign airlines) cannot repatriate it. If other countries are like Nigeria, there will not be any industry because this money is used for maintenance. Even the money used to pay their staff in Nigeria is coming from other climes.
“Aviation industry is all about 100 per cent safety. If there is no money, safety will not be 100 per cent guaranteed. So, it is going to continue. Emirates has kick-started it and I’m sure that you are aware that British Airways has cut flights into Nigeria and that is how it is going to start.
“Just like Emirates did, they will first of all cut their flight into Nigeria and they will look at it holistically again and if it is not working out, then it’s not working out. This did not start today. It started over the years and the government is not doing anything.”
According to Punch Newspaper, Nwokeoma added, “Look at it this way, when things were not this bad, what commitment did the government make? Is it now that things are gloomy? So, we hope that we don’t have to go to Benin Republic, Togo or Ghana before we can fly out or do our international travels.”
The foreign airlines’ representative observed that most passengers from Nigeria travelled to Dubai and the Middle East using Emirates Airlines.
“So if they are not coming into Nigeria, it means there is going to be a big vacuum which nobody can fill. It will continue because the airlines will start reducing frequencies,” he stated.
Nwokeoma added, “I keep asking this question that if other climes are behaving like Nigeria, will there be an aviation sector? The airplanes that come in are not our freight. They have to pay Boeing, they pay AirBus, they pay all these people, they have a payment scheme and where is the money coming from? So, it is an issue.”