Int’l Trips: More airlines set to suspend services to Nigeria – Nigerians may use Togo, other airports

The President of the Association of Foreign Airlines and Representatives in Nigeria, Kingsley Nwokeoma, has said the Emirates Airlines’ suspension of its flights to Nigeria over trapped forex is just the beginning as more international carriers would join soon if nothing was done to address their concerns.

Nwokeoma said this while reacting to the trapped forex of international airlines in Nigeria, which is the major reason Emirates Airlines suspended its flights.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had expressed concerns over the decision by the Nigerian government to block foreign airlines from repatriating ticket sales revenue amounting to $450 million (N188.6bn) into their respective countries.

Emirates Airlines, while announcing the suspension of its flights to Nigeria on Thursday 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.”

In his reaction, the President of the Association of Foreign Airlines and Representatives in Nigeria noted that if other countries were like Nigeria, the industry would not have existed as there would be no money for maintenance.

The Punch quoted Nwokeoma as saying, “This is just the beginning. It is over $1 billion dollars that are 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 percent safety. If there is no money, safety will not be 100 percent 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.”

Speaking further, he said, “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 the Benin Republic, Togo, or Ghana before we can fly out or do our international travels.”

He 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 said.

“I keep asking this question 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.”

A few hours after the report of Emirates Airline’s suspension of its airlines to Nigeria filtered the air on Thursday, British Airways informed its passengers that it was changing to full fares at any moment.

A notice by the airways quoted by The Punch read, “Good afternoon. Please be informed that information reaching us from BA indicates that the airline is changing to full fares F, J, W, and Y any moment from now. Kindly let (us) issue any pending tickets to avoid fare increase.”

Explaining the meaning of the notice, Nwokeoma said “It is basically to cover for the dollar loss, but some airlines are doing it already. So, that means air tickets will be more expensive.

“It will be more expensive because it will now be in relationship with the black market rate. So, the F, J, W, Y middle seats will be more expensive.”

IATA has described the blockage of $464 million in repatriation money for basically foreign airline companies in July by the Nigerian Government as disappointing.

The group warned that if the money is not repatriated to the companies concerned, the Nigerian economy will suffer.

About two weeks ago, Emirates said that out of these funds, it had about $85 million in Nigeria.

On Monday, the airline cut its 11 weekly frequencies into Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos to seven.

In a statement by its media consultant in Nigeria, the airline alleged that all efforts to repatriate the funds had been futile. It said it was compelled to suspend all flights into the country.

IATA, in a tweet on Thursday, said it is “disappointed that the amount of airline money blocked from repatriation by the #The Nigerian government grew to $464 million in July. #blockedfunds.”

“IATA’s many warnings that failure to restore timely repatriation will hurt Nigeria with reduced air connectivity are proving true with the withdrawal of @emirates from the market.

“Airlines can’t be expected to fly if they can’t realize revenue from ticket sales. Loss of connectivity harms the economy, hurts investor confidence, impacts jobs and people’s lives,” it added.

“The Government of Nigeria needs to prioritize the release funds before more damage is done,” IATA said. (Punch)

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