Air Peace new Boeing 737-800

OBINNA EZUGWU

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Minister of Economy, Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri, has justified the decision of his country to reduce flight schedule of Nigeria’s leading airline, Air Peace from three to one, saying it is unreasonable for the country to retain Air Peace slots at the Sharjah International Airport.

Al Marri, who doubles as the chairman of the General Civil Aviation Authority in the UAE, in a letter penned on December 10, 2021, and addressed to the Nigerian Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, described as unjust, the decision of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to withdraw its approval for Emirates Airline winter schedule, cutting down the carrier’s daily passenger flights from 21 to just once a week.

The letter said, “The General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) presents its compliments to the Federal Ministry of Aviation (FMA) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and has the honour to refer to the letter Ref. No. NCAA/DG/AIR/11/16/329 dated 9th December 2021, whereby the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) notified the Country Manager, Emirates Airline (EK) in Nigeria regarding the withdrawal of the ministerial approval granted to that airline with respect to their Winter Schedule. The NCAA further advised EK that this withdrawal becomes effective on Sunday 12th December 2021 at 2300Z and hence, EK “is granted approval to operate only one weekly passenger frequency to Abuja on Thursdays”.

“The GCAA has the honour to highlight that such a decision by the NCAA is totally unjustified especially, as it has come to our attention that their action is being taken against the background of Air Peace not securing all 3 slots at Sharjah Airport which they desire. (Air Peace initially operated at Sharjah Airport, shifted to Dubai Airport and then returned to Sharjah airport. It would be unreasonable for an airline to expect any airport to maintain their slots when they ceased operating at that airport.) In this regard, we wish to kindly advise you. that Sharjah Airport is currently operating at 140% slot capacity, but with goodwill and tremendous effort on their Side, this Airport was able to accommodate Air Peace with 1 of the 3 slots that this airline requested.

“The GCAA wishes to stress that the action being taken by the NCAA is obviously not in line with the spirit of the agreed air services arrangements between our two Nations. As we are both aware, the relations between our two brotherly countries are vintage in nature, one hallmark being the recent visit of the President of Nigeria to the UAE, which certainly mirrored the status of these positive relations.

“Finally, we suggest that Air Peace should consider flying their two other flights to any UAE airport at which there are available slots. As expected, the GCAA will support Air Peace in this activity, where required.

“Your Excellency, your kind support is anticipated so that the NCAA reviews their decision and restores the approval of the Emirates Airline Winter Schedule, as filed. In this regard, we wish to reiterate that this is a purely operational matter between Air Peace and Sharjah Airport and in any case it should have absolutely no implications for Emirates Airline.”

The Nigerian Government had on Thursday, in a letter through the NCAA Director-General, Musa Nuhu, whittled the daily flights of Emirates Airlines to just one per week.

Nigeria had about a week ago lifted the ban on Emirates Airline’s flights to Nigeria after suspending the carrier from operating into Nigeria for several months earlier, due to concerns over UAE carrier’s requirements in the management of COVID-19.

Nuhu had stated that following the lifting of the ban, the UAE-based airline applied to the Federal Ministry of Aviation for approval of its winter flight schedule, consisting of 21 weekly passenger flight frequencies to Nigeria, noting that Nigeria approved the schedule in the spirit and intent of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement between both countries.

He, however, expressed dissatisfaction that Air Peace Airlines, the only Nigerian airline that operates passenger flights to Sharjah International Airport in UAE, requested three weekly passenger flight frequencies but was granted only one weekly passenger flight frequency.

The action of UAE authorities prompted the decision to also whittle down Emirates flight into the country to one per week, a move that was hailed by industry stakeholders.

Nuhu explained to aviation correspondents in Lagos on Friday that the government decided to respond to the way UAE treated Air Peace, saying that it is the responsibility of government to protect Nigerian businesses.

But in reaction to Nigeria government’s decision, Emirates Airlines announced that it is suspending operations to the country till further notice.

Emirates on its website yesterday announced that it would suspend its flights to Nigeria from December 13, 2021 until the two countries reach an amicable resolution on the matter.

The statement said, “With the recently imposed directive limiting Emirates to operate one flight per week to Nigeria via Abuja, Emirates will be suspending its flights between Nigeria and Dubai from 13 December 2021, until the UAE and Nigerian authorities work on a solution to the ongoing issue.

“The last flights to operate on 12 December 2021are EK 783/784 to/from Lagos and EK 785/786 to/from Abuja.

“Customers holding tickets with the final destinations Lagos and Abuja will not be accepted at the point of origin,” it stated.

The airline also said that affected customers do not need to call Emirates immediately for rebooking, adding that customers can simply hold on to their Emirates ticket and when flights resume, get in touch with their travel agent or booking office to make new travel plans and expressed regrets what this may have caused its customers in Nigeria.

“Emirates is committed to its operations in Nigeria, and we stand ready to reinstate services once restrictions are lifted by the Nigerian authorities, ensuring travellers have more choice and access to trade and tourism opportunities in Dubai, and beyond to our network of over 120 destinations,” the airline added.

Currently, over 25 foreign airlines operate flights into Nigeria; some daily, from multiple destinations. While only one Nigerian airline operates internationally, one or two others operate on regional routes.

Nigeria currently has signed BASAs with over 90 countries including the UAE. However, over the years, stakeholders have lamented that most air agreements between Nigeria and other countries have been one-sided as Nigerian airlines have been unable to reciprocate the agreements due to what they termed, “aero-politics”.

According to Sirika, Aviation Minister, Nigeria signed its BASA with the UAE in December 2017 and Nigeria-based Medview Airlines had commenced direct flights from Lagos to Dubai via Abuja but the operations had hit the rocks when the airline faced a crisis.

 

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