Nigeria has again barred Emirates from operating into Lagos, less than one week after both Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) decided to bury the hatchets that led to the return of flights to Nigeria from Dubai. After ten months of inaction on the Nigerian route, Emirates resumed operations on December 5 and was welcomed with a water salute, but they will be suspended again on December 12. Nigeria bans Emirates from flying to Lagos in monopoly spat.
But Nigeria’s aviation regulatory body, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) acting under the principle of reciprocity, clarified why it withdrew the ministerial approval granted to Emirates by the Ministry of Aviation. With the withdrawal, Emirates can now fly into Abuja just once weekly on Thursdays but its Lagos flight is suspended.
Speaking with AirInsight, Captain Musa Nuhu, the Director-General of NCAA, said that it withdrew the approval following the refusal of the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) to grant equal rights to the sole Nigerian carrier, Air Peace flying to Sharjah, the neighbor emirate of Dubai. Nuhu explained that Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, had graciously granted Emirates 21 frequencies weekly to two major airports in Nigeria: fourteen to Lagos, seven to Abuja.
UAE stops Air Peace
According to Nuhu, the GCAA had attributed its refusal to grant the three frequencies to the airline to inadequate slots at Sharjah airport, stressing that the government would continue to protect Nigeria’s businesses. “The Nigerian Government was gracious to grant Emirates Airlines 21 frequencies it requested for. The airline wants to operate fourteen weekly flights to Lagos and another seven weekly to Abuja airports.”
“However, Air Peace only requested for three weekly flights to Sharjah, not even Dubai airport, but the GCAA refused the airline. It only approved one weekly frequency to the airline. The only excuse they gave was that they don’t have enough slots. Where is the justice in this? That is the capital flight out of Nigeria. Nigeria should protect its own.”
Withdrawal of ministerial approval
NCAA has a letter (reference number NCAA/DG/AIR/11/16/329, dated December 9) which says: ‘Withdrawal of Ministerial Approval of Emirates Airlines Winter Schedule,’ and signed by Nuhu to the Country Manager, Emirates Airlines withdrew the initial approval granted the airline.
The letter read: “I write to inform you of the withdrawal of the approval granted to Emirates Airlines winter schedule. This approval was conveyed via a letter with reference number FMA/ATMO/501/C.104/XV/356 dated 1st December 2021. The withdrawal becomes effective on Sunday 12th December 2021 at 23.00.” It continues: “Please kindly note, henceforth Emirates Airlines is granted approval to operate only one weekly passenger frequency to Abuja on Thursdays.”
Before its flights were suspended in February by the federal government, Emirates was operating two flights to Lagos daily and one flight a day to Abuja, which made it 21 weekly flights to Nigeria.
In order to enable Emirates to have a monopoly of direct flights from Nigeria to Dubai, the UAE has refused to allow the Nigerian carrier operate to in the Middle East country. It should be recalled that before the Nigerian government barred Emirates from operation to Nigeria, the UAE used the requirement of Rapid Antigen Test as a prerequisite to stop Air Peace from operating into Dubai.
The UAE in several media statements had insisted that other airlines would not airlift Nigerians to Dubai and gave other stringent measures, including that Nigerian passengers must have to spend fourteen days in another country after leaving Nigeria before they would be due to travel to Dubai if lifted by other airlines.
Air Peace then stopped flying to the city when it became clear that its passengers would be made to conduct about three COVID-19 tests on arrival in the UAE at their own expense, thus making the flights very expensive for its passengers. The spat has been going on for months.
Nigeria resists antigen tests
Nigeria had resisted that and insisted that it did not have the infrastructure for the Rapid Antigen Test and also insisted that airlines flying to Nigeria must abide by its own COVID-19 protocols.
After the UAE removed the Rapid Antigen Test for Nigerian travelers, the federal government lifted the ban on the airline. But an informed source from NCAA hinted that the UAE might not want Air Peace to operate in Dubai, while Emirates had already scheduled to resume flights to Nigeria on December 5.