The twin problems of trapped funds and the tough visa restrictions for Nigerians by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have forced Emirates Airlines to suspend flights to Nigeria.
This is the second time the mega carrier would be taking an action to suspend flight operations to Nigeria. The carrier had recently threatened to suspend flight services to the country.
The threat by the foreign airlines to halt operations in Nigeria jolted the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to release $265 million out of $465 million owed to foreign carriers.
On that day, the apex Bank allocated to the International Air Transport Association (IATA); $32 million through UBA. Qatar Airways; $22.8 million through Standard Chartered, Emirates; $19.6 million through Access Bank, British Airway; $5.5 million through GTB, Virgin Atlantic; $4.8 million through Zenith and others.
To reassure the airlines of the government’s readiness to defray the debt, the apex Bank last week announced that it would release another $150 million to the airline. It is unclear how much the total accrual is but sources close to the carriers said the funds had accumulated to more than $600 million.
Emirates in a statement on Thursday said the suspension of flight services to Nigeria took effect from October 29, 2022.
The airline said it has communicated its position to the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“However, Emirates has yet to receive an allocation of our blocked funds to be repatriated,” Emirates said.
“Without the timely repatriation of the funds and a mechanism in place to ensure that future repatriation of Emirates’ funds does not accumulate in any way, the backlog will continue to grow, and we simply cannot meet our operational costs nor maintain the commercial viability of our operations in Nigeria.
“We have officially communicated our position and attended multiple hearings with the Nigerian government, and we have made our proposed approach clear to alleviate this untenable situation, including a plan for the progressive release of our funds.
“This included the repatriation and receipt of at least 80% of our remaining blocked funds by the end of October 2022, in addition to providing a guaranteed mechanism to avoid future repatriation accumulation challenges and delays.
“Under these extraordinary circumstances Emirates had no option but to suspend flights to/from Nigeria from 29 October 2022 to mitigate against further losses moving forward,” the statement explained.
A travel agent who spoke to Aviation Metric under the condition of anonymity said it is true that Emirates has suspended flight services to Nigeria because of the airlines’ funds that are mounting.
The source further stated that many of the carriers have exhausted funds operating in the country and could not afford to ‘waste’ more money by depleting their reserve.
He said it was ironic that the same Federal Government through various agencies are demanding that the airlines pay all their charges before they are granted flight rights to the country when in actual fact their monies are trapped in the country.
Just recently, the United Arab Emirates said it would no longer issue visas to Nigerians and 20 other African countries, although it did not give reasons for the ban.
The travel ban has reduced traffic to Dubai and other cities in the UAE; a situation some said the carrier took cognizant of to suspend flight services due to low traffic.