Amid the ongoing diplomatic fireworks between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates, the Emirati Minister of Economy, Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri, has said that it is unreasonable for the Arab nation to retain the slots of Nigeria-based Air Peace airline at the Sharjah International Airport.
The minister, who is also the chairman of the General Civil Aviation Authority in the UAE, 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 passenger flights to just once a week.
Al Marri made this known in a letter penned on December 10, 2021, and addressed to the Nigerian Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika.
The Nigerian Government had on Thursday, in a letter through the NCAA Director-General, Musa Nuhu, whittled the 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 had, however, expressed dissatisfaction that Air Peace Airlines, the only Nigerian airline that operates passenger flights to Sharjah International Airport in the UAE, requested three weekly passenger flight frequencies but was granted only one.
Subsequently, Emirates Airline on Friday announced the suspension of its flights to Nigeria, attributing its decision to the NCAA policy limiting its operation in the country to one flight per week.
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”.
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.
According to Sirika, 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.
While Emirates Airline has been plying multiple frequencies to-and-fro the Abuja and Lagos airports, no Nigerian airline operated the routes for years after Medview Airlines’ short stint until recently when Air Peace reactivated the route.
UAE, especially, Dubai, is a top destination among Nigerian migrants. A percentage of vibrant Nigerian youthful population finds the Middle East nation attractive. Nigerian elite and bourgeoisie also find the tourism hotspots in the gulf state appealing. Many Nigerian politicians have been reported to own properties in the UAE while international internet fraudsters including Abass Ramon aka Hushpuppi had been arrested in their havens in Dubai.
Read Emirati minister’s full letter addressed to the Nigerian aviation minister:
AIR TRANSPORT RELATIONS
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.
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