In a move signalling reciprocity of action, Nigeria’s government, on Thursday reduced Emirates flights to the country, both Lagos and Abuja, from daily to once weekly which would be only on Thursdays.
The action followed the decision of the government of the United Arabs Emirates (UAE) to cut Nigeria’s Air Peace flight operations to Sharjah to once a week.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) announced the decision of the government in a letter titled: “Withdrawal of Ministerial Approval of Emirates Airlines Winter Schedule, dated December 9, 2021 and addressed to the Country Manager, Emirates Airlines Nigeria.”
The letter signed by the Director General of NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu read: “I wish 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/ATMD/501/C.104/XV/536 dated 1st December 2021 at 2300Z.
“Please, kindly note, henceforth Emirates Airlines is granted approval to operate only one weekly passenger frequency to Abuja on Thursdays. Please be guided accordingly.”
Emirates, last Sunday, operated flights to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, to kick off its return to daily flights to the two Nigerian cities.
On the other hand, a letter seen by THISDAY that was addressed to Air Peace on the matter stated: “Greetings from Sharjah Airport. This has reference to your earlier request that we have received from your side to resume scheduled operations into Sharjah Airport for the winter season W21/22.
“Kindly note that the proposed timings were coordinated with the various stakeholders at Sharjah Airport, despite the terminal congestion and various challenges that will be faced, and with the best intentions we kept in mind our long business relationship we enjoy with Air Peace.
“As such we are pleased to propose the following timings: Once weekly flight every Thursday (day 4) with arrival time at Sharjah to be STA 01:00 UTC, and departure time from Sharjah will be STD 05:00 UTC.
“We will be looking closely in the near future for any potential opportunities for Air Peace for the upcoming summer season S22.”
Before its flights were suspended in February this year 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 Airlines have monopoly of direct flight from Nigeria to Dubai, UAE has refused to allow the Nigerian carrier operate to the Middle East country.
Investigations carried out by THISDAY revealed that before the federal government banned Emirates from operation to Nigeria then, the UAE wanted to use Rapid Antigen Test to stop Air Peace from operating to Dubai.
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 14 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 federal government had resisted that and insisted that it did not have infrastructure for the Rapid Antigen Test and also insisted that airlines flying to Nigeria must abide by its own COVID-19 protocols.
After UAE removed the Rapid Antigen Test for Nigerian travellers, the federal government lifted the ban on the airline, but informed source from NCAA hinted that UAE might not want Air Peace to operate to Dubai, while Emirates had already scheduled to resume flights to Nigeria on December 5.
NCAA source disclosed that the Director General of NCAA had withdrawn from the first meeting that was to be held between Nigeria and UAE over the resumption of flights to both countries, when he learnt that Air Peace was not invited for that meeting and it was rescheduled and the Nigerian carrier was in attendance.
Informed source also disclosed to THISDAY that in tandem with the policy of reciprocity of the federal government, the NCAA had resisted all attempts to marginalise the Nigerian carrier by denying it slot to operate to UAE, a policy that was lacking in the past, which led to the shortchanging of Nigerian carriers.
Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, had explained how the federal government resisted UAE attempt to allow only Emirates to operate to Nigeria, using stringent COVID-19 protocol, which the minister described as discriminatory and ensured that Nigeria resisted it.
“Government should be applauded for standing its ground before this absolute impunity by UAE. They refused to give Air Peace slot allocation but Nigeria allows Emirates to operate to Dubai and Lagos daily,” an industry source told THISDAY.