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Niger airspace closure: Europe-bound flights diverted amidst fear of fare hike

The closure of the Nigerien airspace by coupists in the country over the weekend has taken its toll on flight operations as Europe-bound flights out…

The closure of the Nigerien airspace by coupists in the country over the weekend has taken its toll on flight operations as Europe-bound flights out of Nigeria are being rerouted, Daily Trust can report.

Players in the aviation industry have differed on the implications of the recent development, with some saying there is the likelihood of a further increase in the cost of flight tickets ostensibly to cover the extra time spent while avoiding the airspace.

Others say there are many factors that must come to play to warrant fares in increase.

They also noted that domestic airlines would most likely be affected by the recent development as inbound passengers from other countries heavily support the solvency of local traffic.

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The closure of the Niger airspace was coming exactly three months after Sudan also closed its airspace due to war, which affected Saudi Arabia-bound flights during the just concluded Hajj exercise as airlines had to reroute, spending additional two hours to get to Saudi Arabia.

With the Sudanese airspace yet to be opened, the Niger airspace was shut by the coup leaders on Sunday, the eve of the deadline given by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for them to release the detained democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum.

However, the threat of military intervention by the neighbouring countries triggered the announcement of airspace shutdown by Niger, a move that is now hurting aircraft movements in the West African and Southern African regions.

A spokesperson for the now-ruling National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), Amadou Abdramane, in a statement read out on national television said there had been a pre-deployment of forces in two central African countries in preparation for intervention, but did not give details.

“In the face of the threat of intervention, which is becoming clearer through the preparation of neighbouring countries, Niger’s airspace is closed from this day  (Sunday) for all aircraft until further notice.

“Niger’s armed forces and all our defence and security forces, backed by the unfailing support of our people, are ready to defend the integrity of our territory,” the statement said.


Nigeria, others ‘trapped’

Following the development, which took effect by 11:22 pm on Sunday, Europe-bound flights from Nigeria are bypassing the Nigerien airspace, spending at least an additional one hour of flight time amidst fear of skyrocketing fares.

Daily Trust reports that flights to London, Spain, Ireland, France and several European countries are usually routed through the Nigerien airspace via Niamey, the capital of Niger to Algeria.

It was learnt that British Airways rerouted most of its flights yesterday, spending additional hours.

Aviation experts said avoidance of Niger airspace by Europe-bound flights would mean an extra cost for airlines but might not significantly affect the air fares.

For instance, our correspondent checks on the British Airways booking portal showed that no adjustment has been made on ticket prices.


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But a one-way Lagos-London ticket on Virgin Atlantic for a Thursday trip cost as much as $7,578 or N5.9m while for British Airways, it was $2,698 while Air France quoted $2,984.

But the President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Mrs. Susan Akporiaye said the air fares have not increased as a result of the Niger crisis.

She assured that the situation would not lead to an increase in fares since aircraft were only flying to other countries.

Akporiaye said, “We are not seeing any way it would affect the flights for now because the flights are just passing over. The only thing I am seeing is airlines are going to go back to the aerospace regulators that assign and approve the routes. That is what is going to happen but I don’t see it affecting any cost.”

Capt. Samuel Caulcrick, aviation analyst said airlines have the option of going through Chad to Tripoli before approaching Algeria.

“Since Mali and Burkina Faso are with them, that means you have to go all the way to Dakar before going up again. You can’t go to Sudan because there is war. It takes more time, more fuel burn.

If you have to go through Dakar towards Guinea Bissau before going up again, you have to enter Senegal, from Senegal to Morocco that could take another one hour. Normally it takes us three hours to cross the desert, now it will take us four hours.”


Air France suspends flights to Burkina Faso, Mali

Meanwhile, Air France has suspended flights to and from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Bamako in Mali until Aug. 11, following the closure of Niger’s airspace with longer flight times expected in the West African region.

“With Niger’s airspace now off limits as well, airlines flying between Europe and southern Africa will need to reroute and add 1000 or more extra kilometres to their flights, increasing the amount of fuel each flight will need and the flight time.”

Reuters quoted an Air France spokesperson as saying that the airline expected longer flight times from sub-Saharan hub airports.

The spokesperson hinted that flight times could be from an hour and a half to three and a half hours longer for rerouted flights which could include a fuel stop.


ECOWAS fixes fresh meeting on Niger

Meanwhile, the ECOWAS has scheduled yet another meeting on the Niger crisis.

The regional body had met in Abuja in August and issued a 7-day deadline for the Niger junta to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum or risk sanctions, including possible military intervention.

But rather than reinstate Bazoum, the junta had severed ties with Nigeria and some other countries sympathetic to Bazoum’s cause.

The military regime, which declared their Commander General, Abdourahamane Tchiani the new Head of State, vowed not to bow to outside pressure.

It also warned against foreign intervention, vowing to defend the territorial integrity of Niger.

On Friday, military chiefs of some West African countries said they had agreed on a plan for possible military intervention in the event push for a diplomatic solution failed.

The chiefs of defence staff from Togo, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Cote D’ivoire, Cabo Verde and the Republic of Benin held the meeting in Abuja.

ECOWAS had last week sent a high-powered delegation to broker peace with the coupists but only their representatives met with the team led by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd).

Yesterday, President Bola Tinubu, who is chairman of ECOWAS, sent a notice of a meeting scheduled for Thursday in Abuja.

“President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has convened another Extraordinary Summit of the Authority on the political situation in the Republic of Niger. The Summit will hold in Abuja, on Thursday, August 10, 2023.

“The ECOWAS leaders will be considering and discussing the political situation and recent developments in Niger during the Summit,” read a statement issued by the regional body.

The coup leaders have not issued any statement on the deadline yet.

Prominent groups and individuals had cautioned ECOWAS against using military action on the junta.


Mali, Burkina Faso to send delegation to Niger

The Malian Army said they and Burkina Faso would yesterday send a joint delegation to Niamey, the capital of Niger in a show of solidarity amidst a coup crisis.

“Burkina Faso and Mali are sending a delegation to Niamey to show the solidarity of the two countries with the brotherly people of Niger,” the army tweeted.

The transitional governments of Burkina Faso and Mali, established after the military took power by force in 2020 and 2022 in the two countries, also declared their support for the Nigerien soldiers who overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum.

Both countries also warned that any military intervention in Niger would be considered a declaration of war against them and would lead to the withdrawal of Burkina Faso and Mali from ECOWAS.


Germany threatens Niger junta with sanctions, prosecution

The German government yesterday warned Niger coupists against committing acts of violence against Bazoum.

AFP quoted a spokesman for the Foreign Office as saying in Berlin that the German government was worried about Bazoum.

“I would like to emphasise once again at this point our message to the coup plotters that they must expect harsh personal consequences should anything happen to the democratically elected President Bazoum and his family.

“We would perceive that as an escalation, so would our African partners,’’ the spokesman said.

According to him, sanctions and national or international prosecution are possible steps to be taken if violence act is taken against the detained president.

He said the German government hoped that the junta would respond to mediation efforts by ECOWAS.

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