• Monday, July 15, 2024
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BusinessDay

Flight suspension: Nigerians cross border to fly Emirates

Emirates records highest summer booking exceeding 80% seat load factor

Nigerians are going to other African countries to join Emirates’ flights to Dubai following the suspension of the airline’s operations in Nigeria over trapped funds.

BusinessDay’s findings show that passengers from Nigeria have been travelling to Kotoka International Airport, Ghana, and other African countries where Emirates fly from to board flights to Dubai.

According to the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), over 80 percent of visas issued to Nigerians by the United Arab Emirate (UAE) are tourist visas and this category of visa last year was suspended, shortly before Emirates suspended its flight.

But the tourist visas are being issued to Nigerians travelling from other African countries, especially passengers using Emirates airlines.

Nigerians are still being issued student visas, medical visas and permanent resident visas in Nigeria.

“Nigerians travelling on Emirates will purchase their tickets at the parallel market exchange rates. With an Emirates ticket, you may get a visa. What I think they did was prevent Air Peace from building the route while Emirates isn’t flying,” a source close to the airline told BusinessDay.

The source said Emirates is not totally losing out from the Nigerian market as Nigerians travel to other African countries to book Emirates flights to Dubai.

Few weeks ago, Emirates said all efforts it had made to resume operations into Nigeria in the last five months after it suspended flights into the country had proved abortive.

It disclosed that around 50 percent of the amount approved for clearing within its backlog was still overdue for repatriation.

According to a statement, Emirates still has a substantial balance of blocked funds that is yet to be repatriated, and the progressive clearing of its backlog remains beset with constant delays.

The airline said it had made many concerted efforts to enable a swift return to Nigeria but all efforts have not yielded needed solutions.

It said: “We had proposed a number of solutions and measures to recover our funds, and engaged in dialogue with government stakeholders and industry bodies. Regretfully and despite many media reports of public assurances made at the highest levels, solutions continue to be stalled.

“We acknowledge that the wider aviation industry and the local value chain it supports in Nigeria face a similar market reality.”

Susan Akporiaye, president of NANTA, told BusinessDay that the UAE stopped issuing only tourist visas to Nigerians.

She said: “If you have student visas, medical visas and permanent resident visas, you can travel. That was why there was no official statement that Nigerians were stopped from entering Dubai. We all know that over 80 percent of people travelling to Dubai from Nigeria travel with tourist visas.

“When Nigerians using student, medical and permanent resident visas travel from Nigeria, they take connecting flights using Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air and others to Dubai. Nigerians can fly Emirates to Dubai from either Accra or any other African country that they fly from and not from Nigeria.”

Bernard Bankole, chairman of Airlines and Passengers’ Joint Committee of the International Air Transport Association, said some Nigerians have been going to Dubai as the UAE is giving some Nigerians visas to Dubai.

“The visa issuance is on a selective basis. They know those going there to spend real money. They are not just leaving it open to everyone. Some Nigerians have two or more passports,” he said.

Read also: Trapped funds: Emirates says all efforts to return to Nigeria abortive

“Some of the Nigerians travelling to Dubai have been using their other passports. So we don’t know if it’s their second passport that is making it possible for them to fly to Dubai or something else.”

He said despite the visa restrictions, many Nigerians were still travelling to Dubai.

In the recent data by Airport Council International (ACI), Dubai ranked number one on the top 10 busiest airports for international passengers with 66.1 million visitors in 2022.

This is closely followed by London Heathrow Airport, with over 58.2 million international passengers and Amsterdam with over 52. 5 million passengers for 2022.

According to ACI, preliminary figures indicate that with the resumption of international travel, 2022 global passenger traffic reached close to 7 billion, representing an increase of 53.5 percent from 2021, or a 73.8 percent recovery from 2019 results.