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Foreign airlines increase interest in Nigeria as travel rebounds

The return of foreign airlines into the Nigerian airspace and arrival of new entrants show that foreign airlines are increasing interest in the Nigerian market as travel rebounds.

The Federal Government recently designated two Sudanese airlines, Sudan Airways and Sun Air Aviation, and two Nigerian carriers, Kabo Air and Skypower Express, to operate between the Sudanese city of Umm Badr and Kano in Nigeria, as the two countries have a long-term Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA).

Meanwhile, five years after exiting Nigeria, United Airlines last Friday announced that it would resume operations into Nigeria with its new service between Washington DC and Lagos, beginning November 29 (subject to government approval).

The airline says it will operate three weekly flights connecting the US capital to Nigeria’s largest city, which is also the top Western African destination for US-based travellers.

Africa’s largest airline, Ethiopian Airlines, will be resuming its flight to Enugu, the Eastern Heartland of Nigeria. The three weekly flights will be operated with a B787 Dreamliner.

Delta Airlines returned its operations at Lagos’s MMIA to pre-pandemic levels with the resumption of its non-stop service between Lagos and New York-JFK four times a week.

The flight from New York-JFK joins Delta’s existing daily service to Atlanta, which restarted last September following a short suspension due to the airport’s closure at the height of the pandemic.

Qatar Airline recently doubled its flights to Lagos, thereby exploiting the woes of Emirates. The service commenced July 1, and is operated with a B787 Dreamliner featuring 22 seats in business class and 232 seats in economy.

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Top travel destinations include London, United States, Canada, Ghana and Egypt.

Against predictions by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that global passenger traffic will not return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2024, Nigeria may be defying this forecast as foreign airlines flood the country as demand continues to rise.

Seyi Adewale, CEO, Mainstream Cargo Limited, says the reason for increased airline frequencies and new entrants show foreign airlines have interest in the market and Nigerians are willing travellers despite COVID-19.

According to Adewale, before any airline makes a decision to increase flight into a country or resume operations, the airline must have procured data from the IATA and other data based agencies to make informed decisions.

Abike Dabiri-Erewa, senior special assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora, said in 2017 that there were at least 15 million Nigerians in the diaspora.

According to recent data obtained from the World Bank, the Nigerian Diaspora population remitted $65.34 billion in three years to boost economic activities in the country.

Remittance inflow made up 4 percent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product in 2020.

Adewale says these numbers are huge with the multiplier effect, considering direct travel needs, extended family travel needs, and local needs including food or farm produce.

Furthermore, the throughput of Nigerians at COVID-19 testing centres indicates COVID has not been able to restrict or discourage Nigerians from travelling, he states.

“Family visits, business conferences and seminars, physical meetings including exploration that were suspended in 2020 are now gradually back,” he notes.

For Susan Akporiaye, president, National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), airlines are coming into Nigeria because Nigeria has relaxed travel rules unlike some other countries, making it difficult for airlines to operate.

Akporiaye says aviation may be the worst hit of COVID-19 but will always recover because people will always travel for businesses, family visits, and holidays and for studies.

As countries begin to relax their travel rules, and people vaccinate, aviation is expected to recover sooner than expected as more connecting flights will operate from Nigeria, she says.

Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst, notes that Nigerians travel irrespective of the circumstances, and that is why there is a forex crisis in the economy.

“School fees, visiting, applications all have not reduced despite the travel restrictions, Nigerians still move. Even without Emirates coming in, Nigerians are going to Ghana and private jets come there to pick Nigerians. This shows the propensity, irrespective of the conditions,” he explains.

Ohunayo notes that Nigeria is a steady market, but unfortunately, no domestic airlines within that have been able to take advantage of this.

“If the government believes in a flag carrier and they give the flag carrier all the support, such as legal protection and subsidies, they will not be thinking about forming a national carrier. Just as domestic travel is building up, so also international travel is building up and with the acceptance of vaccinations, it encourages people to travel,” he says.

He assures that the airlines are coming because the market is there, stressing that if people are not travelling, there will be no increased frequencies or airlines returning.

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