Passengers on the Air Peace flight to Saudi Arabia whose visas were cancelled weren’t carrying the appropriate visas and supporting documents, Abdulaziz Sabitu managing director of the Arafat Air Service Nigeria Limited has said.
Saudi authorities had Monday cancelled the entry visas of 177 of the 264 passengers airlifted by Nigeria’s major carrier, Air Peace on arrival in Jeddah from Kano, and insisted that the airline returned them to Nigeria.
The flight which took off from Kano on Sunday night, had arrived in Saudi’s major city of Jeddah on Monday. On landing, the Saudi Arabia authorities announced that all the passengers’ visas were cancelled, but, when the visas of the passengers were further checked, 87 of the passengers were allowed to enter the country.
Providing insights on the incidence, Sabitu disclosed to BusinessDay, Tuesday in Kano, that the affected passengers were denied entry into the country because they flew into the country on inappropriate visas.
Sabitu, who is also a former zonal officer of the Association for Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON), said that the incidence was avoidable, noting it occurred due to the newness of the management of Air Peace on the Lagos-Kano-Jeddah route which the airline started about fifteen days ago on October 31, 2023.
“I think the incidence occurred due to lack of familiarity of the management of Air Peace with the complexity associated with airlifting passengers into a highly regulated society like Saudi Arabia,” Sabitu said
“As an air service operator who is conversant with the route, I know there are various kinds of visas required by passengers traveling to Saudi Arabia. We have the Umrah visa, which is designed for passengers going to Umrah, that is the lesser hajj, and we have the Business Visa, designed for businessmen going to Saudi Arabia for business purposes.”
He said passengers traveling on Umrah visas are required to obtained ticket that will take them to and from Saudi Arabia, which implies they need a two-way ticket. And the same arrangement is demanded for passengers travelling to the country on Business Visas.
“However, information shows that it was only the 87 out of the 264 passengers which the airline lifted to Jeddah that have with them returned ticket, the remaining 177 of the passengers that were returned were said to have only one-way ticket, a development that might have triggered a fear that they are not planning to come back to Nigeria,” the Arafat Airlines MD said.
“This is the information that was made available to our Association on the incidence, by the Saudi Arabian authorities”, Sabitu explained.
He noted that it is unfortunate that incidence is occurring at a time when President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has just rounded up a visit to Saudi Arabia to attend an Investment Summit organized by the Saudi government geared at strengthening investment and business ties with Africa.
It is a strategy to dissuade us Air Peace from flying Saudi route – Source
Also source at Kano office of Air Peace, who confided in BusinessDay, said that all the passengers and the airline personnel were shocked at the cancellation of the visas because the passengers went through the Advanced Passengers Prescreening System (APPS), which was also monitored by the Saudi Arabia authorities before the flight left Nigeria.
The source said the dominant perception among the management staff of the airline was that the decision was a strategy to discourage the airline from operating to the destination because since it started the operation, it has been recording high number of passengers.