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Flight delays and chaos in Nigeria

Eunice Wanjiru (Reuters, AFP)September 14, 2016

Flights have resumed after Nigeria's largest airline was grounded for several hours. Arik Air called it a temporary suspension of its services, but is this just the tip of the iceberg?

Großbritannien Flugzeug von Arik Air landet in Heathrow
Image: Imago

Nigeria's largest airline, Arik Air, on Tuesday September 13, announced the suspension of its flight operations. The airline attributed the "temporary disruption" to a delay in insurance documentation, due to the long weekend of bank holidays. Thousands of travelers were left stranded as the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha came to an end.

The disruption was to continue for the next few days as the company awaited approval from the National Insurance Commission NAICOM, but hours later the airlines spokesperson Ola Adebanji, said Arik Air would resume its flight operations from 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday.

According to a statement on its website Arik Air said it had resolved its insurance issues. "While the current scarcity of aviation fuel (JET A1) has impacted on the operations of airlines in the country, Arik Air is in good standing with its fuel suppliers and has been meeting its obligations to them and to our insurers."

Jan-Philipp Scholz, DW correspondent in Nigeria, said that there was a lot of chaos at the airport in Lagos as he was waiting to fly to Abuja on Wednesday morning. With a delay of five hours he finally caught a flight to Abuja. "People are relieved but are still upset at the same time, because the root cause of all this goes beyond Arik Air insurance problems," he said.

Arik Air, which flies to London, New York and Johannesburg, also has a maintenance contract with Germany's Lufthansa. "We are fully committed to returning to our normal operations and minimize any unfortunate inconvenience to our passengers," Arik Chief Executive Michael Arumemi-Ikhide said in a statement.

This development came two weeks after two local carriers, Aero Contractors and First Nation suspended their operations. The government however, said both would eventually reopen.

Airlines cut back services

A dire shortage of dollars, linked to the drop in the price of oil, has drastically reduced banks' liquidity and left the country's airlines unable to pay their bills. Oil makes up 70 percent of Nigeria's Economy.

International carriers have also been affected, with United and Iberia having stopped their flights to Nigeria. Emirates now runs a single daily flight from Nigeria to Dubai instead of the usual two, and Air France-KLM has reduced passenger capacity by using smaller aircraft.

Oluseun Onigbinde is the co-founder and lead partner of BugeIT in Nigeira. He told DW that most international airlines cannot fly in to the country directly. They have to be refueled in neighboring countries like Ghana and Cameroon. "Airline ticket has increased and a lot of them are cutting back their service," he added. The elite traveler in Nigeria may be charged up to 2,000 dollars for an economy class ticket to Europe - more than double the cost of a Lagos ticket bought abroad.

Earlier this year Angola became Africa's largest oil producer, overtaking longtime leader Nigeria, which slipped into recession at the end of August. A large percentage of the fuel that Nigeria uses is imported. There is therefore "some pressure on the foreign currency that is being used to import this petrol." Onigbinde said.

According to Onigbinde, Nigeria would have the capacity to produce fuel, but due to the poor maintenance of oil refineries which were built in the late 1970s and early 1980s this remains a "shameful story."