Emirates Airlines says it will suspend all flights to and from Nigeria from 1 September, citing a continuing inability to repatriate funds from the country.
“Emirates has tried every avenue to address our ongoing challenges in repatriating funds from Nigeria, and have made considerable efforts to initiate dialogue with the relevant authorities for their urgent intervention to help find a viable solution.
“Regrettable [sic] there has been no progress. Therefore Emirates has decided to suspend all flights to and from Nigeria, effective 01 September 2022, to limit further losses and impact on our operational costs that continue to accumulate in the market… Should there be any positive developments in the coming days regarding Emirates’ blocked funds in Nigeria, we will of course, re-evaluate our decision.”
The decision by the Dubai flag-carrier is a significant blow to Africa’s largest economy, which has faced years of complaints from investors that it is too difficult to repatriate funds. Dollar shortages have led the Central Bank of Nigeria to impose strict foreign currency restrictions on international investors.
At least $85m stranded
In a letter sent to the government on 22 July, Emirates said that it had $85m stuck in the country as of July, a figure that had been rising by $10m per month, and warned that it would have to cut the number of flights to Lagos to seven from 11 by mid-August. The inability to make any progress in talks with the authorities appears to have led to the more drastic step of cutting all services.
In June, the International Air Transport Association estimated that under the policy, Nigeria was withholding around $450m in revenues earned by international carriers operating in the country. The IATA held inconclusive talks with the country in a bid to ease the pressures facing airlines.
“We keep chipping away and hoping that it clicks that this is going to going to damage the country down the road,” Kamal Al Awadhi, Emirates’ vice-president for Africa and the Middle East, told reporters in Doha at the time.
Emirates said that impacted customers can rebook their journeys to and from alternative destinations within Africa or cancel their plans and apply for a full refund.
“We remain keen to serve Nigeria, and our operations provide much needed connectivity for Nigerian travellers, providing access to trade and tourism opportunities to Dubai, and to our broader network of over 130 destinations.”
In recent months, the airline has mulled expanding in Africa. It has discussed adding to its 22 routes, securing code-sharing agreements and bringing millions of Africans through its Dubai hub.
In February, the Gulf airline reopened all of its African routes, citing a strong rebound in demand. The continent accounts for about 8% of Emirates’ 2021-22 revenues, Badr Abbas, Emirates’ senior vice-president in charge of Africa’s commercial operations, told the Africa Report website.