The 24 foreign airlines operating into and out of Nigeria are yet to have their summer schedule approved by the Federal Government five days into the commencement of the summer season on March 28, leading to speculation that they might cease operations into the country.
It is against aviation procedures and illegal for an airline to fly into another country without obtaining approval for its winter and summer schedules from the host countries. This approval is usually given days ahead of the expiration of the current season’s schedule in order to avoid a situation where an airline has to ground its flight operations while waiting for approval.
Though their schedules are yet to be approved by the Ministry of Aviation, some of the foreign airlines have begun implementing their winter schedules, but a number of them are worried that the delay in the approval process might put them in an unpleasant situation.
A country manager for one of the foreign airlines, who declined being named, said, “We are in dilemma whether to stop our flights to Nigeria or not because we don’t know why the summer schedule has been delayed up till now. We started implementing our summer schedule since March 31, but we are very worried.
“This has not happened in a very long time. So, that is why we are worried. The approval comes usually days ahead of the commencement of the new season’s schedule.”
An implication of not obtaining approval before flying is that in the event of a crash or an accident, insurers might refuse to compensate the affected airline and its passengers as it would regard the flight as illegal.
The development has generated concerns among the foreign airlines’ executives and top officials of the Ministry of Aviation, who felt that any further delay might force some of the carriers to consider halting their flight operations into the country so as not to find themselves in an unpleasant situation.
The winter schedules of the foreign airlines expired between March 28 and 31 and the proposed summer schedules of all 24 foreign airlines are awaiting the approval of the Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah.
Sources at the ministry could not say why there was delay, as they simply said the minister had the final approval.
They explained that the final approval is usually given by the Aviation minister based on the recommendations of the Schedule Approval Committee comprising officials from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria and Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, and headed by a director in the ministry.
The chief executive officer of another major foreign airline said, “We don’t know the reason for the delay this time around. We have never experienced this kind of delay before. All of us are just keeping our fingers crossed, looking at what is going to happen.
“Well, we can’t stop our flights since they have not asked us to stop. Neither can we continue the former (winter) schedule because if we do so, our passengers from Nigeria will miss their connections in our hubs in Europe due to the time difference in the new winter schedule. And of course, Nigeria alone cannot be operating a winter schedule in a summer season.”
However, the Special Assistant (Media) to the Minister of Aviation, Mr. Joe Obi, said Oduah had not refused to approve the foreign airlines’ summer schedules, but adding that they would be approved very soon
Obi said, “The minister has not refused to sign the schedules. There is a procedure and all schedules are currently being processed. This is routine exercise and the minister has no reason to withhold or refuse to sign them.
“But the process must be followed. In a short while, all the schedules will be signed once the processes have been concluded.”