The Federal Ministry of Aviation on Tuesday confirmed that the United Arab Emirates had increased the flight slots allotted to Air Peace, Nigeria’s largest commercial airline, to operate into UAE.
But Air Peace insisted on Tuesday that it was still awaiting the official receipt of the reported letter from the United Arab Emirates on the concession of seven flight slots to the carrier by the UAE government.
The carrier said although media reports had earlier stated that the UAE wrote to the airline on the development, there was no official notice to that effect as of Tuesday.
But the Director, Public Affairs, FMA, James Odaudu, told our correspondent that it was true that the UAE had allotted increased flight slots to Air Peace.
“I can confirm that the story is true and that the UAE has increased the flight slots of Air Peace in the United Arab Emirates,” he stated.
However, the airline maintained that it had yet to receive any official letter to that effect despite the letter being circulated online which was reportedly written to the carrier by UAE authorities.
“If they (UAE) have conceded such number of slots to us they would normally write to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, since is a matter between Nigeria and UAE,” a spokesperson for Air Peace, Stanley Oliseh, told our correspondent.
He added, “So I can’t confirm that at the moment. But if need be I’ll definitely confirm it. I’m not aware such a letter got to us, although I’ve seen it flying around electronically.
“I don’t know if it leaked or if it was deliberate but I just can’t speak on that at the moment in terms of confirmation. However, once we have an update on our Dubai operations we will let the public know via our regular communication channels.”
The seeming diplomatic row between Nigeria and UAE had persisted since the outbreak of COVID-19, and it increased after the Omicron variant emerged.
On Friday, for instance, the Federal Government provided explanations on why it had to cut down the daily flights of UAE’s Emirates Airlines to just one per week to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
Providing explanation for its action, the Director-General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Musa Nuhu, stated that following the lifting of the ban on Emirates Airlines passenger flights to Nigeria by the government, the UAE-based airline applied to Federal Ministry of Aviation for approval of its winter flight schedule.
He said the requested schedule consisted of 21 weekly passenger flight frequencies to Nigeria, comprising two daily flights to Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos and one daily flight to the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja.
Nuhu said in a statement that the Minister of Aviation graciously approved the winter schedule as requested without any hindrance or arrival slots requirements in the spirit and intent of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement between Nigeria and UAE.
He further stated that Air Peace Airlines, the only Nigerian airline that operated passenger flights to Sharjah International Airport in UAE, requested for three weekly passenger flight frequencies and was granted only one weekly passenger flight frequency.
The NCAA boss stated that the Director-General of General Civil Aviation Authority in the UAE attributed this action to non-availability of arrival slots at Sharjah International Airport.
Nuhu said, “Bilateral Air Services Agreement between countries are based on the principle of reciprocity for transparency and fairness to both sides.
“While Nigerian authorities approved the request of Emirates Airlines, UAE authorities acted in total disregard of the terms and provisions of the BASA between the two countries by approving one out of the three weekly passenger flight frequencies requested by Air Peace Airlines.”
Nuhu said he held a held a series of meetings with his GCAA UAE counterpart at the sidelines of the ICAO Air Negotiation Conference in Bogota, Colombia which all ended in stalemates.
“The Minister of Aviation (Nigeria) decided to apply the principle of reciprocity and withdraw the approval of the winter schedule given to Emirates Airlines and instead approved one weekly flight frequency to Abuja on Thursday,” Nuhu stated in the statement.
He said he notified the Country Manager of Emirates Airlines and DG GCAA of the new approved weekly passenger flight schedule.
“We want to assure the public that national interests in all aviation matters will be jealously guided and protected while regretting any inconvenience this action might caused,” the NCAA boss stated.
Also Emirates in a statement issued on Friday had announced the suspension of its flights to Nigeria.
Article first published on the Punch Website