Minister of Aviation Stella Oduah has denied approval for some foreign airlines to extend their services to Abuja airport in addition to Lagos where they now operate.
A senior government official said three foreign airlines — Emirates, Turkish and Etihad — have sought approval of the Nigerian aviation authorities to begin commercial flights to Abuja, but the minister “has refused to grant the request.” Instead, Mrs. Oduah told them to consider flying to Enugu, so as not to overstretch the facilities in Abuja.
A spokesman for Mrs Oduah confirmed that the minister has asked the airlines to “explore the opportunity of extending their operations to Enugu” instead of concentrating in Abuja and Lagos.
The three airlines, which now operate to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, sought for approvals to be landing in Abuja as a second destination in Nigeria because of the increasing number of passengers they get from the capital city and other parts of the North.
“Some of the requests have been filed over a year ago to the Federal Ministry of Aviation but no approvals have been given,” the source said. “When they met with the minister few weeks ago, she queried why they insisted on Abuja as a second destination. She instead told them to commence flight operations to Enugu airport. But they told the minister that they have high number of passengers wanting to have a direct flight from Abuja.”
The aviation minister then suggested another option to the three airlines which is that she would link them with local airlines that will fly their passengers from Abuja to Enugu for onward boarding of their international flights out of the country.
The source said the minister’s decision appeared to put the North at a disadvantage, especially given that only Egypt Air now flies to Kano after KLM ceased its service to the Malam Aminu Kano International Airport.
The minister’s special assistant on media, Mr. Toyin Okpaise, said it was in an effort to ensure the diversification of airline operation in the country that the minister asked the three airlines to explore the opportunity of extending their operations to Enugu rather than concentrate in Lagos and Abuja.
“Even if they think most of their customers are in Abuja, they can still operate from Enugu and use domestic flights to connect the passengers to Abuja,” he said. “That way, we shall develop our local airlines and make all the airports busy. It is the duty of the minister to ensure that flight operations are not allowed to concentrate in just one place.”
Managing Director of Turkish Airlines, Mr. Ali Bulut, said he would not speak about the details of their discussions with the regulators because the regulators are co-operating with them. He said talks have advanced and he is positive they would be given approval. He also declined to disclose the specific conditions the regulators have given them before they could be allowed to fly into Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
An official of Etihad, also a UAE airline, said that the company has not applied to fly into Abuja.
But in August 2008, Etihad announced its plans to begin service to Lagos and Abuja in the first quarter of 2009.
“The four-times-a-week service will employ an Airbus 330-200 aircraft, which can accommodate 262 passengers in a two-class configuration while carrying 14 tonnes of cargo,” said a report in a United Arab Emirates newspaper, The National.
“The route will fly in a triangular pattern with flights from Abu Dhabi flying to Lagos first and then onwards to Abuja, before returning to the UAE capital, the report said, quoting James Hogan, the chief executive of Etihad, who added that the service would particularly target West African travellers coming to the UAE for trading, shopping and holidays.