Niger’s airspace complicates operations for African, European airlines

  • European carriers circumvent airspace, travel longer distances to destinations
  • Fear over Mali, Burkinafaso joining Niger to close airspace
  • Airlines suspend flights to Bamako, Ouagadougou



Aircraft especially overflying Niger’s airspace are incurring huge costs of fuel, and longer journeys by circumventing the country’s airspace following the closure of the airspace of the crisis-riddled nation.

The Niger’s junta closed its airspace on Sunday in response to the West African regional bloc after ignoring its deadline to reinstate the country’s ousted president or face the threat of military intervention.

Just on Monday, South Africa Airways’ flight on its way to London was said to have diverted to Lagos to refuel after circumventing and trying to avoid the airspace of Niger.

A former Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Nnamdi Udoh who spoke to Aviation Metric said the action of Niger would automatically lead to elongation of flight routes, congestion of airspace, and more fuel consumption as the aircraft are expected to circumvent the close airspace and take longer routes to get to their destinations.

Foreign airlines in flight

Most European airlines in and out of Nigeria go around or through Mali, Algeria, and longer routes to fly into Nigeria or fly out of the country;  a situation that is costing carriers huge amounts of money in fuel, wear, and tear of equipment, and longer period of time.

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His words, “Lagos to London or to any European country takes a longer time. It also has a lot of wear and tear on aircraft. The closure of airspace of Niger would lead to elongation of the route, congestion of airspace, fuel consumption as a result of circumvention”.

Udoh further noted that the situation could be worse if Mali and Burkinafaso; two nations that have backed the Abdourahamane Tchiani-led Military government also take a cue from Niger to close their airspace.

He noted that airlines would have a hectic time if the other two nations take the same action as Niger because of the strategic importance of how airspace aids smooth flight services among nations.

Speaking in the same vein, the President of, the Nigerian Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), Mr. Abayomi Agoro said the implication of airspace closure means that no aircraft would be permitted to fly through the closed airspace for risk of being fired at by the military of that country.

Agoro further explained that in the case of closed airspace or countries with military conflict like the one currently going on in Niger, aircraft overflying its airspace or landing in the country would seek permission from the government.

Most scheduled airlines always advice their crew to always avoid airspace where there are arm struggles to avoid being downed by rockets as in the case of Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 which was on July 17, 2014, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur under flight number MH17 at an altitude of 33,000 feet.

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It was one of 160 flights that crossed the airspace of eastern Ukraine that day. MH17 was shot down and crashed near the Ukrainian village of Hrabove. All 298 passengers and crew on board died.

An exclusion zone prevailed at 32,000 feet because of the conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels.

The NATCA President reiterated that most aircraft avoiding Niger now fly through Mali and Chad; a longer journey which he said costs more.

“Virtually all European airlines go through Niger. They circumvent the airspace and steer away from Niger’s airspace. It takes more hours to circumvent and costs more. What they do now is that they go through Mali. If Mali closes its airspace, it will be difficult”.

Air France has suspended flights to and from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Bamako in Mali until Aug. 11, the company said on Monday, with longer flight times expected in the West African region.

A spokesperson added that Air France expected longer flight times from sub-Saharan hub airports and those flights between Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and Accra in Ghana were set to operate non-stop.

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Another air traffic controller who pleaded anonymity said that airlines would mostly have to find alternative routes and difficulties should be limited given the small number of African air connections.

“I’m not sure this is huge disruption … it will affect routes from Europe to Nigeria and South Africa and probably from the Gulf of Ethiopia to West Africa,” he said.

British Airways in an emailed statement said it “apologised to those customers affected for the disruption to their journeys,” and said it was working hard to get them on their way again as quickly as possible.

Flights between the UK and South Africa have been re-routed or diverted to take on extra fuel or have returned to their starting points as a result of the closure.

After a military coup ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, the Ecowas regional bloc has threatened intervention to restore the leader.

Air France has suspended flights to and from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Bamako in Mali until Aug. 11, the company said on Monday, with longer flight times expected in the West African region.

Wole Shadare