Citing Nigeria’s slowing economy amid scarcity of foreign exchange,international airlines that operate to different destinations in the country plan to reduce flights to Nigeria from early 2016, THISDAY investigations have revealed.

The airlines, according to sources, are aggrieved that they cannot exchange billions of revenue in Naira in their possession to dollars and repatriate to their various countries because of the new fiscal policies of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), recently pleaded with the Governor of CBN,
Godwin Emiefele to intervene in the matter and make dollars available to the airlines. Nothing has been done yet; although he gave assurances to the world body, a close source told THISDAY.

The foreign airlines also had met with the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi and urged him to look into their case but nothing concrete has been done on the matter.

THISDAY gathered that from March 2016, British Airways would reduce its flights to Nigeria by bringing in aircraft with smaller capacity than the traditional Boeing 747, which operates the lucrative Lagos-London route.

It was also gathered that other foreign airlines may either change their aircraft type and operate ones with smaller capacity or reschedule and reduce the number of flights to Nigeria and those which have not been recording high load factor in the Nigerian route may stop flights to the country.

An informed source from one of the major international airlines, which operate daily to Lagos told THISDAY that next year would be scary because things are not looking so good.

“The situation is scary. Things are not looking so good. Some parents whose children are in school overseas are considering withdrawing them as our economy, which has become the strongest economy in Africa is grinding to a halt. We don’t want to make our plan to reduce operations public because we don’t want to cause any panic. This will affect everybody; it is going to also affect my staff because some of them might lose their jobs. BA will definitely reduce service; it is a decision we must have to take,” the source said. The source noted that failure to repatriate the airline’s revenue is affecting aircraft leases and fuelling as the money so generated is used to pay for fuel and renew aircraft leases.

“We have so much money which cannot be released because there is no foreign currency. Now, we cannot accept dollars from passengers; unless they are paying with credit cards, so if a passenger comes to buy ticket with dollars we will not accept because of the new policies. I do not believe that they want to make us suffer but they should have directed these policies to the areas where they import toothpick, glasses and others, not on air transport and other sectors that are critical for the economy to thrive and grow. It is not only BA that will reduce its operation; every international airline will reduce something,” the source also said. The source also suggested that CBN should endeavor to provide foreign exchange to the essential service sector so that the economy would not grind to a halt.

“I am worried about all these but we have to be seen to be supporting government so I do not wish to raise any alarm, but the truth has to be said. We need prayers right now; we need to pray for those in government for them to have wisdom to take the right decision for this country,” the source also said. The source said that marketers had dropped notice that airlines would start paying for aviation fuel in dollars from next year.

“Without fuel, how can we operate? The situation is very scary,” the source added

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