The strained relationship between Emirates and the Nigerian Government is continuing to disrupt flights in and out of the African country. Emirates’ passenger flights to and from Nigeria are now suspended as the Nigerian Government responds to a COVID-19 testing regime they call discriminatory and lacking any scientific basis.
Ongoing tensions between Emirates and Nigerian Government
It is the second time in two months the Nigerian Government has banned the Dubai-based carrier from flying into the country. Emirates normally flies between Dubai and Lagos and Dubai and Abuja. Emirates cargo and emergency flights are exempt from the ban.
Nigeria slapped Emirates with a three-day ban on outbound flights in early February. Fueling that ban was an airline-imposed COVID-19 testing regime at Emirates that was at odds with the Nigerian Government’s regime. However, the impasse was quickly resolved, and few, if any, Emirates’ flights were impacted.
But the Emirates’ COVID-19 testing regime is firmly back on the Nigerian Government’s radar. They’ve slapped the airline with a further ban that took effect at midnight on March 17. This time the ban impacts both inbound and outbound passengers. Emirates has confirmed the ban and has suspended passenger flights to Nigeria until further notice.
A dispute over COVID-19 testing regimes
Driving the dispute is an Emirates COVID-19 testing regime that the Nigerian Government calls discriminatory. In addition to accepting COVID-test results from local test centers not on Nigeria’s approved list, Emirates wants its passengers departing Nigeria to have three COVID-19 tests within 24 hours. That includes an initial PCR test, an antigen rapid test at the airport, and a PCR test at the arrival airport. Nigerian Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika calls the requirement nonsensical.
“Since they insist, their operations remain suspended,” he said at a media briefing last week.
The Nigerian Government believes a single PCR test with 72 hours of departure should suffice. However, Emirates disagrees. This most recent flight ban was to run for five days but remains in force. Both the Nigerian Government and Emirates say talks are continuing to resolve the issue.
“Emirates remains in close dialogue with the relevant regulators and authorities in Nigeria, and we are fully committed to making progress on a resolution to ensure the continuation and expansion of our operations,” the airline said in a statement.
Emirates is not the only airline to skirmish with Nigeria’s Government
However, it turns out Emirates has been flying very few passengers on its outbound flights from Nigeria before this present ban. Except for UAE nationals and diplomats, Dubai has banned travelers who’ve been in Nigeria within 14 days of traveling. Passengers from the two groups allowed to travel must adhere to Emirates’ COVID-19 testing rules in order to fly.
It’s not just Emirates having issues with flying to Nigeria. Dutch carrier KLM has also faced Nigeria’s displeasure with its COVID-19 testing regime. KLM had faced similar sanctions as Emirates, but according to the Nigerian Government, agreed to unwind their testing regime. As a result, KLM resumed flying passengers in and out of Nigeria from March 15.
Despite Emirates putting its flights to Nigeria on ice, a number of other long-haul airlines continue to fly into the country. Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport is hosting flights by Delta Air Lines, Ethiopian Airlines, Air France, British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Qatar Airways, and KLM among others across Tuesday.