Bilateral service agreements are between nations but are operated by airlines. Enter the covid protocol and it becomes a tripartite relationship between the Ministries of External Affairs, Aviation and Health. This became very complicated because Dubai is a favorite destination of Nigerians both as a final but more of a transit point. In the last 6 months, Emirates airline had insisted on a strict Covid testing protocol for Nigeria. The FGN balked and suspended flights between Nigeria and the UAE. Recently, hopes were raised and then dashed by the tit for tat game. So passengers originating from Nigeria would have to resort to other carriers to fly to the Middle East and beyond.
The crux of the matter- a diplomatic spat on PCR testing
In early February, the UAE barred passengers from Nigeria from flying into Dubai due to the government's refusal to allow the airline conduct the rapid test for covid-19. The embargo was expected to last for three to four weeks but was extended in March with a view to resume flight operations in Nigeria in June. The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority in retaliation, banned Emirates from flying into Nigeria due to non-compliance with covid-19 protocols as well as the introduction of a rapid antigen test as a requirement for Dubai travelers.
Emirates is one of the preferred airlines by Nigerians, with three frequencies daily from Nigeria (1 from Abuja and two from Lagos). Dubai airport has retained its position as the world's busiest airport for international passengers for the sixth consecutive year, with annual traffic reaching 86.4mn in 2019. Emirates' affordable fares and the level of comfort it provides, gives it a competitive edge over other airlines. Other airlines from a competitive stand point will benefit from the ongoing diplomatic spat as their position is enhanced. In addition, Delta airlines seems to be enjoying a solo run currently, as it is the only carrier with direct flights to the US. With the indefinite suspension, passengers who have flown from or through Nigeria within 14 days would not be allowed into the UAE. Passengers now have to fly to Accra and therefore travel revenue meant to accrue to Nigeria is being diverted to other countries. Also, the intention by the government to regulate, especially following the twitter ban imposed earlier, could lead to further diversion of revenue away from Nigeria.
The two countries are important travel partners and stand to lose from the ongoing diplomatic spat. Therefore, we expect that there will be a meeting within the next couple of weeks to resolve the disagreement, and all will be well with the world again.
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