DALLAS – The African nation Niger, located in the center of the Sahara desert, has closed its airspace to all operators, only enabling ground transport into the country indefinitely.
The territory is currently facing a significant internal crisis where the former president, Mohamed Bazoum, was detained on July 26 following a military coup to overthrow the government. Now, the new self-proclaimed leader, Abdourahamane Tchiani, has blocked all flights into the country, claiming a threat from a potential military invasion of one of its neighboring countries.
Niger’s airspace, enclosing an area of more than 1.2 million square kilometers, is inaccessible to airlines not only for departure and arrivals but also for overflights and emergency diversions, forcing flights to avoid the territory by the west over Mali and Burkina Faso.
The two largest airports in the country, Mano Dayak (AJY) and Diori Hamani (NIM) International Airports, see around 300,000 yearly passengers pass through their gates, mainly on medium-haul flights from close nations such as Morocco, Algeria or Cote d’Ivoire.
Closing a Vital Entry Point
The challenging geographical landscape surrounding the country of Niger, with limited natural resources and no access to international waters, has made air transport one of the most crucial veins for the arrival of humanitarian aid general freight to the population.
On commercial flights, the main options of travel are on board Air France flight AF339 from Paris (CDG), Turkish Airlines flight TK635 from Istanbul (IST) or Ethiopian Airlines flight ET936 from Addis Ababa (ADD).
The last recorded movement at Niamey-Diori Hamani Airport was the departure of the mentioned flight ET936, operated by an Airbus A350-900 registered as ET-AUA, which lifted off the runway at 13:41 local time, with one hour of delay.
The closing of Niger’s airspace has also forced several airlines flying from South Africa to Europe to return to their origins, as the fuel needed to be recalculated for the added kilometers required to avoid the country.
Flying Across Africa Gets Complicated
With the closure of Nigerien airspace, the number of African countries banning overflights rises to three, adding Libya and Sudan to the list.
This situation makes it even more difficult for European airlines to schedule and operate flights to Central and Southern Africa, as they face a 2,500 miles long wall preventing them from planning efficient and direct routes to their respective destinations. Indeed, some routes are subject to extended Range Twin Operations approval (ETOPS) because there are no suitable diversionary airports in remote areas of the African continent.
On the regular flight between Cairo (CAI) and Lagos (LOS), Nigeria, the overflight restriction adds up to 1,000 more miles to the total distance needed to be covered by the aircraft. This sometimes requires longer-range aircraft with larger capacity, different from the actual demand for the service.
Featured image: Vincent van Zeijst (Wikimedia Commons).