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Airlines stop crew’s stay in Abuja over insecurity

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THE nation’s security challenge is taking its toll on the aviation sector as foreign airlines’ crew no longer night-stop in Abuja after operating to the area.  They now pass the night in Lagos or in Accra.

This development is emerging amid a warning by the United States (U.S) embassy in Nigeria to its citizens of threats to American targets following renewed threats by Boko Haram to step up attacks this month in Abuja.

Before now, all foreign airlines crew operating to Abuja were accommodated in four- or five-star hotels but the deteriorating security situation in the country, especially in the North informed their decision to land their aircraft in Abuja, disembark passengers, while the crew depart for Lagos or Accra, Ghana.

A top official of one of the European carriers told The Guardian yesterday under a strict condition of anonymity that the situation was causing a lot of problems for the carrier, just as he noted that it had also affected their schedules.

Apart from aviation that is suffering as a result of the situation, tourism is also losing as most of the hotels and tourism sites are recording low patronage.

Cumulatively, the sectors are losing several millions of dollars, as the security situation is yet to abate.

There are indications that one of the United States carriers designated to Abuja is putting finishing touches to stopping its operations to the area because of security reasons and low traffic on the route. The carrier said it would consolidate on its U.S-Lagos route where it is doing well.

Many of the carriers have already entered into agreement with some Nigerian airlines to help them airlift their crew whenever they arrive.

Already, Air France has a deal with Aero, but the airline is not pleased with delays that have become the norm in domestic air travel. The delays have made nonsense of their schedule out of Abuja, as the crew do not get to arrive to take charge of their aircraft for early departure.

Apart from the delay encountered before they get to Abuja to operate their flight, the airlines also miss out in connecting their passengers to other destinations from their hubs.

To avoid the situation, the crew disembark their passengers in Abuja, Kano, fly the aircraft to Lagos where a new set of crew take control of the airplane, fly it back to Abuja, pick passengers and depart to their destinations.

Already, the airlines are counting their cost, as they have had to spend more on fuel, risk having to shuttle between Lagos, Accra and Abuja.

The situation would also make them to pay double charges for landing and parking in Lagos, Abuja and more in Accra because it is seen as an international flight.

Speaking to The Guardian on the issue, President, Aviation Round Table (ART), Captain Dele Ore said airline crew love where they can have freedom to shop, walk freely without obstruction.

According to Ore, when these things are lacking as a result of threat to security, it would be practically impossible for them to night-sleep in troubled areas.

The airline captain stated that their various high commissions or embassies could also have warned them of staying in a volatile area, adding that it was really an insult to the country.

“This is a big slap on the face of the government. You can’t blame these people if they have elected to protect their people.  This has definitely defeated the idea of making Lagos or Abuja aviation hub in Nigeria,” he said.

An airline hub is an airport that an airline uses as a transfer point to get passengers to their intended destination. It is part of a hub and spoke model, where travellers moving between airports not served by direct flights change planes en route to their destinations.

Many hubs of the airlines are also situated at airports in the cities of the respective head offices. Some airlines may use only a single hub, while other airlines use multiple hubs. Hubs are used for both passenger flights as well as cargo flights.

Kotoka International Airport, Accra, Ghana, has become the regional international airport where long-distance flights are available to the rest of the world, far more in number than Lagos.

The Assistant Secretary General of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Mohammed Tukur urged government to find a way of nipping in the bud the security problem, adding that as a result, airlines were involved in extra expenditure.

The statement by the U.S. embassy posted on its website said the American government was working with Nigeria’s security to boost security measures through the U.S. independence holiday which is observed every July 4.

“The U.S. Mission in Nigeria is issuing this emergency message to inform U.S. citizens of potential threats against U.S. installations during the July 4 holiday week,” said the statement.

Abuja was hit by fresh violence late on Tuesday, when a blast went off outside a shopping centre popular with both foreigners and locals.

American citizens in Abuja remain barred from visiting places of worship as well as nearby commercial establishments and must return to their homes by midnight, according to the embassy’s statement.

It added: “The embassy is working with the government of Nigeria to implement additional security measures, through the July 4 holiday week”.

Last month, Washington designated three Boko Haram leaders as global terrorists, a move it said was aimed at helping to stem the violence in Nigeria.

On Monday, during her first visit to the country since taking office, the International Criminal Court’s new chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, urged the Nigerian authorities to investigate crimes claimed by Boko Haram.

Bensouda said she briefed President Goodluck Jonathan on the ICC’s preliminary examination of the Boko Haram insurgency, but stressed that the court was not formally investigating the violence in northern Nigeria.

“Crimes are taking place,” the Gambian-born prosecutor said.

She continued: “These crimes may be called terrorist attacks but they could also qualify as crimes against humanity. Provided Nigeria takes action through its own judicial system, the ICC does not plan to intervene.

“The intention is not to intervene, but the intention is to ensure that Nigeria has the primary responsibility of investigating.”

Boko Haram has claimed attacks that have killed more than 1,000 people since mid-2009 and the violence has escalated in recent months.

Following the group’s deadliest-ever attack in which at least 185 people were killed in the city of Kano on January 20, Jonathan encouraged Boko Haram to enter into negotiations.

But Jonathan told the ICC prosecutor that his government would not encourage impunity for major crimes, according to a presidency statement.

Bensouda became the ICC’s chief prosecutor on June 15, replacing Luis Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentine, who was repeatedly criticised by some African leaders for what they termed the court’s excessive focus on African conflicts.

Article credit: Guardian Newspaper

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