Following recent approvals by local authorities for United Nigeria Airlines to pursue its ambition to deploy for intercontinental operations, local and international analysts now say the real test for the young airline now lies with securing regulatory approval and proper licensing to fly into countries in North America and Europe.
They also say it would need appropriate aircraft to be able to mobilise itself for such a huge operation, per insights reported by Simpleflying.
Several processes are mandatory for the airline to complete, including obtaining permits and documentations from civil aviation authorities, to be able to receive an all clear to enter Europe and the United States where the rules are stringent. It received approval from the Nigerian authorities to operate into the United States, United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and three other countries.
Approval to operate intercontinental flights
The airline received a letter on September 10 from Hassan Ejinubu, director, air transport management, Federal Ministry of Aviation. The carrier was given the green light to operate scheduled flights to the US, the UK, the UAE, the Netherlands, Italy, and Ireland.
This is an effort by the authorities to utilise the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) between Nigeria and each of these countries. The West African nation currently has direct connections with some countries stated in the letter, but flights are operated by foreign carriers. Part of the letter read:
“I am directed to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated Aug. 2, 2023, on the above subject and convey the minister’s approval for the designation of Messrs United Nigeria Airlines Company Limited.
“The airline is to operate international flight operations to the under-mentioned countries and cities: Netherlands (Amsterdam), Italy (Rome), United Arab Emirates (Dubai), United Kingdom (UK), United States of America (Houston), and Ireland (Dublin).”
The carrier will need to be granted permission and receive the necessary documentation from the respective civil aviation authorities before it can begin any non-stop services. Additionally, it must fulfil several requirements, including aircraft acquisition and safety demonstrations.
Flying to the USA
As previously stated, Nigeria has a Bilateral Air Services Agreement with the United States, allowing carriers from both countries to operate commercial air transport services. Regulatory approval allows United Nigeria Airlines to fly to Houston, which currently has no direct connection with Nigeria.
This comes just two months after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner visited West Africa. During his visit, he met with Emmanuel Meribole, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Aviation, and requested the establishment of direct flight connections between Houston and Nigeria. Meribole assured Turner he would work on the request once new ministers were inaugurated.
Nigeria can establish connections with the US under the current BASA and the US FAA IASA program. However, UNA will still need to liaise with the regulatory body and acquire proper licensing, which will be tricky. Simple Flying spoke to Airline Executive and Aviation Expert Sean Mendis. He said;
“Nigeria is currently classified as Category 1 under the US FAA IASA programme, so Nigerian carriers are not banned from starting new routes to the USA; however, they will still need to satisfy both the US Dot Part 129 licensing requirements as well as the FAA operational requirements.”
Currently, USA-Nigeria connections are offered by US-based airlines and are only available from two destinations. Delta Air Lines operates daily Airbus A330 flights from Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) to Lagos Murtala Muhammed (LOS), while United Airlines operates three weekly B787 flights from Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD).
Flying to Europe
Similarly, Nigeria’s agreements with the various European countries allow for several scheduled services. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and KLM all operate flights to Nigeria from their respective hubs.
UNA must meet operational and safety requirements to fly to Europe, and approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will be difficult. Additionally, the carrier will need to acquire high-capacity, long-range aircraft for the services. It only has four Embraer 145LRs in its fleet.
Sean Mendis added:
“Designation is the first step on a long journey. The airline currently operates only regional aircraft, so will need to add appropriate aircraft types for these services, as well as demonstrate operational and safety competence in compliance with both Nigerian and destination country regulations.”
In cases of routes like the UK and Netherlands, they will also have issues obtaining slots at airports like Heathrow and Schiphol given the congestion and other restrictions in place.
For example, Nigeria’s Air Peace has made efforts to launch flights to London Heathrow (LHR) but with no success. The carrier is now planning to launch London flights later this year.
Flying to the Middle East
Nigeria has no direct connection with the UAE. Emirates was a significant player in the Nigerian market, offering up to 11 weekly flights from Dubai International Airport (DXB) to Lagos. However, the route was suspended last year because of a dispute with the Nigerian government regarding blocked funds.
Air Peace also operated flights to Dubai, but the service was discontinued because of the visa ban. Last month, President Bola Tinubu called for an immediate resolution to the rift between the two nations, which has affected airline operations and visa issuance for Nigerians. The regulatory approval granted to UNA supports the government’s plan to re-establish connections with the United Arab Emirates.