The Saudi Arabian authorities on early Monday denied visa entry to the entire 264 passengers of Air Peace.
It was gathered that the passengers who had departed the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, via the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano on Sunday night and arrived in Jeddah on Monday were denied entry into the Asian country by the immigration authorities of Saudi Arabia without any major known reasons.
There are fears that this may lead to a diplomatic row between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
Air Peace had commenced a scheduled flight from Lagos and Kano on October 31, 2023, with a high load factor.
It was learnt that the scheduled flight had taken off from Nigeria on Sunday night to Jeddah without any immigration issue, but on landing, the Saudi Arabian authorities denied them entry into the country.
Shock by airline and passengers
The source expressed that all the passengers and the airline personnel were shocked at the cancellation of the visas because during check-in of the passengers, went through the Advanced Passengers Prescreening System (APPS), which were also monitored by the Saudi Arabia authorities before the flight left Nigeria.
- The source wondered whether what happened was a strategy to discourage the airline from operating to the destination because since it started the operation, it has been recording high load factors.
- It was also learnt that the flight expected to leave on Tuesday to Jeddah was already fully booked.
Reduction in the number of denials
When the Nigerian embassy waded in, the Saudi authorities were said to have reduced the number of passengers that would be returned to Nigeria to 177 from 264.
Saudi Air has been operating directly from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia and since Air Peace started flight service to the country at relatively lower fares, it has been receiving high patronage and as a Nigerian carrier, it helps to conserve foreign exchange for the country.
A source from the Nigerian embassy in Jeddah said that even the Saudi immigration personnel claimed ignorance of the visa cancellation, but alleged that the visas were cancelled when the airline was already airborne to Jeddah.
- The source said: “The airline was exonerated in all this as the Advanced Passenger Prescreening System (APPS), which is live between both countries, would have screened out any invalid visa and its passenger. The system accepted all affected passengers and passed them on.”
Those deported were 177 passengers and Air Peace had already returned to Nigeria with them.
- “They are on their way to Nigeria now,” the source said.
Industry observers attributed this to aero-politics, noting that it is a way to force the Nigerian operator out of the route.
The industry stakeholders emphasised that the government needed to intervene by adopting the principle of reciprocity.
In his reaction to the incident, Grp. Capt. John Ojikutu, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), of Centurion Aviation Security and Safety Consult, attributed the action of the Saudis to aero-politics and diplomacy.
He urged that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should immediately intervene in the case.
He expressed that what happened showed why it was important for the Nigerian Government to stand strongly with any Nigerian carrier designated to operate international destinations.
Ojikutu said that Nigeria should designate Nigerian airlines approved to operate out of the country as flag carriers, noting that the United States has no national carrier, but all the airlines are supported by the government and are designated as flag carriers.
- “The action of the Saudi Authorities is shocking. There is aero-politics there and there is also diplomacy. There is the need for the Nigerian Government to stand firmly with Nigerian carriers and also designate them as flag carriers; so that other countries will know that they represent Nigeria.
- “Government must come out and intervene. The government must be behind Air Peace now to ensure that it is not denied its rights as contained in the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) between the two countries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must not keep quiet. Nigeria must not keep quiet. Ideally, the government is expected to stand behind any of the country’s airlines that it designates to fly overseas,” Ojikutu said.