After facing near collapse following the threat of international airlines exiting the sector, Nigerian aviation seems to have made a U-turn with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) promoting its member status to “one of the highest in the world”.  

Nigeria was promoted to second tier in the ICAO’s three-tier member-state-ranking system during the 41st ICAO Assembly, according to a tweet published on October 1, 2022. The Assembly is being held in Montreal, Canada from September 27 to October 7, 2022.  

In a statement published by the agency’s website on September 29, 2022, ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano acknowledged Nigeria’s “exceptional level of effective implementation of ICAO safety and security standards,” as part of ICAO’s ‘No Country Left Behind’ initiative. The ICAO also recognized Nigeria’s Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika as a Champion of the initiative, according to local Nigerian media, The Sun.  

Ethiopia was also recognized with a certificate for its safety progress and Tunisia was acknowledged for its achievements regarding aviation security. Côte D’Ivoire received certificates for its progress in both aviation safety and aviation security, the ICAO highlighted in its statement.  

Alongside Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt were also named as the only other African states promoted to ICAO’s second tier.  

Russia lost its seat among the primary (tier 1) members of the ICAO council.  

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Accused of breaching the rules of the Chicago Convention on international aviation, Russia failed to collect enough votes to keep its seat on the ICAO council.
 

What are the ICAO Assembly tiers?  

ICAO member states are classified under the following tiers:  

  • First tier: States of chief importance in air transport.  
  • Second tier: States not already elected in stage 1 (tier 1), but which make the largest contribution to the provision of facilities for international civil air navigation.  
  • Third tier: States not elected in either the first or the second part, and whether or not they were candidates in either of those parts, and whose designation will ensure that all the major geographical areas of the world are represented on the Council.  

According to the organization, the ICAO Assembly, where 193 member States are invited to convene, occurs once every three years.  

Is Nigeria overcoming its aviation woes?  

The elevated classification and recognition of safety improvements provides further relief for Nigeria’s aviation sector, which has been plagued by problems in recent months.  

In July 2022, the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), a representative body for airlines in Nigeria, warned that conditions pertaining to rising fuel prices, erratic fuel supplies and a shortage of foreign currency were hampering the ability of airlines to continue operations.    

Member airlines of the AON consist of Max Air, Ibom Air, Aero Contractors, Overland Airways, Air Peace, United Nigeria Airlines, Arik Air, Azman Air and Dana Air.  

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The Airline Operators of Nigeria has issued a further warning over rising fuel prices and supplies for the country’s airlines.
 

Some of Nigeria’s airlines faced temporary grounding or suspended commercial operations to complete operational and financial audits or to attend technical fleet maintenance. This includes airlines such Dana Airlines, Aero Contractors, and Azman Air.   

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African aviation is facing a fresh capacity crisis in 2022 as airlines across the continent are grounded over regulatory, financial and operational issues.
 

However, significant unease was sparked by the threat of international airlines pulling out of Nigeria’s aviation market over unpaid ticket revenues.  

In August 2022, Emirates was one of the first airlines to announced that it would be suspending all flights to and from Nigeria from September 1, 2022, following difficulties in repatriating funds from ticket sales. The airline was owed up to $85m in ticket revenues and revealed that it was losing up to $10 million a month in operational costs to and from Nigeria.   

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Emirates will suspend all flights to and from Nigeria from September 1, 2022, following difficulties in repatriating ticket revenues.
 

British Airways was assumed to be next in line after it adjusted flights to Nigeria.   

However, the mass exit of international airlines from Nigeria's market was halted after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) released $265 million to foreign airlines operating in the country to settle outstanding ticket sales.       

According to the IATA, up to $464 million of foreign airlines revenues was reported to have been blocked from repatriation before the CBN’s cash release. 

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Will foreign airlines continue operations to Nigeria after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) unblocked $265 million of airlines’ ticket revenues?