Niger’s sudden airspace closure causes chaos on flights to/from Africa

The sudden closure of Niger's airspace resulted in airlines diverting, canceling, and rerouting flights from and to Africa

With the sudden closure of Niger’s airspace, airlines have needed to scramble to ensure that their flights to and from Africa had enough fuel to reach their destinations. 

According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) list, the NOTAM is effective 11:22 PM local time (UTC +1) on August 6, 2023, and should expire at 11:59 PM (UTC) on August 7, 2023. “The Niger Republic airspace from ground to ILL, including all ATS routes, is closed for all flights,” the NOTAM’s text read. 

The BBC has reported that Niger’s junta, which overthrew the country’s government on July 26, 2023, announced in a televised statement that they are closing its airspace due to the threat of invasion. Between August 2 and August 4, 2023, the Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff (CCDS) of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met in Abuja, Nigeria, where the representatives of the ECOWAS discussed the state of Niger following the coup. 

ECOWAS gave a deadline of 11:59 PM local time (UTC +1) on August 6, 2023, to Niger’s junta to reinstate the President of Niger Mohamed Bazoum, as it also drew up an intervention plan. 

The sudden decision to close the country’s airspace has resulted in airlines scrambling for alternatives for routes to and from Africa, especially those carriers whose routes run from north to south of the continent. 

For example, British Airways Airbus A380, registered as G-XLEI, traveling on flight BA56 from Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport (JNB), South Africa, to London Heathrow Airport (LHR), the United Kingdom (UK), decided to return to JBN after flying over Africa for just under five hours. Another Airbus A380, registered as G-XLEK, turned back to LHR on its flight to JNB on flight BA56, after flying for around four hours, records show. 

Virgin Atlantic’s flight VS449 from LHR to JNB took 10 hours and 55 minutes on August 6, 2023, compared to the flight time of 10 hours and 19 minutes the day prior on the same route. 

Meanwhile, a Lufthansa Boeing 747-8I, registered as D-ABYR, diverted to Murtala Muhammed International Airport (LOS), Lagos, Nigeria, marking the first-ever appearance of a 747-8I at the airport. However, the German airline’s aircraft needed to divert and refuel in order to complete its journey between JNB and Frankfurt Airport (FRA). 

An east-bound Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 MAX-8, registered as TC-LCF, diverted to LOS on its way from Pointe Noire Airport (PNR), Congo, to Istanbul Airport (IST), before it shortly continued its flight to IST. 

According to a report by France’s BFM Business, Air France has canceled certain flights to neighboring countries until at least August 11, 2023, including those to Niamey, Niger, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and Bamako, Mali. The company added that some flights will take between 15 minutes and two hours longer as a direct result of the closure of the airspace. 

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