Emirates has started to detour to Accra, Ghana, to refuel its daily flight to the capital of Nigeria to bypass pricey, and increasingly scarce, jet fuel in the embattled African nation.
The move comes as the continent’s major oil producer battles a hard currency shortage that has made fuel available only at a very high price.
The airline already cut its twice-daily flights to Nigeria’s largest city Lagos and the capital Abuja to just one.
The decision to detour was aided by a substantial drop in Ghana’s jet prices amid tax reform last month, according to the Ghana Chamber of Bulk Oil Distributors.
Other foreign airlines flying to Nigeria have also started to fill up elsewhere. Air France-KLM said it had refuelled abroad in “very exceptional cases” by juggling suppliers and stomaching extra costs.
Germany’s Lufthansa is loading more fuel in Frankfurt for its Lagos flight, where the ground staff doubt their ability to refuel for the final destination of Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, an executive said. The airline did not respond to official requests for comment.
It is the second blow for airlines operating in Africa’s recession-hit biggest economy in a year that first saw the central bank make it almost impossible to repatriate profits from ticket sales as it tried to prevent a currency collapse.
The crash in the naira since a devaluation in June has led firms who market jet fuel locally, such as Total, Sahara and ConocoPhillips, to double the price to 220 naira a litre in August, and to as much as 400 naira this month, an airline executive said.
Even at the higher costs, marketers’ lack of dollars has made fuel scarce. Some carriers have had aircraft stuck, or were forced to cancel planned journeys, after frantic last-minute calls from ground staff warned there was no fuel available.
“The economy is crying out for investment, and now it is going to be even harder for anyone to visit,” said John Ashbourne, an economist with Capital Economics. “Who is going to want to park a billion dollars in a country that you can’t even easily fly to? It sends the worst possible signal.”
Spain’s Iberia and United Airlines have already cancelled their Nigeria services and two local carriers have also halted operations. Other international airlines responded by boosting ticket prices within Nigeria, charging as much as US$2,000 for an economy class ticket to Europe to cut losses – more than double the cost of a Lagos ticket bought abroad.
British Airways, a popular choice for well-heeled Nigerians, said it is using smaller aircraft on its Lagos-London route, as did Air France-KLM.
Turkish Airlines’ use of smaller planes has added another inconvenience: passengers complained there is not always space for luggage on the smaller aircraft, delaying it for days. The airline did not respond to requests for comment.
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