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Nigerian airline cleared on one end for direct Barbados flights

by Dawne Parris
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Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria has approved an airline’s plan to operate direct commercial flights to Barbados, though the launch timeline remains unclear, a regional banking official has said.

Okechukwu Ihejirika, acting chief operating officer of the African Export-Import Bank’s (Afreximbank) CARICOM office in Barbados, said the West African nation’s authorities had cleared the airline for takeoff from Nigeria’s largest city Lagos or the capital, Abuja. Work to approve the flights is now needed on the Barbadian side, he said.

“All the discussions are ongoing, and we are happy to be playing that facilitation role that will eventually see the realisation of this dream very, very soon,” Ihejirika told Barbados TODAY on Wednesday. He declined to name the carrier.

“It’s a business decision, it’s bilateral discussions that are ongoing and what I’m assured of is the fact that because of the interest as well from the Barbadian authorities to make this happen – they’re also taking it seriously – and with the enthusiasm on the African side on this private sector side as well, who are going to run this dream, I see an announcement, being made very very imminently.

“I would have wanted it to be tomorrow, but trust me, it’s something that’s going to happen very very soon.”

The new route would be the first commercial direct air link between Nigeria and Barbados. Industry observers and promoters of closer Africa-Caribean economic and cultural ties have long highlighted the lack of direct travel options between Africa and the Caribbean as a barrier to strengthening connections between the continent and the African diaspora in the Americas.

In March 2023, David Comissiong, Barbados’ ambassador to CARICOM, said Nigerian airline Air Peace was discussing twice-weekly Barbados-Lagos flights. Air Peace also plans a service to Antigua and Barbuda as part of its investment in the revived regional airline LIAT.

While hesitant to estimate a launch date, Ihejirika was optimistic an announcement would be made “very, very imminently”, citing enthusiasm from Barbadian authorities and the private sector.

He said the lack of historical direct travel data between the countries should not hamper the route’s success.

“While there may not be historical data to support new entrance in that field – because there’s never been a flight coming in here so we can’t make projections as to the number of passengers that will have interest,” Ihejirika told Barbados TODAY. “We’re believing that yes, tourism is a good driver of this effort but apart from tourism, business also will be another compelling component of it.”

Prime Minister Mia Mottley has said that it was only political will keeping Africa and the Caribbean from establishing direct air links.

Citing a massive crowd for Nigerian singer Burna Boy’s performance at a 2022 Crop Over event, she told the inaugural AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF) that year: “Going where no one has gone before is never easy, but you can’t have Burna Boy bring out 20 000 people in Barbados, command what he commands in Nigeria and Africa, our own dear Right Excellent Rihanna the same, and not believe that we can’t open up the appetite of our people to travel to each other’s countries.”

Ihejirika highlighted the potential opportunities a new air link could bring for both business and leisure travel between the regions.

“If people find business opportunities they can take advantage of in this region, they will also now see the value in buying tickets to come here,” he said. “So they’re coming now for a dual purpose – one, pleasure and the other one could also be business.”

The Afreximbank official said that while the flight plans were not fully in their control, he was confident of an imminent positive outcome given the commitment shown by all parties.

“If it was 100 per cent in our hands, we would have made it happen tomorrow,” Ihejirika said. “But the issue is that there is a lot of preparatory work that is required, there’s a lot of engagement that is required as well to make that happen.”

dawneparris@barbadostoday.bb

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