Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, says major international aviation player, Emirates Airlines is looking to resume operations on the Nigeria route.

Keyamo said in an interview programme, on Arise TV, Monday, that the governments of Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates have resolved issues that led to Emirates suspending flight operations to Nigeria.

Emirates Airlines halted its flight operations to Nigeria in October 2022 because it couldn’t repatriate funds held in the country.

“I just got a letter from Emirates, thanking us for going through all the gamut and that they’re ready to come back. They will announce the date because to restart a route, they have to get the aircraft on that route.

“I’m announcing it for the first time to Nigerians that I just received a letter from Emirates now. The letter is with me, I have the hard copy too, thanking for all the efforts we made and Mr. President was the showman here. He was the one that pushed and pushed for it.

“He made my job easy because he went there on a diplomatic shuttle. It took time to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. They will announce the date of their first flight. But I have received a letter confirming that all issues have been resolved.

They are prepared to start coming back. It may be before the summer. They will announce the date.”

Concerning the issue around repatriation of funds and whether the government has been able to clear off the backlogs, he said, “The repatriation of funds, is that there were two sets of funds that were trapped, so people got it confused. There were the funds that were trapped by the CBN and that is the ones that they had bidded for but the CBN had not been able to meet its obligation.

“They bided for it, CBN accepted the bid but they couldn’t provide the funds for it. That one amounted to about $160 million. That is the government’s own obligation.

“We have cleared it. So, when government says they’ve cleared their obligation, they are talking about the ones that CBN has responsibility in respect of. They’ve cleared those ones. The other ones are for the commercial banks. The commercial banks, when they sell their tickets, their funds are trapped in the commercial banks, the commercial banks cannot raise the fx to fund and transfer to them.

“That is not government’s responsibility. It’s for the commercial banks to raise those funds and transfer those funds. That is where the confusion came in, but government’s own responsibility regarding the Central Bank, they have cleared hundred percent of the trapped funds.”

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Concerning aerospace development, he discussed plans to develop comprehensive master plans for airports, including elements such as railways and land transport to improve passenger experiences.

The Minister outlined a vision for a 30-year master plan with phases, emphasising the need for world-class consultants to design airports and implement the plans systematically.

“Aerospace development means that it’s not going to space, people have been confusing it. That is under the Ministry of Science and Technology. We are talking about not just the runways and the terminal buildings this time, but developing the entire ecosystem around the airports.

“Modern airports go beyond runways and terminal buildings, which is what has been happening over the years. Our development of airports has been runways, terminal buildings. The modern airports around the world, you have air transport colliding with land transport. So rails must come into the airports. Rail must come in, land transport must come in and then the air transport. It makes for passenger experience, so from the point you land from the airport till the time you get to your bedroom, it becomes seamless. You don’t struggle because all the transportation and all the transit points become easy.

“The other one is to transit you from one wing to the other for international travels. What we met on the ground is that we don’t have master plans to develop aerotropolis and a total ecosystem for our airports. We have been developing our airports in fits and starts. So, when somebody comes and says I want to do this at the airport, they just say anywhere that is available at the airport, go and do it. These are the types of problems.

“The first thing I did was to halt all developments, to do a master plan. For the five internationals . We are going to do it for all of them. In this year’s budget, the National Assembly and their committees on aviation, extremely helpful people and supportive, they saw my point and approved for us a budget on master plans. We now have a budget to develop the total aerospace.

“We want to do a 30 year master plan with phases.Where will the conference center be later? Where will the five star hotels be later? Where will the MR facilities be later, because all of them must carry MRO facilities. All of this must be in a total master plan, in a total aerospace. Once we do that, we will now call concessionaires and say this is our plan. We are selling our vision to you, you are not coming to build anything for us as you like.

“Very soon we are consulting world-class consultants. We are going round the world. The best design consultants must come and help us design these airports, get us these plans and from then on, we now begin to develop our airports in phases.

“But whilst that is going on, those are a bit long term plans, the short-term plan is that we are going to repair our facilities, maintain those facilities of the existing ones so that passengers can have good experiences.”