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Thousands stranded as Arik Air grounded

Thousands of passengers across Africa have been left stranded after Nigeria’s largest airline said Tuesday it had suspended operations and might remain grounded for several days.

Arik Air attributed the “temporary disruption” to “pending approval of aircraft documentation related to insurance renewal… a challenge due to the long weekend holidays” for the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha.

Two other Nigerian carriers, Aero and First Nation, also suspended flights this month.

A dire shortage of dollars, linked to the drop in the price of oil, which accounts for 70 percent of Nigeria’s economy, has drastically reduced banks’ liquidity and left the country’s airlines unable to pay their bills.

Sabotage by armed groups in the Delta region has also affected oil revenue.

Earlier this year Angola became Africa’s largest oil producer, overtaking longtime leader Nigeria, which slipped into recession at the end of August.

“The airline business is very capital intensive. No airline operator can do this business without having to go borrowing,” Allen Onyema, head of another airline, Air Peace, wrote in a newspaper column published Tuesday.

“We need to have banks on our side. But I must say that a lot of them are scared of lending money,” he added.

International carriers have also been affected, with Emirates running a single daily flight to Dubai instead of the usual two, and Air France-KLM reducing passenger capacity by using smaller aircraft.


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