By Kenneth Ehigiator
Continental Airlines has secured the approval of the Federal Government to operate flights between Lagos and Houston, Texas.

The coming of Continental Airlines brings to three the number of U.S. airlines operating flights into Nigeria.
United Airlines had last week announced plans to commence flight operations between Lagos and Washington DC, en route Accra, Ghana, with effect from December 12, 2010, while Delta had since December 4, 2008, being flying direct from Lagos to New York, and had since added Abuja to its route network.

Continental’s plan to begin flight in November 2011 was announced yesterday in Chicago by the President and Chief Executive Officer of United Continental Holdings, Jeff Smisek, and Lagos would become the airline’s 31st destination in its trans-Atlantic route network.

He said the airline’s approval to start Lagos-Houston operations was made possible by Aviation Minister, Mrs. Fidelia Njeze, and Director-General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren.

“We are grateful to the Mrs Fidelia Akuabata Njeze,  Minister of Aviation, Dr. Harold O. Demuren, Director General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, and their colleagues for their partnering with us to provide this critical link between these two energy capitals.”

“Service between Houston and Lagos , complemented by our planned service between Washington and Lagos , will enable greater customer convenience and increased commerce,” Smisek said.

Experts see the renewed interest in Nigeria by American carriers as hinged on the recent U.S. government’s certification of the country’s aviation sector as one of the safety-driven systems in the world, with the category 1 status granted Nigeria by the Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, in the United States.

However, Continental’s coming to Nigeria would have eroded the principle of reciprocity in the country’s open skies agreement with the U.S., as the present scenario would be Nigeria’s Arik Air against U.S. three carriers of Delta, United and Continental.

Although the federal government designated three Nigerian carriers, including Arik Air, Bellview and Virgin Nigeria (now Air Nigeria), on U.S routes some four years ago, only Arik had been able to take advantage of the designation

Continental Airlines is a wholly owned subsidiary of United Continental Holdings, Inc., and the airline, together with Continental Express and Continental Connection, has more than 2,400 daily departures throughout the Americas , Europe and Asia , serving 142 domestic and 131 international destinations.

It is a member of Star Alliance, which overall offers 21,000 daily flights to 1,160 airports in 181 countries, and it, together with its regional partners, carries approximately 63 million passengers per year.

United Continental Holdings, Inc. became the holding company for both United and Continental upon close of the merger transaction.

The two airlines will operate separately as they begin to integrate key customer services, marketing activities and airport processes.

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