Four Nigerian airlines on Thursday declined to sign an agreement with the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) to transport the 2023 Hajj intending pilgrims to Saudi Arabia due to the ongoing crisis in Sudan.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the airlines are: Max Air with 16,326 allocation, Air Peace with 11,348, Azman Air with 8,660 and Aero Contractors with 7,833.
However, only the Saudi Arabian designated airline Flynas that will transport 28,515 intending pilgrims to Saudi Arabia signed the agreement.
Briefing newsmen at the venue of signing of the agreement at Hajj House in Abuja, the Chairman, NAHCON, Zikrullah Hassan, said that Flynas would transport about 40 per cent of the Nigerian pilgrims.
Hassan, however, said that the commission adjourned till Tuesday, May 9, to deliberate further with the Nigerian airlines that declined to sign the agreement.
He sad: “Their representatives did inform me that they will be coming to discuss with us, with their Chairmen or Chief Executives Officers where we intend to have more in-depth discussions before we come to agreement.
“The reason why it is delayed is because of the Sudan crisis. We have been told that the Sudan airspace has been shut down.
‘The airlines will have to go through another route which from all indications is longer than passing through Sudan.
“We are hopeful that the Sudan conflict will abate and if it does, it means that we will go back to where we are.
“We have planned our agreement prior to the Sudan crisis and we know that as we speak, there is a ceasefire in Sudan.”
According to Hassan, although it is not however known how soon the crisis will end.
“We will keep on working with the understanding that the ceasefire will work and the crisis will come to an end so pilgrims from all over the world will be able to transit through Sudan to Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Earlier, the NAHCON’s Commissioner of Operations, Alhaji Abdullahi Magaji-Hardawa, said that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved a waiver of 65 per cent of all aviation related charges on the Nigerian airlines approved to transport pilgrims to Saudi Arabia
This, according to him, is to cushion the effects of eventualities for the airlines.
He said: “Nobody canvassed for that but as an organisation, we made the suggestion to the president and he graciously approved it.
“Now the challenges of crisis in Sudan is confronting us and it is threatening the success of hajj operations.
“The airlines are business entities and they are partners in this dispensation.
“We want them to happily participate in the hajj operation and profitably.
“We have seven airlines approved by Buhari for this year’s hajj. Two airlines are dedicated to the pilgrims under the Tour Operators.”
According to Magaji-Hardawa, five airlines were for the 36 states and the FCT quota pilgrims.
“Among the five, there is a Saudi accredited airline. They are here with us and they are under bilateral air service agreement.
”Therefore, their position is distinct in the agreement and different with the other Nigeria airlines.
“We had a discussion with them and they are conscious of their diplomatic status, they listened and cooperated with us and they signed the transportation agreement,” he added.
NAN reports that no fewer than 95,000 pilgrims from Nigeria are expected to perform this year’s pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.