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IATA: Nigeria now has the highest amount of unrepatriated airlines’ funds in the world

BY Desmond Okon

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says Nigeria now has the highest amount of unrepatriated airlines’ funds in the world.

In a statement on Sunday, IATA said airlines’ funds blocked from repatriation globally have increased to $2.27 billion in April 2023.

The figure increased by 47 percent from $1.55 billion in April last year, according to the group.

The air transport association said the top five countries — Nigeria, Bangladesh, Algeria, Pakistan, Lebanon — account for 68 percent of the total blocked funds worldwide.

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A breakdown of the blocked funds shows that a total of $812.2 million is withheld in Nigeria, while $214.1 million is trapped in Bangladesh.

According to IATA, the authorities of Algeria, Pakistan, and Lebanon are blocking the repatriation of $196.3 million, $188.2 million, and $141.2 million, respectively.

The organisation warned that rapidly rising levels of blocked funds are a threat to airline connectivity in the affected markets.

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Willie Walsh, IATA’s director-general, called on governments to find lasting solutions to the situation to ensure aviation companies sustain connectivity.

“Airlines cannot continue to offer services in markets where they are unable to repatriate the revenues arising from their commercial activities in those markets. Governments need to work with industry to resolve this situation so airlines can continue to provide the connectivity that is vital to driving economic activity and job creation,” Walsh said.

IATA also ​​​​​urged governments to abide by international agreements and treaty obligations to enable airlines to repatriate the funds arising from the sale of tickets, cargo space, and other activities.

Foreign airlines have been struggling to repatriate revenues generated from their operations in Nigeria since last year.

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Since the amount increased from $450 million in May 2022, to $464 million in July of the same year, the trapped funds have forced major airlines to take drastic measures against Africa’s biggest market.

In attempts to recover its revenue last year, Emirates Airlines suspended flight operations to Nigeria in November.

In a similar move, British Airways (BA) closed inventory on Nigeria in the global distribution system (GDS) — an act that prevented local travel agencies from making bookings from their portals.

Following several meetings by the authorities aimed at addressing the impasse, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) released the sum of $265 million to foreign airlines operating in the country to settle outstanding ticket sales.

But the problem is yet to be fully resolved, as the funds continue to rise.

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