On Sunday evening social media blew up with reports from concerned family members of passengers that found themselves on flights to and from Europe as their flights were suddenly turned around. People tracking the flights on flight tracker apps such as FlightRadar 24 desperately tried to find out why the flights were diverted. One British Airways flight was already five hours into their flight when they were turned around only to return to Or Tambo international airport.
The reason for all the mayhem was a decision by Niger's ruling military group, the junta, to suddenly closed the country's airspace until further notice, citing threats from neighbouring nations who have called for a reverse of the junta's July 26 coup. This restriction means airlines that used to fly to and from countries like South Africa and Ghana via Niger skies now have to go around adding hours of flight time and up to 600 or more miles to the already long journeys.
The situation is similar to what's happening in Russia due to its wartime airspace closure, with Japan Airlines and Finnair currently spending thousands to fly an extra four hours between Helsinki and Tokyo.
With the closure of Niger's airspace, airlines are now grappling with an even wider section of no-fly territory in north-central Africa. African territories that are off-limits to airlines, including Niger, Libya, and Sudan. European nations including Germany, France, and the UK do not currently allow civil aircraft to fly over neighbouring Libya due to the country's volatile political situation and anti-aircraft weaponry.
The coup, the seventh in West and Central Africa in three years, has rocked the Sahel region, one of the poorest in the world. Given its uranium and oil riches and its pivotal role in a war with Islamist militants, Niger holds importance for the US, Europe, China and Russia.
Defence chiefs of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have agreed on a possible military action plan, including when and where to strike, if the detained president, Mohamed Bazoum, is not released and reinstated by the deadline.
Sadly, the current situation will eventually cause a sharp rise in ticket prices and as always the flying public will have to foot the bill.