Flights from Joburg and Cape Town to London diverted due to closure of Niger airspace

An aircraft taxis next to the control tower at Heathrow airport in London. Picture: Reuters

An aircraft taxis next to the control tower at Heathrow airport in London. Picture: Reuters

Published Aug 8, 2023


By Joanna Plucinska and Paolo Laudani

European carriers on Monday reported disruptions and suspended flights across the African continent after Niger's junta closed its airspace on Sunday.

The junta on Monday braced for a response from the West African regional bloc after ignoring its deadline to reinstate the country's ousted president or face the threat of military intervention.

The disruption adds to a band of African airspace facing geopolitical disruptions, including Libya and Sudan, with some flights facing up to 1,000 kilometres in detours.

"The closure of Niger's airspace dramatically widens the area over which most commercial flights between Europe and southern Africa cannot fly," tracking service FlightRadar24 said in a blog post.

Air France has suspended flights to and from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Bamako in Mali until Aug. 11, the company said on Monday, with longer flight times expected in the west African region.

A spokesperson added that Air France expected longer flight times from sub-Saharan hub airports and that flights between Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and Accra in Ghana were set to operate non-stop.

But aviation analyst James Halstead said that airlines would mostly have to find alternative routes and difficulties should be limited given the small number of African air connections.

"I'm not sure this is huge disruption ... it will affect routes from Europe to Nigeria and South Africa and probably from the Gulf of the Ethiopia to West Africa," he said.

British Airways was one of the carriers affected by Niger’s partial closure of airspace, with at least five flights to and from its London hubs diverting - including services from Nairobi, Cape Town and flights to and from Johannesburg, Bloomberg reported.

Spokespeople for Lufthansa and Brussels Airlines said that flight times could be between one-and-a-half and three-and-a-half hours longer for rerouted flights.

BA confirmed in social media posts that some flights, including one from London Heathrow to Johannesburg, had been diverted because of the airspace closure over Niger, added Bloomberg.

British Airways in an emailed statement said it "apologised to those customers affected for the disruption to their journeys," and said it was working hard to get them on their way again as quickly as possible.