Bowing to international pressure, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has announced it has released USD265 million to international airlines to settle outstanding ticket sales.

"A breakdown of the figure indicates that the sum of USD230 million was released as special [foreign exchange] FX intervention while another sum of USD35 million was released through retail [Secondary Market Intervention Sales] SMIS auction," the bank announced on its official Twitter account.

CBN spokesman Osita Nwanisobi confirmed the release of the funds in a statement on Friday, saying CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele and his team had been concerned about the implications for travellers and the country of airlines cancelling flights to Nigeria.

This followed a warning by Emirates (EK, Dubai International) to cancel its flights to Lagos and Abuja from September 1, 2022, in protest against Nigeria withholding USD85 million of its revenue. The airline did not immediately respond to Nigeria's action.

Meanwhile, British Airways (BA, London Heathrow) confirmed to ch-aviation that its flights to Nigeria continued to operate as scheduled. "British Airways remains fully committed to serving the Nigerian market. We have been impacted like many other airlines," a spokeswoman said.

According to local media, British Airways had informed Nigerian travel agents that it had stopped selling tickets in Nigeria due to its revenue from ticket sales being withheld by the country. The National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA) had informed its members it had had a meeting with British Airways. "As members may be aware that British Airways closed inventory this morning, please be informed that this inventory closure is a necessary action taken by British Airways to mitigate the increase of their trapped funds. However, British Airways provides reassurance that it is still flying in and out of Nigeria and is currently seeking earnest solutions to address the demands of its customers," the association said.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Nigeria, in July 2022, blocked USD464 million of total airline funds from repatriation. With the latest pay-out, this still leaves USD199 million in CBN coffers.

IATA Vice President (Africa & Middle East), Kamil Alawadhi, welcomed the Nigerian government’s decision to release some of airlines’ blocked funds. "We will continue to engage with it on expediting the release of the remaining amount so that airlines can continue providing the connectivity Nigeria requires without disrupting and harming its economy and jobs."

"We encourage other countries, in Africa and elsewhere, that are blocking the repatriation of foreign airlines’ funds to follow Nigeria’s example and release the money they are withholding. Without it, airlines cannot afford to serve those countries. This would be detrimental to the people and businesses that depend on the market connectivity those airlines provide."

"While IATA cannot speak for individual airlines, we hope the release of blocked funds with assurances and safeguards to prevent a recurrence will persuade affected carriers to continue serving Nigeria," Alawadhi said.

In 2021, twenty governments withheld about USD1 billion from sold tickets, cargo space, and other airline activities. The biggest culprits are Bangladesh (USD146.1 million), Lebanon (USD175.5 million), Nigeria, and Zimbabwe (USD142.7 million), which together accounted for more than 60% of the total amount.