A British Airways flight from Johannesburg to London was forced to make an inflight diversion and returned to Johannesburg following the sudden closure of Niger’s airspace on Sunday evening.
British Airways flight BA56, operated by an Airbus A380 had departed from Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) at 7.20pm local time on a scheduled flight bound for London Heathrow Airport (LHR).
Niger airspace closure
BA56 effectively became a ‘flight to nowhere’ when Niger’s airspace was suddenly closed to all traffic whilst the A380 was enroute over Angola.
Impact on commercial air traffic
Niger’s airspace was suddenly closed on August 6, 2023, after coup leaders in the troubled country made the decision to lock airspace down; citing the threat of military intervention from neighbouring nations.
Several flights to the UK were airborne when the closure occurred at around 11.20 BST on Sunday evening.
The effective lock out from Niger airspace compounds a problem for north-south air traffic across the African continent, as the adjoining airspace over both Sudan and Libya is already closed to traffic. This particularly affects flights north and south to and from Europe and southern Africa.
The implications for air travel on affected routes means extended flight times and possible ticketing costs as airlines will be forced to adopt adjusted flight paths which could potentially add over 1,000 kilometres to flights.
Although the NOTAM issued with the airspace closure listed the end of the restriction as 7 Aug at 23:59 UTC, there is a high likelihood of extension will be extended. The closure can be taken to be indefinite at this stage, and it is not yet clear when it will be lifted.
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