Air Nigeria scales back sole remaining Gatwick route

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Air Nigeria has reduced frequencies on its newly launched Lagos-London Gatwick service - the only route still operated by the carrier following its suspension of domestic and regional flights last week.

The airline will now operate its Gatwick connection four times weekly, after originally launching it as a daily service on 17 May.

Nigeria's civil aviation authority issued a suspension order for the carrier's domestic and regional flights on 21 June - the second such grounding in a month - citing concerns over safety compliance and alleged financial irregularities.

The Gatwick service is exempt from the suspension as it is operated with an EgyptAir A330-200 (registration SU-GCI), which has been wet-leased from Cairo for a 12-month period.

Air Nigeria had been due to receive a second EgyptAir A330-200 (registration SU-GCJ) this month, which was to be deployed on a new service from Lagos to Johannesburg. That route has since been postponed, and the aircraft remains in Egypt.

"There isn't a firm delivery date for the second aircraft, but it is painted with Air Nigeria livery," an EgyptAir spokesperson tells Flightglobal.

Re-affirming the Lagos-based carrier's international expansion plan, an Air Nigeria spokesperson adds: "The second aircraft will join the fleet shortly, especially as we aim to commence operations to Johannesburg and thereafter expand to Paris Charles de Gaulle and Rome."

The airline is also confident of receiving a clean bill of health for its domestic and regional flights, claiming that it is "the only carrier in west Africa to pass three consecutive IATA Operational Safety Audit programmes (IOSA) in the last five years".

Dismissing allegations of financial irregularities, it maintains that management have "consistently submitted to internationally recognised audit exercises".

Air Nigeria chief executive Kinfe Kahssaye was arrested by the country's Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) on 18 June during an armed raid on the airline's offices.

FIRS had been demanding backdated taxes allegedly owed from the period when Air Nigeria was a subsidiary of Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic Airways, the carrier said following the raid. It insisted that new chairman Jimoh Ibrahim has honoured all tax obligations since acquiring the airline in 2010.

"Air Nigeria cannot be intimidated by this crude approach, and will not be ready to give bribe to any person no matter how highly placed," the airline said at the time.