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Airlines were forced to divert some flights after Niger restricted its airspace on Sunday night, making it more difficult for planes to fly across parts of Africa.

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. Air France, KLM and Lufthansa also saw services diverted or delayed. 

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. 

“We’ve apologised to those customers affected for the disruption to their journeys,” BA said in a statement. “Our teams are working hard to get them on their way again as quickly as possible.”

The sudden airspace closure in Niger makes it harder for airlines flying between Europe and Southern Africa, adding an hour or more on to certain routes, according to tracking service FlightRadar24. 

There are also airspace restrictions over Sudan and Libya, meaning commercial aircraft cannot fly over. This means airlines need to extend flight times and cater for more fuel.

Air France has suspended flights to and from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Bamako in Mali until August 11, the company said on Monday, after Niger’s junta closed its airspace on Sunday, with longer flight times expected in the west African region.

Country manager for Southern Africa for Air France- KLM, Wilson Tauro, said: "In an instance where air space is restricted for any reason, Air France-KLM ensures that relevant changes are made to routes and flight paths to ensure the best possible route for passengers and crew. In this specific instance, we will make changes to our routes to avoid possible challenges, ensuring safety as priority number one and minimal impact on flight operations."

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

A spokesperson for Brussels Airlines added that flight times could be between an hour-and-a-half to three-and-a-half hours longer for rerouted flights and could include a fuel stop. 

Some flights were already en route when the airspace closed, causing them to make a diversion or reroute, per FlightRadar24.

Niger’s junta restricted access to the country’s airspace on Sunday, citing warnings of an attack from foreign powers as a deadline issued by West African neighbours — warning they could intervene to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum — expired.

The junta that took power in a July 26 coup has rejected all calls to restore democracy and warned against any foreign interference. Hundreds of protesters gathered in the capital, Niamey on Sunday, in support of the coup leaders. 

Niger’s airspace restrictions will remain in place until further notice, according to a statement from the junta on state television on Sunday.

With Staff Writer 

Reuters and Bloomberg

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