North American to Resume Direct Flights to Nigeria

Direct flights between Nigeria and the United States are due to resume next week, with North American Airlines saying Wednesday it will restart a route that has been abandoned for most of the past decade.

Flights between the two countries were suspended in 1993, when U.S. authorities expressed concerns over security at Nigeria's airports during a period of civil unrest.

The U.S. and Nigeria signed an open skies agreement six years ago, but an attempt to resurrect the service by a sister company of North American Airlines in 2003 failed after a few months because a Nigerian partner did not pay its bills, airline representatives and Nigerian officials said. Further attempts by the partly British-owned Virgin Nigeria and Continental Airlines were stymied by trade disputes.

North American will fly between Lagos and New York three times a week beginning July 17. Spokesman Steve Forsyth said the company was eager to open a route to Africa's most populous country, but that the process of obtaining approval from both governments had taken nearly a year.

Meanwhile, public hearings are set for Thursday and Friday on a bill to update Nigeria's aviation laws to make investment and foreign partnerships easier, a government spokesman said.

"Nigeria has improved its airport security and we are updating our basic legislation, which has been in place in since 1964," said Sam Adurogboye, spokesman for Nigeria's aviation authority. "The new bill will grant the (aviation authority) more autonomy from government in day-to-day operations so they can do their job without political interference."

The bill still has to be passed by the National Assembly.

The U.S.-Nigeria route resumption comes as many African airlines smart from bans on flying to Europe because of concerns over safety and oversight. A European roster of 95 blacklisted airlines is made up mostly of carriers in African countries. No Nigerian airlines have been banned.

Nigeria has been eager to polish its reputation after two fatal crashes last year killed over 220 people. Following the crashes, which affected regional airlines Sosoliso and Bellview, Nigerian President Obsanjo fired several high level aviation officials and committed $150m to upgrade safety equipment at the country's main airports. This time last year, an Air France plane was damaged after striking a herd of cows on the runway in Port Harcourt but there were no fatalities.

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