Lagos’ Arik Air has extended its reach into the Middle East, scheduled five direct weekly flights from Abuja to Dubai in a move at odds with recent statements by AFRAA and IATA that excessive taxation is ruining the competitiveness of African airlines over their Gulf rivals.

The ‘Wings of Nigeria’, as the airline has nicknamed itself, is arguably West and Central Africa’s largest commercial carriers and will fly the route with an Airbus A330-200 with a 30-seat premier business class tailored to the prevalence of business travellers on the route.

Dr Michael Arumemi-Ikhide, Arik Air’s global CEO, said: “Becoming the first airline to link the capital Abuja to Dubai is an exciting moment for us all, and it is also just as imperative to link Dubai as the Middle East’s commercial capital to Lagos as Nigeria’s commercial capital.”

Across the continent, however, the African Airline Association (AFRAA) is busy locking horns with both governments and the African Union (AU), both of whom it accuses of excessive taxation to the point of favouring foreign legacy carriers from Europe, the US and the Gulf.

Kenya Airways, as an example, is currently being beleaguered with the equivalent of $160m in VAT tax – a significant sum that the airline has been forced to pass along to its passengers, even as neighbouring Ethiopian Airlines and GCC airlines remain exempt from such taxation.

Tony Tyler, director-general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), has also weighed in on the debate, noting: “We expect efficient global connectivity, but the regulatory structure prevents the global consolidation that has happened in other industries.”

He observed that observed that there are higher taxes and higher fuel costs in Africa than anywhere else in the world, further highlighting that such disparities as the reason why airlines on the continent are barely able to operate profitably and have short life spans.

IATA added that it would be conducting two aviation days in Africa this year, one in Johannesburg and the other with AFRAA in Algiers aimed at sending the message that aviation is a key driver of development that leads to both jobs and economic development, and which should not be neglected.