Emirati low-cost airlines flydubai (FZ, Dubai Int’l) and Air Arabia (G9, Sharjah) have found themselves in the middle of a political tug of war between Somalia and Somaliland.
The airlines have been told to apologise to the people and government of Somaliland after they adhered to a Somali government ban on international flights imposed due to COVID-19. A flydubai flight on March 19, 2020 en-route to the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa returned to Dubai on the orders of the Somali Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA).
Stung by this apparent disregard for its autonomy, the Somaliland government, in response, revoked the route licenses of flydubai and Air Arabia. Following a heated debate during a ministerial council meeting on October 18, 2020, the Somaliland government extended the ban, demanding an apology from the two carriers and that they should come to a regulatory agreement with their own regulator, the Somaliland Civil Aviation and Airports Authority (SCAAA).
Commenting on this to SAHAN TV in Hargeisa, Somaliland Finance Minister Saad Ali Shire reiterated the ban would only be lifted if the carriers apologised and engaged with Somaliland directly on route rights.
He denied the ban was politically-motivated. “We need to correct any insinuations that the ban imposed on the two Emirati airliners is politically orientated,” he said, claiming the reasons related to “a non-existent operational agreement”.
The Finance Minister acknowledged services by the low-cost carriers were imperative to competition in the local market, and that their absence negatively impacted airport revenue, and the transport of air cargo from Europe and the United Arab Emirates.
The Somaliland Sun reported that flydubai had revealed it had initiated negotiations with the Somaliland government, but that Air Arabia was yet to comment.