- Following the military coup in Gabon, flights to and from Libreville Airport have been diverted or canceled, causing disruptions for airlines and passengers.
- The closure of Gabon’s airspace is the second instance of flight restrictions in Africa this month after Niger implemented similar measures.
- While the closure affects connectivity between Africa and Europe, Gabon’s smaller size and coastal location make the impact less critical than in other countries.
Several flights to and from Libreville Léon-Mba International Airport (LBV) have been diverted and canceled following the closure of Gabon’s airspace on August 30. Gabon becomes the second African country to restrict flights this month after Niger.
The airspace closure follows a military coup on Wednesday, which saw the country’s democratically elected president, Ali Bongo, being placed under house arrest. General elections were held in Gabon on August 26. After the country’s electoral commission announced Bongo’s victory, military forces canceled the results and seized power, appointing the former head of the presidential guard as the new leader.
Libreville airport comes to a standstill
LBV is Gabon’s main international airport, serving several international carriers, including Air France, Air Senegal, ASKY Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, and Royal Air Maroc (RAM). On August 29, all international flights to the airport were canceled as airlines prepared for an airspace closure. RAM said in a statement,
Due to the closure of Gabon’s airspace, we are forced to cancel flights to and from Libreville.
FlightRadar24.com shows that other flights due to land at LBV had to be diverted to various airports in the region. On August 30, ASKY’s B737 flying from São Tomé was diverted to Lomé, while Ethiopian’s B787 from Addis Ababa was diverted to Yaounde. Similarly, Transair’s 737 from Brazzaville was forced to land at Abidjan. Gabon’s only local airline, Afrijet, has also suspended all flights from Libreville. It was the only carrier connecting key domestic destinations.
The situation in Gabon also further disrupts Air France’s operations in West and Central Africa, as the carrier operates daily Airbus A330 flights between Paris and Libreville. It has been forced to cancel this service while its flights to Bamako, Niamey, and Ouagadougou remain suspended.
Effects on connectivity
The growing list of airspace closures within the continent threatens intra-Africa connectivity and various European connections. Major parts of Libya, Sudan, and Niger remain closed for overflight, forcing airlines to follow orthodox flight paths. However, Sudan opened up the northern part of the country last week, which was a relief for some carriers.
Given Gabon’s relatively smaller size and location on the coast, the closure of its airspace is not as significant as that of Niger. However, this increases the total area airlines cannot operate in Africa. Airline Executive and experienced aviation professional Sean Mendis said to Simple Flying,
“Geographically, the impact of Gabon closing its airspace to overflight is a lot less critical than Niger, for example, given the size and location of Gabon. Furthermore, the Niger situation is exacerbated by the restrictions over Libyan and Sudanese airspace as well – creating a contiguous no-fly zone effectively from the Red Sea all the way to West Africa.”
Niger’s flight restrictions forced airlines flying between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa to reroute via other West African nations, adding over 600 miles (965 km) and up to two hours to the journey. In Gabon’s case, airlines can easily deviate offshore or fly through the east without incurring significant penalties.
British Airways is one carrier that has been flying over Gabon since the closure of Niger’s airspace. Its last two Airbus A380 flights from Johannesburg OR Tambo (JNB) to London Heathrow (LHR) were seen bypassing Gabon and flying over the Gulf of Guinea. FlightRadar24.com shows that there was no significant change to the flight time.
What are your thoughts on another African country closing its airspace? Please let us know in the comments!