Over the last few days, government relations between France and former colony of Niger have come to a breaking point. While the military coup that ousted elected President Mohamed Bazoum took place last July, French President Emmanuel Macron formally withdrew France’s ambassador and announced that it would be stopping all military cooperation with Niger on Sunday, Sept. 25.
France is also set to pull more than 1,500 military troops from both Niger and surrounding countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso that were helping maintain stability in the region.
Air France Airbus A320 seen at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport on August 14, 2023. Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
‘All commercial flights and international aircraft with the exception of French’
As the coup was still going on, Niger airspace was closed to all flights on Aug. 6 due to what the junta said was “threat of intervention from neighboring countries.” While some airlines were given clearance to fly from Sept. 4 onwards, the country said that it is now “open to all national commercial flights and international aircraft” with France being the exception.
“Niger has decided to restrict access to its airspace,” the transitional presidency currently claimed by General Abdourahmane Tchiani said in a statement sent to the Agency for Air Navigation Safety in Africa (ASECNA) and first reported by France24. “This remains open to all national commercial flights and international aircraft, with the exception of French aircraft and those chartered by France, including the Air France fleet. In addition, all operational military flights and special flights remain prohibited unless exceptionally authorized by the authorities.”
Air France, in turn, told local media outlets that it “was not flying over Niger airspace.”
Here is why countries close their airspace (and what it means for airlines)
In general, nations close their airspace amid times of war or any other risk of attack. The term refers to a ban on any aircraft crossing through the air. Any unauthorized crossing is generally seen as an attack and could be subject to military intervention or even get shot down.
After Russian invasion of its territory in February 2022, Ukraine closed its airspace to all civilian flights — almost two years later, it is still impossible to fly in or out of the country.
It is also possible for nations to close the airspace for a particular country for either security reasons or as part of wider sanctions. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than 30 countries closed their airspace to all Russian aircraft and the ban still applies as its government continues to wage war in Ukraine.
To orchestrate and maintain the coup, the military junta now headed by Tchiani enlisted the help of Russian mercenary group Wagner also waging war in Ukraine.
“I think what happened, and what continues to happen in Niger was not instigated by Russia or by Wagner, but. they tried to take advantage of it,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the time. “Every single place that this Wagner group has gone, death, destruction and exploitation have followed.”