A tale of fair weather friends and the foreign carriers

Recently, the Federal Government through the minister of state for aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika made an appeal to foreign airlines operating in Nigeria but considering  to either downgrade or suspend their operations to have a rethink. The decision by the foreign carriers to suspend, reduce or stop their operations in Nigeria has been traced to many reasons ranging from the ongoing economic recession confronting the country which has made it impossible for them to repatriate their revenues trapped in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to scarcity of forex.

The  minister of state for aviation while receiving the West African Regional Manager for Emirates Airlines, Manoj Gopi Nair, in his office in Abuja had appealed to the management of Emirates and other airlines to reconsider their decisions to either suspend their operations or scale them down, considering the adverse effects on their long-standing customers and the benefits they had reaped in the past.

In his response, the Emirates Regional Manager, attributed the decision to move out of the country to the poor access to foreign exchange, high cost of aviation fuel and the state of the Abuja Airport runway.

Just like Emirates, the other mega carriers have their stories to tell while it is no longer news that many of the foreign airlines have either shifted their patronage to other neighbouring countries particularly Accra, Ghana while others have reduced their frequencies or attempting to out rightly stop operations. The minister has actually done the right thing by appealing to the foreign carriers to reconsider their plan to leave or reduce their presence in Nigeria.

Equally, the mega carriers have the right to seek greener pasture where they feel will be more profitable for them.

But the bitter truth is that many of the foreign carriers  have only showed that they are fair weather friends who only stay when things are booming but quickly fly away when there are challenges. Therefore, at this juncture, it is hoped that the federal government will realize the fact that there is nothing as good as supporting your own airlines. Those calling for more support to the domestic airlines may have based their position on a time like this.  Surely, for a country with the largest population in Africa with citizens adjudged to be the best traveled around the globe, there is the need for as many foreign airlines as possible.

However, the  sad point here is that while the government was all along supporting the foreign carriers to succeed, it failed to help build up its own. Assisting here does not mean doling out cash to the domestic carriers  but in making the atmosphere conducive through introduction of friendly policies such as affordable price of aviation fuel, reduced and well balanced Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA), stoppage of multiple entry points to foreign airlines among others. Rather than help support the indigenous carriers to enable them grow, many of the government policies have succeeded in making many of the foreign carriers see themselves as the ‘all in all’.

Agreed that even most of the domestic carriers have shown they were not ready for the business but obviously, there are two or three which have proved that with little support they can go places. The ongoing economic challenges that the foreign carriers are laying claims to for wanting to leave Nigeria is not peculiar to the country therefore, their action has been described by many Nigerian air travelers as embarrassing. Like many Nigerians, the action of many of the foreign airlines since the challenges facing the country became pronounced only portray them as bad friends only interested in the rosy side of the country.

It therefore becomes sad that with the little challenge the country is facing, the mega carriers which have been feeding fat on the Nigerian market seamlessly suddenly decided to shift elsewhere.

One obvious thing is that Nigeria will soon bounce back, but while there is the need for government to help build its own airlines, it should take note of its friends among the foreign airlines because once all the obstacles the mega carriers identified for making them to leave are removed, they will start rushing back and that should be the pay back time for good friends.