THE Federal Government’s recent signing of the controversial African Continental Trade Agreement, AfCTA may have sealed the trade deal, one obvious fact is that as good as it would have been, the country’s aviation sector particularly its airlines may suffer the casualty of the negative effects in the deal.
Prior to the final signing of the agreement by President Muhammadu Buhari, key players across the aviation sector in particular had raised questions about the level of preparedness of the federal government towards ensuring all the required components Nigeria needs to key into to reap from the benefits of agreement.
In other words, many questions calling for answers from the government include; if it had weighed the pros and cons of the deal vis a vis if the government has put its house in order or at least weigh the sincerity on the parts of the other African nations that are on the contrary pushing Nigeria to sign the trade deal.
Despite the too many genuine questions and the controversy it generated, the rest is now history as the government has signed it making the agreement binding on Nigeria once the final documentation has been perfected.
Now that the deal has been signed, stakeholders in the sector are expressing reservations about the overall effects such a deal will have on the aviation sector already bedeviled by myriad of challenges thrown at it by the various unpopular policies of government which have made business environment in the sector hostile towards performances and optimum standard.
Without any bias, with the present state of the domestic airlines, it is almost impossible for any of them to make any positive impact because of obvious reasons.
Top of the factors that may hinder the airlines from tapping from the dividends of the deal include: the disadvantageous air service agreements Nigeria has with the African countries which are only beneficial to airlines coming from there.
Many of the African carriers are encouraged to join other foreign carriers to explore Nigerian travelers through the loopholes created by the unpopular policies of government in the sector.
Such unpopular policies include: double taxations, expensive aviation fuel, multiple entry points and loose frequencies given to foreign airlines, failure of government to support the indigenous carriers in the area of international aero politics, failure of the government to protect its domestic carriers against the discrimination they are subjected to in many African countries in contradiction to the seamless opportunities the African airlines enjoy in Nigeria.
Up till now, the Yamoussoukro Decision treaty that allows for open skies amongst many African countries which was endorsed by 44 members of the African Union in 1999, and became binding in 2002, is sadly being frustrated by many of the African leaders who are the ones calling for the implementation of AfCTA.
Besides these obvious factors, there are many other policies the government had taken in the past which rather than improve the lot of the sector ended up dragging it back. Among such policies included: the open skies Nigeria signed with the United States which allows airlines from both sides to operate into each other’s territory. Another of such controversial policies was the dual designation agreement signed by Nigeria with Britain for two airlines to operate the Lagos/London route.
It is no longer hidden that many of these policies have not yielded the desired results for the sector and the country at large as the domestic airlines have not been able to key into the opportunities.
It is at this juncture that the Crucial Moment is joining stakeholders in the sector to call on the government to put its house in order before the latest deal becomes fully implemented.
In putting its house in order, government should strengthen its domestic airlines by not only making the environment more business friendly but giving them all the required support and priorities.
It is when all these bottlenecks are removed on the way of the domestic carriers that they can operate at the optimum standard and subsequently benefit from the trade deal.
Equally, when the domestic carriers begin to enjoy the support of government, they will not only operate profitably, the sector in return will key into the financial benefits in the AfCTA deal.