The recent drama created between Nigeria’s federal government, Canada on one side and some other foreign countries over their refusal to allow Nigerian carriers to evacuate Nigerians stranded in their countries due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic back home has continued to generate reactions from key players across the sector. Many are contesting the continuous tacit support of government to promote foreign airlines over the indigenous airlines as witnessed in the engagement of foreign carriers to evacuate Nigerians stranded around the world.
While some stakeholders laid the blame on the doorstep of the government for failing to fight and support its indigenous carriers, others are accusing the government of over pampering the foreign carriers at the expense of the domestic carriers.
Citing the drama that confronted the evacuation of many Nigerians stranded across the various countries with the refusal of some of the countries to permit Nigerian carriers to conduct the evacuation exercise, the key players are calling for the review of the country’s air travel agreements and the need for government to engage in aero politics.
Many of the key players have suggested a firmer position to be taken by the government following the continual sabotage of the few Nigerian airlines designated on the foreign routes in total disregard to the air agreements they signed with Nigeria.
FG should retaliate good or bad foreign policies:
Uncomfortable with the treatment meted to the Nigerian carriers the country’s House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, through its Chairman, Honourable Nnolim Nnaji had warned that any attempt to use foreign airlines to evacuate stranded Nigerians from Canada for example would not be condoned by the House.
The committee had summoned the COVID-19 task force, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Aviation and government agencies directly or indirectly involved in the earlier evacuation flights handled by the British Airways, Emirates and Ethiopian Airlines from the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and America to appear before it.
Nnaji had explained that the House in adopting the motion on the use of foreign airlines for evacuation of stranded Nigerians in other countries had urged the President to direct the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Aviation,the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission and the Presidential Task Force, (PTF) on COVID-19 as well as all relevant Ministerial Departments and Agencies, (MDAs) to ensure that Nigerian Airlines enjoy the right of first refusal in all circumstances where Nigerians need to be evacuated from other countries even as he urged the two Ministries and indeed the COVID-19 task force to explore all available diplomatic channels to ensure that a Nigerian airline operate the evacuation flight out of Canada.
Sadly, the plea did not yield positive result as the Canadian government still insisted that Ethiopian Airlines should operate the special flight.
As the disrespect to the Nigerian government by the governments of the affected countries particularly that of Canada continues to elicit reactions from stakeholders, there is however a fresh condemnation against what many of the key players have described as the government’s passive stance on the injustice even as the news filtered out within the week again of a new plan for more stranded Nigerians to be flown in from the United Arab Emirates by Emirates Airlines while Ethiopian airlines will be flying more Nigerians back home from the United States.
Among the questions being raised include: why Air Peace, a Nigerian carrier already designated on the Nigeria/Sharjah/Dubai route has not been approached to evacuate the Nigerians from the UAE back to Nigeria as the airline did for the stranded Nigerians trapped in South Africa during the xenophobic attacks. Another question is why Nigerian carriers like Arik or Air Peace also designated on Lagos/Houston can not be allowed to bring the Nigerians stranded in the U.S. due to the pandemic.
According to key players, the failure of the government to encourage the use of domestic airlines like Arik, Aero and Air Peace judiciously while evacuating stranded Nigerians across the globe as the pandemic rages on has been capitalized on by the home countries of many of the foreign carriers operating into the country to work against the Nigerian airlines at the slightest opportunities.
Many key players who spoke to the Saturday Tribune have argued that with the number of evacuation flights conducted by Air Peace especially during the COVID-19 lockdown, that the federal government should support the airline on the international route.
Nigeria’s airlines need government support:
For an aircraft engineer and presently, head of administration and human resources at 7 Star hangar, a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) company at the Lagos airport, Engineer Sheri Ayuba Kyari; “Nigeria as a country over the decades has been a laughing stock in international affairs in the area of supporting its own citizens to grow the economy and provide jobs for its teeming youths.
“We have never provided the needed support to any private airline in this nation for many years of aviation other than a few airlines that were given the London and Jeddah routes. Government did not support them and the foreign government in collaboration with their airlines created enough reasons to edge them out. In the case of Air Peace Airlines, the airline has, to a large extent, shown that it has the capacity to play the role of Nigeria Airways in the seventies and early eighties but there are Nigerians that are colluding with foreign airlines and government to thwart the efforts of indigenous carriers. Bilateral Agreements are not properly handled for the benefit of the nation but are lopsided in favour of the foreign carriers. Every effort is made to ensure the failure of indigenous carriers. The government should come out loudly to support the efforts of Air Peace and other airlines to play in the international arena. The last imbroglio with Canada readily comes to mind. If the government had stepped in with very high diplomatic maneuvers, it would have won that struggle for Air Peace even though we do not have any direct flights to and from there. We have seen what other countries are doing for their airlines, our government should insist on dealing with them on equal terms, even though the other airlines have interline advantages couple with many alliances, still, it will reduce their upload if they refuse our terms. We must stand firm as a nation so that we can grow this industry and reduce capital flight to a large extent. The Government should be deliberate in supporting our airlines and the aviation industry, at least to come near with mega carriers. We have what it takes to do that and the multitude to give us success.”
In his position, a one time military commandant of the Murtala Muhammed Airport and presently a member of Aviation Round Table Initiatives (ARTI), Group Captain John Ojikutu, retired, while Air Peace has already been designated on some international routes, the only way government can be of help is on the domestic routes where it can restrict the foreign airlines.
His words: “Repeatedly, I have said that the multiple destinations given to the foreign airlines in Nigeria infringe into the markets of the domestic carriers. Open sky treaties should not mean the handing over the keys of all gates leading into our compound and rooms to the guests.
The only aero politics government can play is to restrict foreign airlines to internal domestic markets. They can do multiple frequencies to two airports but not to more than two. If any wants to come ten to twenty times a day, it should be free but not to beyond two airports. Allowing them all into all our airports leave no market for the domestic carriers.
“International routes are commercially competitive and you just have to go into one or two international alliances to be able to make it. None of the international airlines would share with you what they have developed over a long period of decades. You either develop your own commercial routes or retain and restrict the foreign airlines on your domestic routes. The Mexican domestic airlines gets about 70% of its annual 43m passengers on domestic routes and does less than five foreign routes. The population of Nigeria is about 180/200m and the figures of our domestic and international passengers from 22 of our airports are less than that of Johannesburg of South African alone; don’t you think we have a lot of work to do internally than international? There are over 100m metric tons of cargo movement annually on our road and we have less than 30,000 metric tons of air cargo, less than 0.001%, don’t you think we have a lot of work to do internally than international? Let our charity begins from home. Five million international passengers by about 10 international airlines which are not up to the figures of one airport in contemporary African state should not be what foreign airlines should be competing for in five of our airports and on our domestic routes with our domestic carriers. All foreign airlines operating to Nigeria should be limited to maximum two of the airports and not to Lagos and Abuja but Lagos or Abuja and any other from alternate geographical north/south zone or location. That way, the foreign airlines would be forced to go into local partnership or alliances with the domestic carriers for distributing international passengers on their flights to local airports outside their reach.”
FG needs to engage in air diplomacy:
For Olumide Ohunayo, a Director at the Zenith Travels, Lagos, since Nigeria has airlines like Air Peace which has shown the capacity, what the FG needs to do is to see how it can support Air Peace and any other Nigerian carrier designated on foreign routes in air diplomacy.”We saw what happened between America and China recently. These are the areas we need government to support any airline not just Air Peace that has been given the flag to fly the international routes. They must back that airline up with all diplomatic and all aeronautical laws and powers. One of that power is what is called retaliatory and commensurate air operations. We must make sure we are very positive in whatever we do concerning the routes the airlines want to go to. So whatever stumbling block that are put before those ones that we have nominated or given the flag to fly, such stumbling block must be reciprocated back by the government. So for me, we should concentrate first on developing the domestic scene and the West Coast, then we gradually move to international scene. You don’t just get up and start international operations or begin to build capacity. All what the government needs to do is to show some power and give the airlines some power and support that will ensure that anybody seeing Air Peace or any Nigerian airline will know that Air Peace is representing Nigeria.
Controversy had erupted across the sector and the country at large when the news broke out about how the Canadian High Commission in Nigeria worked against the use of Nigeria’s domestic airline, Air Peace to airlift the Nigerians caught up in the foreign country due to the outbreak of COVID-19 back home.
Despite the insistence of the federal government that a Nigerian airline should evaluate the stranded Nigerians back home, Canada sabotaged the government’s position by giving preference to Ethiopian Airlines.
The rest is history now as Canada had its way as the Nigerians were eventually flown into the country by Ethiopian Airlines, the preferred airline of Canada.
The tension created by the use of foreign airlines to evacuate Nigerians from different countries when the country could boast of at least three tested carriers; Arik, Aero and Air Peace, key players are calling on government to show more support for the indigenous carriers like Air Peace which has been engaged even by foreign countries to help evacuate their nationals stranded in Nigeria.
Air Peace at the peak of the lockdown had evacuated about 210 Israelis from Nigeria to Tel-Aviv at the instance of the Israeli government, evacuated 301 Chinese from Lagos airport to Guangzhou, China and also evacuated 286 Indians to Kochi from Lagos.
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