The over 32 foreign airlines operating into Nigeria presently will no doubt continue to milk the entire country until the federal government decides to give the required attention to its indigenous airlines.
It is no longer hidden that the foreign carriers are having a swelling time in view of the huge capital flight they repatriate to their home countries annually no thanks to the weak policies of the federal government.
Like a smart businessman or woman, the foreign airlines have continued to explore all the loopholes inherent in Nigeria’s air transport policies to have their way which, unfortunately, is responsible to a large extent the dominance of the foreign airlines’ activities in Nigeria and the continent in general.
According to statistics by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), international airlines sold tickets worth $1.4 billion to Nigerian travellers in 2017and in the first six months of 2018, the foreign carriers sold tickets worth $800 million, a figure that could have gone higher.
The foreign airlines’ dominance of the African airspace including Nigeria has been confirmed by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ethiopian Airlines, Mr Tewolde Gebremariam and the over 500 participants drawn from across Africa to the 29th MRO Africa & 8th African Aviation Training Conference & Exhibition, organized by the Nigerian born Chief Executive Officer of African Aviation Services Limited and the Chairman, African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA), Mr Nick Fadugba who alerted the near extinction of African carriers and the subsequent take over of flight operations in Africa.
According to the participants, prior to now African carriers used to control 60% market shares of flights on the continent, a percentage which has drastically dropped to less than 20% while the foreign airlines now enjoy above 80%.
The gathering called on the government of the African nations to assist their indigenous carriers to bridge this gap.
It is no longer news how Nigeria is losing over $3billion to the capital flight being repatriated to foreign countries by the foreign carriers operating into Nigeria, as confirmed many times by the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON).
Presently, according to the Chairman of AON, Captain Nogie Megisson, foreign carriers dominate 100% of the Nigerian airspace with a capital flight of about $3 billion. Many reasons have been adduced to why the country is losing such huge money to foreign carriers.
Prior to now, stakeholders had pointed out so many untidy policies of the government that have been encouraging the dominance of the foreign carriers at the expense of the indigenous airlines.
Top on the list of such bad policies is the loose Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) Nigeria has signed with over 80 countries across the world which have been discovered to be disadvantageous to Nigeria.
Most of the agreements are only beneficial to the countries and their foreign carriers without any reciprocal benefits to
Nigeria because of the failure of the Nigerian representatives at the BASA negotiating table to put Nigeria’s interest first.
Another major reason for the dominance of the foreign carriers is the preferential treatment they enjoy in the hands of the Nigerian government through the multiple entry points and unlimited frequencies doled out to them which has been the bane of domestic airline business in Nigeria.
Many foreign airlines contrary to what is obtained in other climes are allowed to fly into up to three points in Nigeria as against one point. This bad policy has further reduced the strength of the local airlines who now struggle with foreign airlines to share domestic airline passengers. The contradiction in this bad policy is made manifest in the hostility and unfriendly obstruction put before Nigerian carriers posted to the home countries of these foreign carriers who are given red carpet treatment by the Nigerian government.
Above all, while all the government-friendly policies towards the foreign airlines have continued to give them an upper hand in operations in the country, the same government is still lagging behind in the area of repositioning its domestic carriers towards reciprocating many of the bilateral agreements.
Need to review lopsided BASAs:
In the 1980s and early 20s, some domestic airlines designated on foreign routes did their best in flying the flag of the country around the world and at the same time meeting the yearnings of the Nigerian travellers.
Among the airlines that gave the foreign airlines serious challenges in the past included: the defunct national Cartier, the Nigeria Airways which operated to many countries across the world giving Nigerians good choices and generating huge funds to Nigeria.
In the days of the former national carrier, it competed with the mega carriers of this world on routes like: Britain, America, Rome, Middle East, South Africa, Israel, China among others. Other Nigerian carriers that were once designated and operated until they packed up are: Bellview, Arik and Medview. Since the exit of the Nigerian carriers from the foreign routes due to many reasons ranging from banana peels placed before them by the foreign countries just for the protection of their carriers, lack of coordination on the parts of the Nigerian carriers, to lack of support from the subsequent governments.
Gradually, as all these factors with many others contributed to the slow extinction of Nigerian carriers on the foreign routes, the foreign carriers capitalized on the lacuna to establish themselves on the routes which have remained a strong market they rely on during global economic challenges in view of the huge traffic they generate between Nigeria and their home countries.
Effects of one-sided agreements:
Despite all appeals from key players to the government to tidy up the loose agreements, nothing concrete has been done even as the government continues to sign more air transport pacts. As the status quo remains, the Nigerian travellers have become the guinea pigs in the hands of many of the foreign carriers who use every opportunity to exploit them through high fares and other unpalatable treatments they are subjected to.
Why FG should designate/support Nigerian carriers:
Nigeria stands to gain hugely with its indigenous carriers operating into foreign countries. Since the inglorious exit of Arik and Medview airlines on the London route, no Nigerian airline has been operating there while two carriers from Britain, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are smiling home with a huge profit. It is the same story from the American side where Delta Air Lines operate between Nigeria and the country with no reciprocity on the Nigerian side.
It is a no different story from the agreement between the Middle East and Nigeria where three airlines from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad dominate the Nigerian/UAE routes for years until Nigeria’s Air Peace recently commenced flights into Dubai/Sharjah route.
There are however fresh calls across the sector for government to facilitate the designation of new Nigerian carriers to reciprocate Nigeria’s part of the agreement.
According to them, for Nigeria to have its own share of the huge money the foreign carriers repatriate yearly from the country’s aviation sector, it must do everything possible to support Nigerian airlines, fix the infrastructural decay at the airports and equally address its controversial bilateral air service agreement (BASA) with the foreign countries. Until the government addresses this lapses urgently, Nigeria will continue to suffer economic losses and other benefits while the foreign airlines continue to have their way.
Key players making case for the designation of Nigerian carriers on foreign routes have premised their position on the numerous benefits Nigeria and its travelling public stand to gain. Besides generating huge money to the coffers of government through the commencement of flights between Nigeria and the foreign routes, having Nigerian carriers operate there will give Nigerian travellers better choices and reduce their exploitation in the hands of foreign airlines.
Equally, the lingering manpower challenges would have been resolved as the commencement of any airline will encourage more jobs and boost ground handling services.
AON, key players react:
Of all the domestic airlines operating presently, only Air Peace is operating to UAE. But for the resilience of the airline’s management, perhaps the airline would have been pushed out of the route through a high-level aero politics being played by the government of the area just to protect the UAE airlines.
Besides its operations to Sharjah/Dubai, Air Peace is presently putting all necessary machinery in motion to hit the sky as it prepares to commence long haul flights to London, Guangzhou-China, Houston, Mumbai and Johannesburg and Tel Aviv. Barring any minute of change, flight operations to Mumbai, India may likely commence this March.
The airline would have since commenced operations into most of the designated countries but for the serious aero politics, it got trapped in towards the end of 2019.
High hope of relief:
As Air Peace prepares to commence operations to the countries, there is a high hope across the sector particularly amongst the travelling public to see this dream come true once again, where a Nigerian carrier will be seen again flying the flag of Nigeria into countries like Britain, America, China, Israel, South Africa amongst others.
Stakeholders including the AON have expressed their confidence in the ability of Air Peace to do the country proud through its structures ranging from the new generation aeroplanes it has which can compete favourably with the mega carriers of this world.
Making case for Air Peace, the AON Chairman, Captain Nogie Megisson had called on the federal government to put its full weight behind the airline and offer all the required supports it needs to enhance its success on the foreign routes against all imminent aero politics.
His words: “While we thank the Federal Government for its role in making this feat possible, it is instructive to note that this next level requires strong government support as Air Peace has become one of the pillars to the building of our nation’s economy. Air Peace is Nigeria’s private airline fourth attempt into the international market and it would be recalled that many of the airlines that went before them collapsed due mainly to aeropolitics which is 85% the role of government to play. As we know foreign carriers dominate 100% of the Nigerian sky with a capital flight of about $3 billion. AON would, therefore, like to call on the Federal Government to put its full weight behind Air Peace and give the carrier all the support it requires to succeed on the route in the face of stiff competition and aero politics which the carrier will face in the near future. Air Peace has taken a bold step and they should be encouraged by Nigerians.”
Many passengers spoken to at the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, have expressed their support for Air Peace and other Nigerian airlines designated on foreign routes for various reasons.
For Tolu Omole who said his hope to travel to America for medical treatment has almost become impossible due to high fares of the foreign airlines, believed that with the commencement of flights by Air Peace to the country, that he will be greatly relieved.
Mr Alabi Daniel who said he has been a regular traveller between Nigeria and Britain for the past thirty years lamented how the absence of Nigerian carriers on the foreign routes had left Nigerians with no choice but to patronize the foreign carriers in the face of high exploitation.
To him, the entrance of Air Peace and other Nigerian carriers will give room for crashing of fares and enhancement of competition which he said will give Nigerian travellers the right to choices.
Like Alabi, key players while urging the government to designate more serious airlines to foreign routes, advised the government to come out of its shell and join other countries to engage in aero politics which they argued will give airlines like Air Peace a soft landing in these countries.
The need for government to protect Air Peace and other indigenous airlines is not far from the immense financial and other benefits the country stands to enjoy coupled with the more seamless and cheaper travels the travelling public will experience.