In this piece, SHOLA ADEKOLA spoke with stakeholders in the sector on how Nigeria can key into the opportunities abound in the dynamics created by the pandemic to help develop its domestic airlines. Many of the key players are putting the government on the alert to urgently put on its thinking cap on how it intends to support and back its airlines particularly the ones that have displayed the capacity to fly into any part of the world to bring in these drugs. While mounting pressure on government to give attention to its indigenous carriers, the airlines also are being urged to consider diversifying into cargo business by positioning some of their aircraft for cargo flights.
Is Nigeria ready?
Feelers coming from the different key players in the sector are that of uncertainty as to if Nigeria and its domestic airlines will be able to tap from the benefits inherent in the COVID-19 opportunities.
To many people, countries with strong airlines will no doubt benefit mostly in terms of revenue generation and access to the coronavirus vaccine as the issue of transporting the quantity to such countries required will not be a big deal.
Certainly, Nigeria does not belong to this class for obvious reason of long time of negligence of the indigenous airlines by the Federal Government.
Presently, of all the airlines the country can boast of; Aero, Arik, Dana, Azman, Max, Overland and Air Peace, only one may fit into a flag carrier Nigeria may fall back on to represent it when time comes for Nigeria and other countries to begin to access the vaccines as the pandemic still continue to ravage through the globe.
Obviously, airlines like Aero, Arik beside Air Peace have all what it takes to key into the opportunity but for lingering crisis tearing the two down without much attention from the government except their management by the government organ, AMCON.
Other airlines like Dana, Azman and Max are bleeding to remain afloat without help coming from the government to bail them out despite the negative impact of the pandemic.
From all indications, stakeholders are of the view that but for Air Peace that the foreign airlines will have as usual make the hell of money out of Nigeria while stepping into the lacuna the absence of Air Peace would have created.
Mr Olumide Ohunayo is a director at the Zenith Travels and a member of Aviation Round Table, a non government body consisting of various aviation professionals. According to him, there is no other time better than now for government to prepare to build its domestic airlines so as not to be at the mercy of foreign carriers when countries around the world are using their own carriers to fly in and distribute the COVID-19 vaccines.
“Come to think of it, during the COVID-19 , what determined the power of carriers worldwide was their ability to support their countries, support the industry and support most importantly the health sector in providing supplies needed, carriers all over the world used cargo, converted their scheduled passenger planes into cargo plane and some just improvised as cargo aircraft so as to convey these health materials and other services during the COVID-19, Nigeria was not an exemption as the only airline that stood firmly and flew our flag, our flag carrier during that period was Air Peace which did supply to places like China, evacuated citizens of Nigeria, evacuated non citizens like Israelis, Indians, Chinese and it was able to do it successfully.
So invariably, our situation as at today is that Air Peace is the only airline that is ready to take on international partners and it’s an area that we need to look at and say yes that we have an airline on ground and this airline can take on the rest of the world if well supported.
Unfortunately, these opportunities that abound during this COVID-19 dynamics cannot be used because immediately the government came up with guidelines for resumption of international flights which included restricting entry points, restricting frequencies and not approving some foreign airlines coming into our airspace, I thought that would have been an opportunity for any Nigerian operator on the European route to take an advantage of but unfortunately we were not there before the COVID-19 and we cannot suddenly be there because what you are seeing now are those who operated before COVID-19 who are working on the existing Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) and this is not like a bus for you to just jump into. At the international scene there are so many documentations you have to present at the country you are operating into which takes time to approve. Look at the South African route now, Nigerian indigenes are yearning to come back to Nigeria using other carriers, unfortunately, no Nigerian carrier is on that route. These opportunities that abound are being blown away by the Nigerian airlines while the government of Nigeria is not using such aero political effort to get a Nigeria carrier on that route. I just hope we use this opportunity to build maximum of two or three airlines that can operate on these international routes. We need to build our own airlines and the time has come.”
For group Captain John Ojikutu (retired), a onetime Military Commandant at the Murtala Muhammed Airport and presently, the Managing Director of Centurion Security Services “Any compliant strides made by any of our domestic airlines particularly under the international and national COVID-19 guidelines deserve commendation and support of government but not the unilateral support or the discredit of any political office holders.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, every country has formulated its own guidelines and directives from International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO) and they are not the same for every country, just the way the United States Federal Aviation Administration safety standards are modified higher standard to International Civil Aviation Organisations (ICAO), so we should not blame countries that issue permit into their countries airlines from countries that meet their standards as against those that do not.
In his reaction, Mr Sheri Ayuba Kyari, an aircraft engineer and the Managing Director of Finuum Aviation Services, things can only be better if only the government can support the domestic airlines in times like this.
“Let truth be told. Every die hard aviator knows this fact, that had Nigerian indigenous airlines been supported all these years, the industry would have been a lot better and contributing to our economy many times over. The lack of support has kept the industry where it is today. I pray that we, as a nation, will have a change of heart and start to recognise and give our airlines due support to grow the industry and provide jobs for the younger ones. Our ministry must sit up and do the needful as we pull through the COVID-19 quagmire.”
Many key players are of the opinion that with the present state of the domestic airlines coupled with the lack of goodwill coming from the government that the country may be in for another embarrassment of going cap in hand begging foreign airlines to assist in flying critical medical facilities like the CORONAVIRUS vaccines when ready.
All hope is not lost
According to the key players, while the domestic airlines have their own self made problems, the bulk of the blame goes to the Federal Government for failing to back up the few airlines struggling to fly the flag of the country.
To this group, if government had shown more support, airlines like Arik, Medview and Aero would still have remained strong on the foreign routes they were initially operating to.
While urging the government to use the opportunity thrown at it by the COVID-19 dynamics, stakeholders are arguing that all efforts should be put on ground to give total support to Air Peace airline as the only domestic carrier that has the capacity to serve as the flag carrier that can be used to carry out such essential services like flying of medical facilities on behalf of the government.
Air Peace as an airline has built capacity and equipment over time that it can comfortably beat its chest when it comes to operations domestically and on the West Coast regions but waiting to explore the international market if it has the support of government.
Calling on government to draw its domestic airlines closer and prepare Air Peace and any of the airlines still operating ready for the role of helping to fly in the COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies when the need arises, key players have cited how the airline had during the peak of the pandemic had its aircraft dispatched to China on behalf of the government to fly in medical aids.
Besides flying in medical aids for government, the airline was also made to fly in the Chinese medical doctors. It was the same airline that was engaged by countries like Israel, China and India to help evacuate their stranded citizens in Nigeria back home.
It is on this premise that key players are challenging government to support its own airlines adding that if more airlines are designated on the foreign routes and enjoy the support of the government, the hitherto bruised dignity of Nigeria will be greatly reduced.
Role of FG
To many stakeholders, the federal government needs to realise that airlines designated on any route outside Nigeria is the flag carrier of the country and hence, deserve the aero political and diplomatic cover and must therefore, not left to swagger at the mercy of the designated countries.
“Equally, the government agencies should emulate the foreign affairs ministry which during the pandemic ensured Nigerian airlines had right of first refusal in the evacuation flights. We expect the ministries and agencies to use our airlines for future charter flights while we also work towards a phased implementation of the Fly Nigeria Act,” Olumide Ohunayo, a director at the Zenith Travels in Lagos declared.
Not very pleased with what they termed the government’s failure to support its own airlines both within and outside the country as witnessed in the hostile aero politics being thrown at the Nigerian airlines by many foreign countries, key players are of the opinion that time has come for government through the ministry of aviation to ensure more airlines are designated and empowered to fly the flag of the country around the world. Equally, all energy should be diverted by the government into ensuring that Air Peace that is for now the only carrier in Nigeria that has all what it takes to compete with the foreign airlines are not abandoned in the cold.
Many who spoke to Nigeria Tribune have warned against allowing the same problem that reared its head when the Federal Government jettisoned its domestic airline by choosing foreign carriers to do the job Nigeria’s airlines like Air Peace would have done cheaper to evacuate stranded Nigerians in places like UK, US, Canada and UAE.
According to the stakeholders it will be a disaster for government not to encourage Air Peace in particular to take the slot of the country to fly into the country the anti COVID-19 drugs once they are ready to be distributed.
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