By Lawani Mikairu
The Senate has lamented that the Federal Government is empowering foreign airlines by granting them multiple entry points which will run indigenous carriers out of business.FAAN
The Senate has therefore resolved to summon the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport, the Director General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Managing Director of Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN to explain why foreign airlines are allowed to fly multiple routes within Nigeria to mop up passengers; a practice not allowed in other countries.
The resolution of the federal lawmakers followed a motion brought by Senator Ifeanyi Uba from Anambra State.
Senator Uba informed his colleagues that foreign airlines are now designated to multiple routes within Nigeria and this development threatens the survival of local airlines.
He said: “For example, Ethiopia Airlines operates in five cities namely; Enugu, Kano, Kaduna, Abuja, and Lagos; Turkish Airlines operates in four cities: Abuja, Kano, Lagos, and Port Harcourt and Emirates Airlines operates two frequencies daily into Lagos and one to Abuja.” He noted that besides multiple designations, foreign airlines were being encouraged to do multiple frequencies into the country and within the country, a practice which he said was not allowed in other countries.
“For instance, Turkish Airlines has just started Istanbul to Abuja, Abuja to Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt to Abuja, then Abuja to Istanbul. Lufthansa and Air France are also doing the same, thereby running indigenous airlines out of business. While Emirates has two frequencies into Lagos and one to Abuja, it has announced plans to introduce a third flight in and out of Lagos to start very soon, making it three flights daily to Lagos.
“Indigenous airlines have the capacity to cover all the domestic routes being operated now by these foreign airlines. The practice in international aviation is for foreign airlines to partner with local airlines to help them distribute their passengers within the domestic routes.
After contributions from other senators, the Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan said, “the Senate notes that the unrestrained grant of designations and multiple frequencies to foreign airlines is not only hurting the growth of our indigenous carriers but also a monumental disservice to the economy of Nigeria in several ways. Besides threatening the continuous existence of our indigenous carriers, the capital flight out of Nigeria engendered by this unwholesome practice is monumental and harmful to our economy;
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“The Senate notes equally that Nigerian jobs are seriously at risk as a result of this dire situation since it is the indigenous airlines that provide massive job opportunities for our people; the number of jobs created by all the foreign airlines put together is not up to what Air Peace alone created in its first one year of existence.
That airline alone has over 3,000 employees and has also created over 8000 ancillary jobs.” It therefore summoned the aviation authorities to come and explain the rationale behind the Dual Designation Agreement and Open Skies Agreement with foreign airlines which have almost taken the domestic market away from local carriers.
Meanwhile, the host countries of these airlines have not reciprocated Nigeri’s gesture by also giving similar concessions to Nigeria airlines each time they ventured into their countries. The hostilities from these countries have frusstrated domestic airlines from operating international flights into these countries.
Speaking about the international Aero Politics that has been the bane of Nigeria airline operators, Airline Operators of Nigeria, AON, chairman, Captain Nogie Megisson said Nigeria airlines “like Bellview Airline was frustrated out of the India market; Arik Air was given a distant parking bay in Dubai at the far end of the terminal; Medview was frustrated out of the London route by sheer regulatory technicalities and so called safety deficiencies, unfair slot allocation, exorbitant airport charges, levies and fees, and all forms of excuses to name a few which are mainly to discredit the airline as a means of edging them out of the route in order to get rid of the competition the carrier posed to their own local operators on the route and to protect their own”.
However, Director-General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Captain Muktar Usman, who also spoke about the skewed bilateral agreements in a recent interview, said the government was doing its best to empower domestic carriers to reciprocate the bilateral air pacts it signed with many countries, but there was need for the indigenous carriers to demonstrate capability on the routes.
According to Usman, ”We have lost a lot and we have been losing a lot by not taking advantage of those bilateral air service agreements because we do not have strong, viable carriers that will be able to effectively compete with foreign airlines.”
Stakeholders have however suggested the way forward. They said since Nigeria is currently the only country in Africa that grants foreign carriers unfettered access into its domestic market, there is need to take urgent steps to address the lopsidedness because despite its supposed market potential, Nigeria loses over $5.6 billion yearly to remittances by foreign carriers on sale of tickets by over 30 airlines that operate in her airspace.
One of the measures aviation stakeholders have advocated was designation of strong flag carriers like Air Peace airline to reciprocate flights operations on routes flown by foreign carriers.
Of the over 30 foreign carriers that fly into Nigeria, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Lufthansa German Airlines, Air France / KLM; Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways; Etihad Airways, Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air, South African Airways, RwandAir and Kenya Airways enjoy multiple entry points into Nigeria.
Unlike what the above foreign airlines enjoy in Nigeria, Air Peace can only operate into United Arab Emirate ,UAE, through Sharjah . This explains why AON chairman , Captain Nogie Meggisson called on the Federal Government to give strong government support to the airline as it has “become one of the pillars to the building of our nation’s economy”.
Meggisson said : “Air Peace is Nigeria’s private airlines’ fourth attempt into the international market and it will be recalled that many of the airlines that went before them collapsed due mainly to aero-politics which is 85% the role of government to play. As we know foreign carriers dominate 100% of the Nigerian sky with capital flight of about $3bn.
“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.
He further said “Air Peace has taken a bold step and they should be encouraged by Nigerians. The airline’s maiden flight to Dubai means more jobs for our Nigerian youths; it means jobs for over 600 unemployed Nigerian pilots; it means hope for our various Aviation Training Academies at NCAT, Zaria, International Aviation College, Ilorin and the International Helicopter Flying School, Enugu.
“It also means more travel choices for Nigerian travellers at affordable rates; it means more contribution to the Nigerian economy and GDP; it means increased growth for the Nigerian aviation sector; it means the transfer of technology and technical expertise; and it also means a reduction in capital flight from the country by foreign airlines. Government therefore needs to rally round Air Peace as a proud Nigerian operator and give the airline all the support to succeed,” he stressed.
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He further called on the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria,FAAN, to urgently provide Air Peace with “a prominent space for its Private Lounge on the air side at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) designed in Air Peace colours to show that this is a Nigerian Flag Carrier base similar to what obtains in Frankfort with Lufthansa; Heathrow with British Airways; and Dubai with Emirates”.