Aviation stakeholders at the just concluded League of Airport and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC) annual conference bemoaned that Nigerian airlines are deliberately being frustrated by international aeropolitics.
Chairman, Air Peace, Barr. Allen Onyema, while speaking at the Conference noted that aeropolitics takes a toll on Nigerian carriers on international routes and therefore called on the federal government’s intervention to protect these carriers.
Onyema commended the government’s support to the domestic airlines by way of removal of duties from commercial aircraft import and commercial aircraft spares, however, he said that when it comes to international aeropolitics, there is a lot awaiting to be done.
According to him, because it is a very dirty industry not just within Nigeria, but that it is everywhere so, if you don’t play the politics right you get your fingers burnt.
Onyema decried that Nigerian airlines have been on the receiving end over the years, stressing that all these other countries will bring one policy or the other to protect their own.
He said: “I have always said that our government should play the aeropolitics on our behalf because we discovered that Nigerian airlines are deliberately being frustrated by international aeropolitics.
“It is not the fault of our government and I am sure the President and Commander in chief of Nigeria is very, very keen in promoting indigenous investment in this Country, that, I can assure you. You can see his interest in what I have just said, when he removed duties from commercial aircraft import and commercial aircraft spares. So that is a very huge support for airlines in Nigeria. However, when it comes to international aeropolitics, there is a lot awaiting to be done.
Onyema pointed out that because the indigenous airlines are the ones providing the jobs there must be a conscious effort to protect them.
He said Nigeria and Ghana want to play by the rules but that these other foreign countries do not.
“Look at what happened to Arik on the Dubai route, look at what happened to Virgin Nigeria on the Dubai route. Look at what happened to Medview of yesterday on the Dubai route and now Air peace is coming there, they must have seen some competition coming. Before now the prices were sky high but with the entrance of Air peace within the last 10 days, fares have come crashing.
“That is good for the Nigerian flying public but it must be done in a way that it does not breed unfair competition, where you use state subsidy to crash your fare beyond that which is acceptable.
“We expect the government of Nigeria to step in and address it,” he said, adding that of course the multiple designation and multiple frequencies being given to foreign airlines should be stopped.
“Nigerian airlines can never grow if Turkish airlines and other airlines fly from Istanbul to Abuja; From Abuja to Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt to Abuja and Abuja back to Istanbul. This is not done anywhere,” Onyema explained.
Explaining further, he said: “Protecting us is not just bringing in up policies to hound ant airline but also stooping some of the decision of giving these multiple frequencies. It will go a long way to protect Nigerian airlines. If Turkish Airlines is interested in Port Harcourt passengers, let it either fly straight to Port Harcourt and fly back to Istanbul or look for a Nigerian airline to partner. The Nigerian airline will be acting as a feeder, by so doing you are increasing the financial status of these Nigerian carriers and that will promote jobs.
“All the 34 foreign airlines flying in this Country, all their staff put together is not even up to 100 people. Air peace alone is putting out about 3000, with about 100 ancillary staff in the last four years. Likewise Aero Contractors; the Managing Director, Capt. Ado Sanusi, is doing a great job with Aero, reviving the place, trying to give Nigeria her first real Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO) facility.
“Medview Airline is trying to reorganise its processes, these people can never succeed in doing so if we allow things like these to continue happening. That is what we are saying; the government should help us stop the proliferation of destinations and frequencies to these foreign airlines.
“One airline came to this country and insulted us by saying that we don’t have strong airlines in Nigeria. That they want to help us to float national carrier and that they want to even establish a local airline. We should not be deceived into this, it is all plan for capital flight out of this Country. We should not be deceived by this rhetoric; they are not trying to do us any favour.
“That African airline is not trying to do Nigeria any favour; that is the truth. Everybody is getting jittery because of Air Peace; they see that Air peace is getting stronger and stronger. And if there is one Nigerian airline that gets it right on the international scene, doing direct flight out of Nigeria, their (foreign airlines) situation will be affected badly. And they know that if Air Peace gets it right other Nigerian airlines will start getting it right.
“So that is why I try to carry my colleagues along with me. I want us to see ourselves as partners for the good of this nation. We are the ones creating jobs not the foreign airlines. So for any foreign airline to come here and insult us and say we are not strong, it is a lie.”
Also toeing the line of Onyema, President, Sabre Network, Dr. Gbenga Olowo, said aeropolitics is politics and that politics basically addresses the area of influence which is very important in politics.
“Our people in government especially the Ministry of Aviation and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) must be able to influence a lot of things with our carriers,” he stressed.
“For instance, if we give birth to a national carrier tomorrow, and the Ministry or the CAA do not follow the objective to the letter, and they just say you are designated to China or to London without influencing the way things happen at the other end with government influence, that airline won’t survive,” Olowo stated.
He noted that Arik Air could not get the slot that Nigeria Airways was using on the London route and pointed out that Arik as a carrier is a player coming to compete with their (UK) own carrier, so there will be unseen resistance, despite what you call anti-competitive rule.
Olowo maintained that the influence of our government is vital; noting primarily that politics involves power and that it also involves authority. “Both power and authority we should not throw away in politics. What is power? When ADC Airline was grounded in London our former President Sani Abacha grounded British Airways here; that is power and authority.
“So, basically politics is politics and the elements of politics we must look at, even in business. We shouldn’t just put our own son on the stage and back out. And then begin to say our son is weak or bad, yes if he is weak and bad. We have a duty to make sure that he is strong. And all the elements of that weakness, Nigerian airlines that are there have been talking about them, they are numerous.
“Then how far has the government gone about all those issues? Fuel taxes, airport problems, airspace problem. We heard at the Aviation Round Table (ART) last quarterly meeting how there are times in the air that the pilot is flying on his own. The radar covers everywhere but there is no communication, so the pilot is flying blind. How far have we resolved that problem? So government policy must drive objectivity and objectivity must be measured,” olowo stated.