Of all the trending issues across the country’s aviation sector presently, there is no one that is gathering debates like the issue of the lopsided Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) existing between Nigeria and over 80 foreign countries around the world, the loose multiple entry points and frequencies being doled out to foreign carriers at the expense of domestic carriers by the government that is advocating principles of local content and private investments.
The BASAs which allow airlines from the various countries on one side and Nigeria on the other side to fly into each other’s territories have been found to be to the disadvantage of Nigeria which has been greatly condemned by key players in the sector.
Though many stakeholders prior to now had called for the review of the loose agreements premising their calls on the negative impact they have continued to have on the domestic airlines, there has been no action coming from the government.
It is on record that the over 34 foreign airlines operating into Nigeria based on the BASAs existing between their home countries and Nigeria smile home with $3billion annually while nothing comes to Nigeria.
To say the BASAs are favourable to only the foreign airlines and their home countries may not be an exaggeration at all in view of the jaw dropping profits some of the mega carriers make out of Nigeria through the porous multiple designations and frequencies they enjoy in Nigeria.
It is an open secret that airlines like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Qatar, Delta, Air France/KLM, Ethiopian, Lufthansa, Air Maroc and South African Airways ride on the watery BASAs to rip off the country without any Nigerian airline enjoying same from their home countries.
Amongst such lopsided agreements are the dual designation policy Nigeria signed with Britain which allows two carriers from each side to operate into each other’s airspace. While the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways are already enjoying the relationship, Nigerian airlines like Arik Air and Medview which had been assigned to reciprocate this trade agreement did not last there as they were confronted with complicated demands which pushed them out of the route.
The BASA signed with the United Arab Emirates which paved the way for three carriers from the region to begin operations into the country has been viewed as one of the most unpatriotic ones signed by the officials in charge of BASA at the ministry of transport.
Currently, the three UAE carriers: Emirates, Etihad and Qatar operate 28 frequencies out of Nigeria with full flights while Nigeria continues to enjoy zero benefit until two weeks ago when Air Peace, after so much bureaucracy from the UAE authorities, was finally given approval to commence operations between Sharjah and Nigeria.
At the moment, Air Peace is the only airline from Nigeria that is operating to the UAE with only three frequencies as against the 28 frequencies being enjoyed by the three Arabian airlines.
The open skies agreement Nigeria signed with America which allowed as many number of airlines from both ends to operate into each other’s countries is another rip off as no airline from Nigeria is tapping into the agreement.
Why Nigerian airlines don’t last on international routes:
Key players have attributed so many reasons to why the domestic airlines, having been designated on the different foreign routes, are soon pushed out of the routes by the serious bottlenecks put in their way by the host countries with the aim of frustrating the Nigerian carriers to subsequently pave the way for their own airlines which on the contrary are treated with kid’s gloves here.
The ploy of the foreign countries to discourage the Nigerian airlines otherwise known in the aviation circle as aero politics has continued unabated with the federal government looking the other way.
Examples of some Nigerian carriers earlier designated on the foreign routes but directly or indirectly pushed out by the home countries of the foreign airlines on questionable excuses include; Medview Airlines and Arik Air on the Lagos/London route, Arik Air and Medview Airlines on the Lagos/UAE route.
The high level aero politics which is not limited to the foreign countries unfortunately did not exempt the fellow African carriers who are not hiding their hostilities towards the Nigerian carriers.
FG is culpable
Stakeholders had in the past faulted the hostilities towards the Nigerian carriers despite the undue advantages they enjoy here in view of the loopholes that exist in the agreements between Nigeria and the foreign countries. While the domestic carriers are operating under very tight circumstances with little or no help coming from the government, the same government has been giving the foreign carriers preference as witnessed in the multiple entry points and loose frequencies to operate into more than one state and several times in the country.
Several foreign carriers have multiple designations and frequencies into Nigeria, despite the local airlines being unable to reciprocate, either due to low capacity or aero-politics. There are arguments that the multiple destinations are hurting local operations and growth of the Nigerian airlines.
National Assembly, AON react
Setting the ball rolling last week were some National Assembly members who advocated for the protection of Nigerian airlines from what they described as unfair competition from their foreign counterparts.
As one of the measures to surmount this challenge, the lawmakers directed foreign airlines to provide statistics of Nigerians in their employment. The subject, which was brought to the Senate through a motion by Senator Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah, stated that foreign airlines were now designated to multiple routes within Nigeria noting that this development threatens the survival of local airlines.
His words: “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 are now being encouraged to do multiple frequencies into the country and within the country, a practice which he said is not allowed in other countries.
Ubah added, “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 same, thereby running indigenous airlines out of business. Concerned that 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.”
Ubah stated that Nigerian airlines such as Arik, Virgin Nigeria, Medview and others, had in the past run out of international routes through this trend of unfair advantage granted foreign airlines in Nigeria.
Lending its voice to the lawmakers’, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), the Nigerian airlines umbrella body, has also come out to raise alarm over this unfair trade distribution between them and the foreign carriers. Chairman of the body, Captain Nogie Meggison, last week revealed how foreign carriers dominate 100 per cent of the Nigerian sky with capital flight of $3 billion annually.
Calling on the federal government to play aero-politics, the AON Chairman described the issue as the bane of operators saying; “like Bellview that was frustrated out of the India market; Arik Air that was given a distant parking bay in Dubai at the far end of the terminal; Medview who 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.”
The government must protect Nigerian airlines
The renewed call for the government to join in playing international aero-politics has been attributed to the recent commencement of flights on the Lagos-UAE route by a Nigerian carrier, Air Peace Airline. The key players told the government that there was nothing wrong with supporting its own domestic airlines and private investments at large.
According to the key players, the need for government to swing into action came out of the past experiences recorded when the few Nigerian carriers that operated on the route and other foreign routes were pushed out by those countries for the sake of their own airlines.
The AON appealed to the government to assist Air Peace by playing aero-politics with the UAE authorities and other governments of other countries the airline has concluded plans to fly into any time from now.
Meggison declared: “Air Peace has become Nigeria’s fourth private airline to operate into the international market as many of the Nigerian carriers that forayed into the Dubai route collapsed due mainly to aero-politics. 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.
“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. 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.”