Airlines fault multiple destination slots, FG’s free-entry policy
Local airlines and aviation stakeholders, yesterday, pushed back on the Federal Government’s policy on multiple destinations that accord multiple landing rights to foreign carriers and alleged exploitation of the local aviation market valued at $400 billion.
The concerned parties, at a forum in Lagos, said the prodigal policy is unique to Nigeria and one of the reasons local operators would continue to struggle and be unable to compete with foreign airlines.
Though talks were on the need for policy review, the operators under the aegis of Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON) have threatened to sue the Federal Government over continued multiple entries granted to their foreign counterparts.
The Federal Government recently granted multiple landing rights to a foreign airline, which allows the carrier to operate into Abuja and Port Harcourt on a single flight operation.
The approval was predated by some carriers operating multiple destinations without any of the local carriers reciprocating as provided for in bilateral agreements. Both have been described as exploitation of the local market and avoidable pressure on the foreign exchange market.
President of the AON, Yunusa Abdulmunaf, at the Q1 2022 Breakfast Business Meeting organised by the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), said the body had decided to challenge the government in the court of law towards putting an end to the destructive rip-off.
Abdulmunaf, who was represented by his deputy, Allen Onyema, said the body would in the next few days meet with the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, to deliberate on the issue.
He expressed confidence that the government should address the issue in the next 21 days.
The AON President lamented that billions of naira were being lost yearly to multiple designations granted to the foreign carriers and warned that if the policy continued unabated, the domestic airlines would die, while the foreign airlines would eventually take over the domestic market.
Onyema added that the multiple designation policy is one of the greatest disservices to the Nigerian economy and its people.
“For all the foreign airlines that come into Nigeria daily, the Central Bank Governor cries about the amount of money being repatriated abroad. Nigerian carriers believe that Nigeria’s aviation market is worth $400 billion; that is the worth of Nigerian route value. We are talking about the scarcity of foreign exchange in the country, but the foreign airlines are removing billions of dollars every year from this country.”
“But we are creating more avenues for these things to happen by giving multiple destinations to these foreign airlines. All the foreign airlines that come to this country, maybe about 20 or 30 of them, have not been able to employ more than 150,000 Nigerians.
“Yet, we keep on badmouthing Nigerian airlines, forgetting that we are the architects of our undoing. Air Peace alone employs over 4,000 people directly. It would take foreign airlines another 60 years to generate 4,000 jobs. Yet Air Peace has to beg to be given rights to build a hangar in its own country; it has no land in its own country. No land for its assets and passengers. It didn’t start today,” Onyema said.
The Minister, in his address delivered by Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), reckoned that granting foreign airlines multiple entries was against the Cabotage act and that it stopped the airlines from generating the needed revenue that would help in their growth.
Sirika, however, added that nothing was wrong with the policy which also brings opportunities for the local operators that are kicking.
He said: “There are prospects for domestic airlines as they have opportunities for improved domestic markets by distributing international passengers for connection with these airlines. The grant of entry points to foreign airlines should also be such that they are giving multiple entries, to either Lagos or Abuja and not Lagos and Abuja, in addition, to any other airport outside the geographical area of Lagos and Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu. In this way, they do not take over all the business on all the international airports,” the minister stated.
President of the ASRTI, Dr. Gabriel Olowo, also decried that foreign airlines are gradually taking over the domestic market with continuous approvals for multiple entries for foreign airlines.
“The damages of multiple entries into Nigeria are huge. Britain for instance has 21 flights into Nigeria weekly. European Unions have 43 frequencies every week in Nigeria. Also, the Middle East has 56 flights weekly into multiple entries into Nigeria.
“As it is today, we have zero participation in the international sector as an industry and the domestic sector is eroded through multiple entries into Nigeria.”