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Operators kick as Nigeria opens airspace to 22 African countries, airlines

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The Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika


• Implementation of open skies begins tomorrow

Airline operators and stakeholders yesterday faulted the Federal Government’s declaration of open skies to 22 African countries and co-signatories for the implementation of Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), otherwise called open skies treaty.The operators, who are to reciprocate and compete under the open skies treaty on behalf of the country, are displeased with non-preparedness of the industry for favourable competition with other African carriers.

By implication, the in-house disagreement between policy makers and operators, if unresolved, will hamper the chances of Nigeria benefiting from the SAATM, officially due for launch in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, tomorrow.The open skies treaty allows carriers from 23 signatory countries an unfettered access and multiple destinations to any city of countries under the arrangement, as part of African Union’s (AU) move to improve connectivity and integrate African countries.

The 22 countries that will be freely flying into Nigeria are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Cape Verde, Republic of Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana and Guinea Conakry. Others are Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

The Guardian yesterday learnt that, in line with the implementation guidelines, Nigeria, through the Ministry of State for Aviation, has already written notification letters to the 22 countries and stakeholders to align with the new programme.At the stakeholders’ sensitisation forum yesterday in Lagos, Chairman of the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Nogie Meggison, who spoke on behalf of airline owners and investors, objected to implementation of the treaty.

Meggison questioned the win-win claims of open skies, saying the treaty is rather a subtle ploy to ensure Nigeria, with about 65 per cent of West African population, loosen up to the benefit of other smaller countries.He argued that the move cannot be in the best interest of Nigeria where there is no uniform platform for fair competition or adequate consultation with carriers.

His counterpart representing the Aircraft Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Mohammed Joji, added that Nigeria cannot be talking about sky liberalisation where local policies have not favoured local carriers to face their African counterparts.Joji reiterated perennial problems of foreign exchange, Value Added Tax (VAT), multiple taxation and high cost of aviation fuel, policy flip-flop among others that have collectively killed over 50 airlines in the last 18 years.

Aviation Consultant, Chris Aligbe, however, took a different approach from what he called “lamentations of AON,” saying, whether Nigeria likes it or not, the open skies is already a moving train that may just leave Nigeria behind.Aligbe noted that the YD and its open skies agenda had been in the pipelines for quite an age and the operators should blame themselves for not preparing for its takeoff.

Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, represented by Fola Akinkuotu, earlier said that SAATM presents great opportunities for the continent in terms of traffic connectivity and significant growth in passenger’s volume over the next few years.

While calling for collaboration for full implementation of open skies, Sirika said Nigeria has already constituted a national implementation committee to review all the subsisting BASAs to be in consonance with the YD, while the process of domesticating the decision is currently at the advance stage.


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Hadi Sirika

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