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Row over allocation of 35% hajj traffic to Saudi airline

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Hajj

The recent allocation of 35 per cent hajj passenger traffic to Saudi Arabian airlines, Flynas, by the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) has again sparked row in the local air travel industry.

Though such awards that comparatively favour foreign carriers over their local counterparts are not new, concerned stakeholders are worried that the skewed policy is still allowed at the detriment of struggling local carriers.

Ahead of the forthcoming hajj exercise, NAHCON has shared the traffic of between 90,000 and 100,000 passengers to approved airlines.

Max Air got the lion share of 51 per cent slot for pilgrims and will airlift pilgrims from Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Taraba and Kogi state.

Med-View Airlines Plc got a 14 per cent allocation of pilgrims from Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Enugu, Kaduna, Ogun, Ondo, Yobe, Abia, Imo, Anambra, Bayelsa, Rivers and Armed Forces.

Flynas is accorded the right to transport 35 per cent of pilgrims from Sokoto, Oyo, Osun, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Edo, Kebbi, Lagos and Zamfara states.

The sharing formula, though still not made public, has outraged stakeholders, who queried the system that allegedly continued to work against local carriers.

A concerned party, Olayinka Abioye, blamed the ministry, regulators and the operators for the arrangement, saying no country permits such any more.

Abioye asked: “What is the role or duty of the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON) in all these arrangements or agreements? What was the Minister of Aviation doing when these arrangements or agreements were being put together?

“It is well known that the allocation and adoption by NAHCON to bring in a Saudi-based airline to ferry Nigerians to Mecca smacks of lack of patriotism and or nationalism. How can our local airlines grow, when and if we abandon them and glorify foreign airlines?”

He reiterated the position that religion is personal to individuals, hence, a waste of state resources for state governments to be sponsoring people to Mecca.

He, however, appealed to stakeholders to challenge the inclusion of Flynas, when the country has suitably qualified local operators that could do better job.

The Guardian learnt that the policy of the Saudi Arabian government mandated Saudi airlines to airlift 50 per cent of pilgrims of any country with more than 10,000 pilgrims.

“I wonder where they have got the capacity to do this though. I believe this can be challenged diplomatically. Because we don’t really understand the economic implication of this, we have allowed the policy to continue,” a stakeholder said.

He said Nigeria had always opened its sky to all-comers and to the detriment of local airlines.

“Who says we can’t have more of Med-Views in hajj operations? Can’t Air Peace, Dana, Arik or any other domestic airline for that matter apply for the airlift?

“Flynas leases almost all the aircraft in its fleet and after the hajj; they return the planes until another hajj season. So, the policy was that of Saudi Arabia but I don’t think it is cast in stone. Government can decide to pay certain royalties and abolish the exploitative policy and then make the bidding open and competitive for any airline that has the capacity,” he said.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Med-View, Muneer Bankole, has assured all stakeholders of a hitch-free hajj operation this year.

Bankole said the choice of Med-View was rooted in its track record since 2007, and in existing strategic partnership with NAHCON, which transcends the normal brief to assisting the government agency in the airlift of stranded pilgrims in the holy land over the years.

He said the management of Med-View is fully aware of the operational challenges confronting the aviation industry in Nigeria, and no carrier is singled out.

However, the airline is repositioning for better performance. Specifically, the airline, which has had a fair share of operational constraints lately, is undergoing a re-fleeting programme.

“Some of the aircraft that were sent for scheduled maintenance will soon arrive to increase capacity. There is ongoing discussion with strategic partners to pull resources together towards operational enhancement and capacity building,” he said.


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