Pressure mounts to slash multiple destinations, frequencies of foreign carriers
Sources at the Federal Ministry of Transport (FMOT), yesterday, said they were following up on emerging concerns and would take all necessary steps in favour of the industry and the economy at large.
The call for slot review in the air travel sector became louder following Ethiopian Airlines’ offer to help Nigeria set up a “strong local carrier”, and some airlines’ requests for additional frequencies on the international route.
A Director at the FMOT told The Guardian that nothing is automatic in slot approvals, which is often informed by economic and national best interest.
“The Ministry is aware of the local operators’ concern, and we are following all the developments. Aviation authorities don’t just allot slots to foreign carriers, they are all business concerns. If they are no longer sustainable, then there is bound to be a review.
“I can assure you that the government will take an appropriate decision at the right time, and it will be fair to all. The African airlines’ proposal is just an offer that our experts are still looking at. Nothing is cast in stone yet,” he said.
Indeed, no fewer than 34 foreign carriers operate in and out of Nigerian cities almost on a daily basis. Among them are nine African carriers. Only Air Peace, Arik, and Med-View reciprocate on very few of the routes.
For instance, Ethiopia Airlines, the largest carrier on the continent, operates into Enugu, Kano, Abuja, and Lagos daily. Kaduna used to welcome ET’s Boeing777 until the carrier suspended operation due to low traffic. No Nigerian airline flies into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Similarly, Turkish Airline operates in four cities of Abuja, Kano, Lagos, and Port Harcourt. There is none from Nigeria. Emirates Airline has two frequencies daily into Lagos, and one to Abuja. Emirates has notified of its readiness for the third daily frequency into Lagos, to further rival Air Peace’s twice-weekly operations on the Dubai route.
A recent fact-check by the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON), revealed that foreign carriers currently account for 90 percent of the four million international passengers that travel through Nigerian airports yearly. The capital flight is in excess of $3 billion (N1.050 trillion).
Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, said the Federal Government only needed to be decisive in protecting local airlines against the antics of their foreign counterparts, both on international and local fronts.
Onyema said while foreign carriers continue to derive pleasure and prosperity from flying Nigerian air space; they are doing everything possible to prevent Nigerian operators from joining the league or emerging strong.
“For me, the multiple designations and multiple frequencies being given to these airlines should stop. Nigerian airlines can never grow if Turkish Airlines and other airlines fly from Istanbul to Abuja, Abuja to Port Harcourt, and Port Harcourt to Abuja and Abuja back to Istanbul. This is not done anywhere.
“If Turkish Airline is interested in Port Harcourt passengers, let them either fly straight to Port Harcourt and from there fly back to Istanbul as the aviation rule permits. Or look for a Nigerian airline to partner as a feeder.
By so doing, you are increasing the financial status of these Nigerian carriers and that will promote jobs. The staff strength of all the 34 foreign airlines flying in this country is not even up to 100 people. Air peace alone is putting out about 3,000 jobs and 9,000 ancillary employments,” Onyema said.
A former Managing Director, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Capt. Roland Iyayi said the issue is more of commercial interest of the government.
Iyayi said it requires the government to look at the benefits that an international airline provides to its local economy, even beyond its revenue contributions yearly, before doing the needful.
“Aviation has what we call the footprint. It is not necessarily the number of passengers you carry; it is the enabler of the economy. You have tourism, agriculture, oil and gas, and all that rely on market access, and the only way you can have market access is through aviation. So, for as long as we do not look at this as a fundamental issue to address, then we have a problem,” he said.
President of African Aviation Services, Nick Fadugba, observed that there is no market in Africa that is comparable to Nigeria, and the main reason many foreign airlines are coming is to make good profit, “while most Nigerian airlines, to the best of my knowledge, are not making a lot of money.”
But the international aviation industry has changed dramatically since the days of Nigerian Airways, Fadugba said.
“Today, no airline can succeed in working alone. Therefore, I want to once again appeal to airlines in Nigeria to come together, to work together in operations, training, and maintenance. We need to partner. Even if we don’t merge we need to partner with one another.
“The average fleet size in Nigeria is about maximum of 10 aircraft per airline, and yet we are competing with British Airways that has over 400 aircraft. Delta Airlines has over 500 aircraft, even Ethiopian Airlines has 110 aircraft. So, how can small airlines compete?”