By Kayode Oyero
As one of the leading economies in Africa, the Nigerian market has premium economic value that attracts foreign airlines. But aviation stakeholders in Nigeria say there is an unbalanced trade between Nigerian airlines operating international flights and foreign airlines operating in Nigeria. At the 23rd Annual Conference and Awards of the League of Airports and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC) in Lagos, recently, experts call on the Nigerian government to formulate and implement enabling policies to safeguard indigenous airlines’ investments.
Currently, Nigeria has Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) with over 80 countries worldwide and airlines in these countries can operate scheduled flights to-and-from designated airports or entry points in Nigeria. Based on the reciprocal nature of BASAs, Nigerian carriers have automatic rights to operate flights to-and-from designated entry points in these countries. But while about thirty foreign airlines operate scheduled flights in Nigeria at the moment, the few Nigerian airlines operating flights outside the country continue to struggle as high taxation, unfair policy, unfair competitive practices, and others have become cogs in the wheel of their international operations.
According to Alhaji Muneer Bankole, Managing Director of Med-View Airlines, who was also the Chairman of the 2019 LAAC Conference & Awards with the theme, Boosting Aviation Investment Through Policy, aviation policies are indispensable for the socio-economic development of any country and Nigeria is no exception. He says: “There is the urgent need to protect Nigerian airlines from unfair international competition. There should be regulatory follow ups especially concerning BASAs to reflect the interest of Nigerian carriers.”
Alhaji Bankole explains: “A situation where foreign airlines operate into the four major entry points in the country namely the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Lagos, Port Harcourt International Airport, and the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, is not helpful for the growth of our local carriers.”
Dr. Harold Demuren, Former Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), decries the multiple entry points of foreign airlines into Nigeria. Dr. Demuren, represented by Dr. Gabriel Olowo, President of the Aviation Round Table (ART), stresses that “multiple entry points given to foreign airlines is dangerous to the lives of indigenous airlines because as time goes on, these local carriers won’t have strength.” He adds that Nigeria can do better in terms of the economic regulation of its aviation sector.
Also, Mr. Nick Fadugba, Chairman of the African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA) states that Nigerian air routes are like oil blocks with promising potential capable of yielding more benefits for the country if the Nigerian government considers indigenous airlines before distributing destinations and frequencies to foreign airlines.
Similarly, Barr. Allen Onyema, Chairman of Air Peace, says appropriate policy regulating unfair and exorbitant taxation levied against Nigerian carriers is important, especially on the West Coast. He adds that patriotism and the disposition of Nigerians to travel with indigenous airlines is vital to grow the operations of local airlines both on local and international routes.
Furthermore, Mr. Obi Mbanuzuo, Dana Air’s Chief Operating Officer, says stable policies will help stimulate the growth of the industry. According to him, aviation development is not centered on short-term plans and as such change in administration should not mean automatic change of extant aviation policies if the policies serve the needs of the industry.
Capt. Fola Akinkuotu, Managing Director, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), assures airlines of the Agency’s commitment to providing efficient air navigation services for safe flight operations in the country. He also states that the possibilities are there for indigenous carriers but the government must encourage local operators to operate safely and profitably. “I also believe the local carriers must engage the foreign operators flying to and from Nigeria and establish trust and prove that there are no Nigerian standards in terms of what is expected of airlines internationally,” he suggests.
Mr. Illitrus Ahmadu, President of the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Nigerian (ATSSSAN), urges carriers to respect treaties signed and regulations, especially on aircraft leasing so as not to portray the country in bad light and deny other local airlines access to get aircraft on lease in future.
Another industry developmental challenge addressed at the event was the need for efficient airport infrastructure. To this end, Capt. Rabiu Yadudu, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), says: “The federal government of Nigeria has a good infrastructure policy for aviation development in Nigeria.” According to him, new terminals have been commissioned in some airports in the country just as works are on-going to complete more new terminals. He adds that runways at all its airports are good enough for aircraft to take-off and land and that the Authority is committed to security at Nigeria’s airports.
Other highlight of the event was award presentation to organisations and individuals who distinguished themselves as models of excellence in the industry in the last one year. Most notably, the Skyway Aviation Handling Company PLC (SAHCO) was recognised as the Most Innovative Ground Handling Company in Nigeria and the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) Nigeria announced as the Most Efficient Accident Investigation Agency in West and Central Africa.