Airline chief wants a review of multiple entry points granted foreign carriers
The Chairman and the Chief Executive Officer of one of the leading domestic airlines, Air Peace Airline, Barrister Allen Onyema has made a passionate appeal to the Federal Government for a review of the multiple designation policy to reduce the several entry points granted several foreign airlines in order to safeguard the survival of the local industry. The airline chief who is angry over the way some African Airlines are frustrating Nigerian airlines in reciprocating the Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA) entered into with Nigeria by blocking them from flying into their countries and has however threatened to institute a legal action against some airlines currently operating into Nigeria and at the same time blocking Nigerian airlines from flying into their countries. Chuks Okoh, was at the media conference where Bar. Onyema raised these and other salient issues bedeviling the local industry.
Ques: What is the latest on your proposed plans to fly into African countries?
Ans: We received the blessing of the minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika to represent Nigeria as a flag bearer to South Africa, China, USA, Dubai and some other countries but we have been faced with resentment from certain quarters.
Ques: How and in what way?
Ans: I will answer that by asking how many of these African countries have allowed us to come into their airports?
Ques: What should the Nigeria government do to remedy this?
Ans: The Nigerian government should stop the multiple destinations given to foreign airlines; Lufthansa flies from Port Harcourt to Abuja and then back to Germany. Air France flies from their country to Abuja, and then to Port Harcourt, and from there, they go back to Abuja and take off to France, yet they still do another leg from Lagos, it doesn’t happen anywhere else. Turkish Airlines has about four destinations in Nigeria too. Ethiopian Airlines is everywhere in the country. Our government is a gentle one that wants to honour multilateral agreements that’s why it’s allowing them. But the question is, have these other countries allowed us to come in? The African countries are trying to stop us especially when they think that you are a competitor or you are going to be a very serious one, they won’t allow you.
Ques: Can you explain this further?
Ans: The government gave us right to fly into other African countries for over two years ago, but as I am talking to you, we are only doing Ghana, why? Because other countries have refused to allow us in. Ivory Coast never wanted to answer our request. We had to go to them pleading, they didn’t tell us no but we later discovered that one particular airline is using them to frustrate Nigerian carriers, particularly Air Peace. They see us as a threat; you need to see what they do to us in other countries. Senegal, up till now, hasn’t come to see our facilities so they could grant us the approval. We have written them severally, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) has spent one week there in Senegal. Another consultant had also been there; we provided everything they wanted us to provide. They said we should give them our insurance, we gave them. Then, they said our insurance was remaining only 3 months. For goodness sake, if my insurance is remaining 3 months, am I going to renew for another one year when the other insurance hasn’t expired? We gave them one year insurance but as I am talking to you, they’ve not been here. Ivory Coast is doing the same thing because they want to protect Air O’voire.
Ques: The COO represented us in the Bahamas, and when she called me on the phone, I asked her to tell the Cote d’voire people that I will go to court to stop any airline coming to Nigeria whose country doesn’t want to allow us come in. I don’t care for whatever it will cost me. I gave them just 3 weeks to honour our request or I would go to court to stop Air Cote d’voire from coming into Nigeria. And I wanted to make good my threat. Quickly, they sent for us, they approved us to start coming in. But the next challenge was that if they give you one ground handling service, they charge $4,000. Tell me how you would break even in that kind of harsh environment. Meanwhile, Air Cote D’vore has been ravaging Nigeria unperturbed. They come in and do whatever they want, nobody cares. So we want the government to protect us from the hands of the foreign airlines too. They are not allowing us to come into their countries. They use all sorts of excuses to prevent us. If you are asked to pay $4,000, how many people are you carrying on that aircraft? So, since they are doing this, let us do the same thing to their airlines and let’s see if they will survive.
Ques: Which other countries are you having problems with?
Ans: We have gone to Douala in Cameroun more than 10 times but nothing positive has happened. It was only Ghana that answered us. We are ready to go into other African countries. We have the equipment to go and represent this country proudly, but they are not allowing us.
Togo wrote us that they won’t allow us to come in because they want to protect ASKY airline. ASKY comes into Abuja several times a day, comes into Lagos several times a day, even poaching our pilots because they are having a few there. These countries set up airlines with Nigeria as a target. Look at Rwanda Air, how many people are in Rwanda? How many people are in Togo? Because everything they do is geared towards “lets go and ravage Nigeria”. These people are taking our money, depleting our foreign exchange reserve. So the earlier we support our own, the better. They are not allowing us to come to their country. They come here and have free access. In fact it’s been approved for them to do Rwanda – Lagos – Accra. But you don’t blame our government. The government is trying to obey bilateral agreements, but what we are now asking the government to do for us too is to hammer them the same way they are hammering us. They are not allowing Nigerian airlines to come in, especially anyone they perceive as being strong.
Togo wrote us that because they had already approved Overland to come into their country, they won’t allow us. And I don’t think Overland has even started going there, they are not. Meanwhile, the same Togo has forgotten that ASKY is doing about 4 frequencies into Nigeria. So even if Overland is coming into their country and it’s doing only 2 frequencies, we are supposed to do the other 2 frequencies so that there will be reciprocity in line with bilateral agreement. But the truth is that they don’t want us to come in because they are protecting ASKY. And if Togo does not allow Air Peace to come in, by the 3rd week of May, I give them up to 21st of May, if they don’t allow us, between 22nd and 25th of May; I will go to court in Nigeria to stop ASKY from coming into Nigeria. I will do it for whatever it is worth. I will go to the Federal High Court to stop ASKY from coming into this country. Enough is enough; have to protect our own.
Ques: Are other bigger foreign carriers posing similar challenges?
Ans: Yes, this is what is happening; in other routes where some of these bigger airlines want to dominate, they try to frustrate Nigerian airlines because their main passenger base is Nigeria. Unfortunately, these people don’t provide employment for you and me. They take more out of the country and give less to the country. Meanwhile, at any little discomfort, they blackmail Nigeria. Just the little discomfort of relocating to Kaduna, the foreign airlines scampered out of this country. So, I have said it before that foreign airlines are fair-weather friends. And they have been gaining billions out of this country in foreign exchange. But when the foreign exchange issue became turbulent, they scampered, but the local airlines remained to provide jobs for Nigerian people.
The amount of jobs I have provided for Nigeria in less than two and a half years, British Airways has never provided 10 per cent of it in their 80 years of flying into Nigeria; they have not. They should go and look at the statistics. The number of quality jobs I have created for Nigerians and other ancillary effects in the last two and a half years, British Airways has not done 10 per cent of them for Nigerians. So why must we give them red carpet? They should be allowed to come in, but we also should be allowed to compete favourably with them. They should not put stumbling blocks to prevent us from coming into their country.
Ques: Do you exonerate Nigeria airlines from being part of their problems?
No, the Nigerian airlines themselves should also try to be up to scratch. You don’t want to be in an aircraft you don’t trust from here to China. You don’t want to be in an aircraft you don’t trust from here to UK or US. They must provide standard equipment for international flights. They should also get their heads together; it’s not about share patriotism but we would continue doing what we know how to do best; We also must be able to give them the kind of equipment that somebody flying 12 to 13 hours should be able to relax without issues of blood clotting. You know that blood-clot can kill. So you need to provide the kind of equipment people will like to fly in.