Africa: Interlining, Way Out For Indigenous Airlines – Air Peace CEO
Mr. Allen Onyema, the Chairman, Air Peace, in this interview with journalists in Lagos, spoke on the challenges facing the nation’s airlines, lack of cooperation among indigenous carriers and the planned new national carrier for Nigeria. OLUSEGUN KOIKI was there.
What do you think in concrete terms is the panacea to the challenges facing indigenous airlines?
Well, there are so many challenges out there facing the Nigerian airlines in the face.
One of the challenges is the issue of Value Added Tax (VAT) and several other challenges that are debilitating the airlines.
The government has done well by removing VAT and we appreciate and thank the government for doing that.
We also expect government to improve first and foremost the airport infrastructure in this country. The airport infrastructures are not all that supportive of our airline operations; not just Air Peace, every other airline too is affected. Once the airport infrastructure is improved upon, the airlines will start to get it right.
Players in the Nigerian aviation industry have observed that the inability of domestic airlines to interline is also curbing their growth; is there anything being done to ensure that airlines in the country interline?
Yes, of course we are discussing, the Nigerian domestic airlines are discussing. The discussion has been on for the past one year; we are trying to see how we can cooperate with each other so that we ensure consumer satisfaction so that when you have one airplane down, it doesn’t mean that the world will come to an end. Your brother airline can come to your rescue.
Interlining is the way to go in this business and we are speaking to ourselves. Sooner than later, you will hear something from us.
You recently lamented about poor treatment meted to your airline in some countries in the West Coast. What next step are you taking to address some of these poor treatments and how friendly are other of these West African states to the country’s carriers?
It is not as if the Nigerian airlines do not support the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM). We support it, but there has to be a level of reciprocity. It shouldn’t be one sided. Nigeria shouldn’t open its doors unrestricted in the name of open skies while those other countries are not allowing us easy gateway into their countries.
We have a particular airline in West African that does about four or five operations into this country daily while no single Nigerian airline is going to their country. Not because we don’t want to go there, but because they are making it impossible for us to fly to their country.
Also, one other country in West Africa is preventing us from going there because when Air Peace went there to setup, what they did was to slam us with about $10,000. For every landing you do into the country you are spending about $10,000. How many people are you carrying on that plane? They are not getting the same treatment in Nigeria. In Nigeria we are laying the red carpet for foreign airlines to rape our economy, it shouldn’t be.
So, in the name of open skies we shouldn’t do unrestricted traffic to the foreign airlines because they are not doing the same thing to us. Togo even wrote me stopping me from coming into its country.
The government said because one other Nigerian airline has been given one right to come in, meanwhile, ASky of Togo was coming into Nigeria about five times a day. Until I threatened to go to court that was when they now gave us the permit to come in.
But, they will wait for you in their countries and frustrate you; that is what we have been getting. The kind of charges we pay in these countries, their own airlines don’t pay in Nigeria and that is against the spirit of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and all the conventions you can think of. So, we have to protect ourselves.
I cannot get offices in my own country and foreign airlines are being given offices. I want to do international in the last two years, I have not been allocated a lounge that I can put my business or first class passengers before they depart and tomorrow everybody will be shouting that Nigerian airlines are not performing well. Am I being supported? We are not being supported, so we need to support our own, we must start supporting Nigerian indigenous airlines for them to succeed.
We are not asking them for money, we are asking for enabling environment to operate. I don’t see any reason I should not have a lounge in my own country and foreign airlines are being given preference over me. These are the things we are saying. We support SAATM, but it must come with the right price.
The Federal Government is planning to launch a new national carrier, is the indigenous carriers planning to partner with the airline?
The government has launched the name and logo of a new national carrier in Farnborough, London, myself as Air Peace Chairman, why did I go into aviation on in the first place? I went in to create jobs, I love touching lives. So, if this national carrier will bring about more job creation in the country, I support it. Ff this national carrier is going to improve the lives of our people, I will support it.
However, if this national carrier is going to disrupt the industry negatively and affect the local airlines negatively, then I will not support it.
That is why we are calling for transparency in everything. If it is private sector driven, I am a private sector, Med-View is a private sector, Dana Air, Overland, Topbrass and others are private entities.
Now, if the national carrier is a private sector driven airline, we will support it. I cannot say there shouldn’t be a national carrier, I support it. I, not supporting national carrier is tantamount to me not wanting another airline to exist, but that is not the issue here.
The issue here is that the Nigerian indigenous airlines are saying we want to be carried along, we want to know how we are going to run this national carrier. If you say it is a private sector carrier that means it is going to be owned by private person or private persons. Are you going to give these private persons the privileges of my country, which you have not made available to us who have been in existence? I have acquired four Boeing 777 aircraft and today, Med-View first 777 arrived in Nigeria.
We have invested massively in this industry; the question is ‘what is the lot of these private indigenous airlines that have invested hugely in acquiring these planes?’ I am sure the national carrier is not going to acquire five B777 aircraft between now and December. Now, others have acquired it; are they going to come to us and say ‘okay let’s partner?’ So, we are not against that, but we are asking for a level playing field for everybody. Because you cannot give the privileges of my country to another private person and neglect me that have already been there, then it is not fair.