Africa: Nigeria airlines lose out on bilateral air service agreement

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Domestic Airlines are losing out in revenue and flight frequencies, while foreign airlines are increasing and opening more routes in Nigeria after the government signed the Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA).
BASA, founded on the principle of reciprocity, is a deal that enables a country’s airlines to enjoy equal leverage, in terms of flight operations, in countries with which their home country has an air agreement.
The Single African Air Transport Market, (SAATM) which is part of the BASA agreements is a flagship project of AU Agenda 2063, which aspires to create a single unified air transport market in Africa, liberalise civil aviation in Africa, and motivate the continent’s economic integration agenda.
The SAATM agreement which was signed by 23 countries including Nigeria in January 2018 at Addis Ababa has seen more foreign airlines such as Sudanese airlines, Ethiopian airlines, RwandAir, open more routes and increase frequencies in Nigeria, while Nigeria airlines suspend operations into foreign countries.
The agreement has seen more foreign airlines such as Sudanese airlines, Ethiopian airlines, RwandAir, Emirates open more routes and increase frequencies in Nigeria, while Nigeria airlines suspend operations into foreign countries.
There are currently 24 foreign airlines operating in Nigeria and most operate into Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano, while only two Nigerian carriers, Arik and AirPeace currently fly into or from West African countries.
Nigeria currently has seven domestic airlines but the NCAA says more airlines have applied for Air Operating certificates.
Chris Aligbe, former spokesman of the defunct Nigeria Airways Limited, said it is time for domestic airlines to key into advantages that SAATM agreements offer by applying good corporate governance to their operations or else they will be left behind.
Aligbe urged the operators to look inwards and put their house in order, as it was too late to stop a moving train.
Two months ago, the federal government approved two Sudanese airlines – Badr Airlines and Tarco Airways to operate into Kano. The two airlines are currently operating two flights weekly from Khartoum, Sudan to Kano.
Ethiopian Airlines has gradually evolved to become a Nigerian indigenous carrier as it presently flies to five destinations in the country from its base in Addis Ababa.
The East African carrier operates scheduled flight operations to Murtala Muhammed International Airport, MMIA, Lagos; the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, NAIA, Abuja, Aminu Kano International Airport, AKIA, Kano and recently, Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu and Kaduna International Airport with over 21 frequencies weekly.
Apart from Ethiopian Airlines, other foreign airlines like RwandAir, British Airways, Etihad, Air France/KLM, Egypt Air, Emirates and South African Airways among others have joined the bandwagon of carriers that operate multiple entries into Nigeria regularly without reciprocity from any of the nation’s carriers.
On the other hand, Medview, a Nigerian carrier which flew into Dubai and London has suspended operations into these countries because the airline did not have adequate operational aircraft to sustain the routes.
Arik Air which flew London, Johannesburg-South Africa and almost all countries in West and Central Africa suspended operations into these countries because of its huge debt to its foreign partners.
AirPeace, is still in the process of getting certifications from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the countries it intends to fly into.
Chris Iwarah, Corporate Communications Manager, Air Peace Limited told BusinessDay that as a result of the issues Nigerian airlines are having with their foreign operations, NCAA has directed all airlines that intend to commence international operations to apply through them.
“Normally, we send the letters directly to the countries we hope to fly into through the Nigerian embassy.
“However, with this new directive, all applications we have made before, we had to withdraw and send them through NCAA. This will enable NCAA screen all documents so that no country will have any excuse for denying Nigerian airlines from operating in their countries,” Iwarah added.
Ikechi Uko, a Nigerian travel business consultant and tourism development expert told BusinessDay that more foreign airlines will come into Nigeria as long as there is demand and he dispelled the Sudanese terrorism threat associated with the latter’s airlines which will now easily fly into Nigeria.
The ease of entry by Sudanese airlines into Nigeria, will not necessarily aid the obnoxious activities of terrorists like Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda, as is widely believed, according to Uko.
Uko further explained that Badr Airlines got a new aircraft and decided to expand within Africa, leveraging on the SAATM agreement and Nigeria was one of the countries they chose to operate into.
“The highest numbers of Nigerians in diaspora live in Sudan. During the pilgrimage to Mecca before aviation started, everyone went by foot to Sudan. The road to Mecca is through Sudan and Nigerians settled all along the road,” Uko said.
Bismarck Rewane shares a similar view on the Sudanese threat.
“It is true that Sudan is a hub for terrorism activities, but terrorist are not going to come by air,” Rewane, and economist and CEO at Lagos-based financial advisory firm, Financial Derivatives Ltd said.
“If we have a bilateral air service agreement with a country that is a hub for terrorism, the authorities will need to be more careful with people they allow in from Sudan. But the Sudanese airlines have the right to fly. Sudan has an embassy operating in Nigeria and there are Sudanese in Nigeria. There are products that are exchanged between Nigeria and Sudan,” Rewane said by phone.
The current number of domestic operational airlines in the country may be unable to compete with foreign airlines, according to Tayo Ojuri, Chief Executive Officer, Aglo Limited, an aviation support service.
“However, the federal government can look at the viable airlines and give them some encouragement through VAT and discounts on spare parts,” Ojuri said.
“From the passengers’ side, SAATM agreements will be beneficial because the passengers will be able to travel across Africa and the world without having to go through so many connecting flights,” Ojuri added.
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