Africa: Why Nigerian Airlines Cannot Fly International Routes
Aviation experts have identified reasons why it would be very difficult for Nigerian airlines to successfully operate international routes, which typically is a major foreign exchange earner and reduces capital flight by foreign airlines, put at $1.4 billion in 2017.
Since the demise of the national carrier, Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL), it has been very difficult for Nigerian registered airlines to successfully operate international destinations like London, New York, Washington, Paris, Johannesburg and others.
Former Director in Medview Airline who was in charge of its international operations, Mr. Lukeman Animaseun, who spoke with THISDAY, said any airline that is not a national carrier would find it difficult to successfully operate international routes from Nigeria.
For example, when Arik Air started operating Abuja-London route the British airport management cancelled the old arrangements of reciprocity of frequencies in the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) and insisted that the Nigerian airline should pay for landing slot, which was a huge amount of money.
When the airline could not pay the money, the British Airport management stopped Arik from flying to London from Abuja.
Reports indicated that government made efforts to fight for Arik but gave up midway.
Animaseun told THISDAY that the British Airport management could not have done that to Nigeria’s national carrier because it knows that Nigeria would react immediately by stopping British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways, UK airlines from operating to Nigeria.
“It will be difficult for a privately-owned airline to operate international routes because of these reasons; unless government is willing to fight for the airline, but if it a national carrier they know they cannot do all that because government will definitely fight back,” he said.
Another major factor why a Nigerian airline may find it difficult to operate international routes is capability in terms of finance.
“Does the airline have enough funds? This is because the charges are very high, and it is paid in foreign currency. Nigerian airlines sell their ticket in naira and they sell at relatively low prices in order to attract passengers but the services you pay for are paid in foreign currency.
“Most often the Nigerian airline does not have the financial clout to sustain such routes,” Animaseun explained.
Industry experts also noted that for a Nigerian airline to do well on international route and also in its operation, there is need for the airline to have corporate governance to “avert the arrogance that goes with, this is my airline and I decide what happens,” but decisions should be taken collectively.
Animaseun, however noted that foreign airlines and their host countries can fight Nigerian airlines if government allows it, stressing that if the Nigerian government stands solidly behind Nigerian airlines, such policies enacted to put such airlines at a disadvantage when they operate to their destinations would be stopped.
At a recent meeting of the think-tank group in the aviation industry, known as Aviation Round Table (ART), industry experts had noted that multi-designation of foreign airlines to different airports in Nigeria hurt the operations of Nigerian carriers.
However, Animaseun viewed multi-designation as key factor that helped to kill Nigerian airlines in the domestic market, saying it discourages code-share between foreign airlines and Nigerian airlines.
This is because if a foreign airline is designated to one airport in Nigeria, it would partner with local airlines to bring passengers to the airport it operates from.
For example, if British Airways is designated to only Lagos airport, passengers coming from Kano, Abuja, and Enugu would be brought to Lagos by Nigerian airline to join British Airways’ flight. But some foreign airlines operate to three or more airports in Nigeria.
Animseun and other industry stakeholders believe that this is a key policy the federal government used to hurt the operations of Nigerian airlines.