Africa: Airlines lament losses on West Coast route
Air Peace airlines has lamented the loss of over N1billion in the last six months over alleged politics of protectionism on the African continent.
The subtle politics, which is more pronounced on the West Coast, manifest in ridiculous charges and stringent conditions, which makes it difficult for operating airlines to survive on the regional routes.
It would be recalled that at least three Nigerian flag carriers – Air Peace, Arik and Med-View Airlines Plc – operate the West Coast, that is, Lagos, Accra, Banjul, Dakar and Abidjan.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, said aeropolitics, that is “politics as conditioned by considerations of air power or its dominance” is the bane of the Nigerian carriers on both the regional and international routes.
Onyema, said Nigerian flag carriers had wrongly been “demonised” as lacking requisite capacity to compete overseas, “forgetting the effects of resistance and bad politicking coming for the African neighbours”.
He said while Air Peace, for instance, has six international destination slots and 17 regional, but there must be approval to venture, which had been very difficult.
According to him, “Asky Airlines is doing four frequencies to Lagos daily.
But their home country, Togo, said they would not allow Air Peace in because their government is protecting Asky. It took them a year to reply us.
Later, they apologised when I threatened to go to court to stop their airlines from coming to Nigeria.
“Cote D’Ivoire gave us permission to fly into their country but not even an airport office was given to us, yet they slammed us with $10,000 charges.
But how many people are you carrying on that plane? Are they (Air Cote D’Ivoire) paying $10,000 in Nigeria? Why is it that when we complained, we haven’t received any help?
“Air Peace has lost over a billion in just six months of flying the West Coast. When they presented this to me a few days ago I almost cried. What we make are all spent on their charges.
“These airlines that we are supposed to be competing with are receiving support from their governments; some of them are not even paying taxes. Air Peace, from day one, started paying tax and charges.
The truth is that those countries don’t want you to come and compete with their own airline, whether private airline or whatever, they don’t want you to come. ”
Onyema, however, said the indigenous airlines need the backing of the government in terms of slot negotiation, charges harmonisation and other strategies often deployed to frustrate Nigerian carriers abroad.
He said the recent suspension of proposed national carrier had restored confidence in private airlines and government should complete the rounds by rallying behind the flag carriers to do Nigeria proud.
“There are ways of doing that. It could be by government-to-government negotiations. We need that intervention.
Then, of course, the charges. If we go to other countries and they hammer us with some unreasonable charges, let government draw their attention.
If they refused, you multiply the charges on their airlines by two. That way, you will force them to comply.
“Again, why should an airline be flying multiple destinations into Nigeria?
Ethiopian Airlines flies into five destinations daily when you cannot even fly into any of their airports.
Why not restrict them to just two, while our local airlines cover the other routes?
That is not within the control of the airlines but of the government,” Onyema said.
Chairman of the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Nogie Meggison, said the gross imbalance and insincerity of many African countries explains why his members were against both the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), and African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), initiatives, supposedly aimed at creating a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments.
Meggison commended the initiatives as laudable ideas and could be considered as a step in the right direction, but for the several unresolved issues Nigerian airlines face daily.
He said: “These border on unfriendly policies, high interest rates, levies, Value Added Tax (VAT), multiple taxation, charges and fees, and a hostile operating environment, all of which puts Nigerian local businesses at a disadvantage compared to other African States that are largely government owned and heavily subsidised.
“For instance, foreign airlines are exempted from VAT both in Nigeria and in their home country.
But Nigerian airlines still have to pay VAT.
Yet, Nigerian airlines which are 100 per cent privately funded are expected to compete with other government owned airlines across Africa in a single air transport market.
You never can be wrong supporting your own but many of our people are yet to see the sense in that.”
The Aviation Safety Round-table Initiative (ASRTI), a think-tank group of the aviation industry, recently raised concern about the act of negotiating BASA agreements without input and consideration of the local carriers, contrary to regulatory provisions.
The 2006 Civil Aviation Act makes it clear that there should be adequate consultations with the airlines before introduction of any decision that is likely to have an impact on their operations and overhead costs.
Secretary General of the Aviation Round Table (ART), Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), said the gross imbalance skewed in favour of foreign airlines continues to rub off on the economy and growth of local airlines.