Industry experts have variously posited that one of the major challenges being suffered by Nigerian airlines is lack of government support. Whereas other countries easily negotiate Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) with the Nigerian government for their airlines, Nigerian carriers always find it difficult to get approval from other countries to operate to their airports.
THISDAY gathered that while Nigeria’s rising domestic carrier, Medview Airline had got approval to fly to Dubai, which it slated to start in July, but the ground handling company, which is owned by the state and enjoys a monopoly in Dubai had told the Nigerian carrier that it would not have a slot to handle it at the Dubai airport, so it could take its operations elsewhere.
In other words, because the handling company cannot earmark a time to provide service to the Nigerian carrier, it cannot operate to Dubai.
About a month ago, the European Union blacklisted the same airline along with others in Africa and Asia and stopped it from operating to London with Nigerian registered aircraft, prompting it to wet lease aircraft from European Union based airline to operate to London.
Also about five years ago, Arik Air was stopped from operating Abuja-London flights, when UK airport authorities told the Nigerian carrier that it does not have slot for its flights from Abuja, so it had to only operate Lagos-London flights, which was seven times a week, while its UK counterpart British Airways was operating daily flights from Lagos to London and from Abuja to London. Also Virgin Atlantic Airways was also operating daily flights from Lagos to London. So in total, two UK carriers were operating 21 flights weekly to London, while the only Nigerian carrier was allowed to operate seven fights weekly to London with 14 frequencies as allocated in the BASA between Nigeria and the UK unutilised.
When the then Minister of Aviation, Senator Stella Oduah protested and wanted to retaliate by stopping British Airways flights from operating to Abuja, the British Prime Minister then called the then President Goodluck Jonathan, who quickly stopped Oduah from barring BA’s operations to Abuja. At the end of the day, Arik was stopped from operating to London from Abuja. And it was the Nigerian government that allowed that to happen despite the fact that in the BASA signed between the two countries, both countries could allow 21 flights weekly for their indigenous carriers. But while UK strategically stopped Arik to curb competition for BA, Nigeria ignored the spirit of reciprocity that govern international diplomacy and allowed UK to cut down the operation of Arik.
While the Nigerian government eagerly welcomes foreign airlines to Nigeria, other countries whose airlines operate into Nigeria usually refuse Nigerian carriers from operating to their countries in order to protect their own airlines by curbing or eliminating competition. The Chairman of Air Peace, Chief Allen Onyema told journalists recently that the airline was refused request by Togolese government to operate to that country until he threatened court action. The letter he wrote to Senegal to approve its flight operation to that country was not responded to. But these are countries in West Africa, which see Nigeria as the biggest market in the sub-region and which are given BASA approvals by the Nigerian government.
Industry observers accused the Nigerian government of complacency and indifference to the well-being of Nigerian carriers and said that while other countries support their airlines and protect them; the Nigerian government seem detached from the problem of its indigenous carriers.
Travel expert, Ikechi Uko once told THISDAY that without government’s support, airlines cannot succeed; whether the airlines are owned by government or by private investors; that government’s support buoys such carriers to success when government opens diplomatic doors for its indigenous carriers. Also an operator told THISDAY that the Nigerian government has a misconception that because the indigenous carriers are owned by private investors it does not have any obligation towards the airlines.
“Government has to realise that it must have to support Nigerian airlines for them to do well. We are not asking for intervention fund; we are asking for support in the sense that government should be conscious of the fact that if a country refuses a Nigerian airline entry, government should also reciprocate and make it clear that any Nigerian airline that is dealing with another country or organisation of another country is representing Nigeria. We are flag carriers of Nigeria; it is not only national carriers that should be protected and support by government,” the operator told THISDAY.
Also a senior official of Medview noted in a recent interview that if Medview is not operating to London the fares from Lagos to London would have doubled by BA and Virgin Atlantic Airways this summer, but it still hovers around 500 pounds.
“They bring this politics to eliminate competition so that they can fix exploitative fares and milk our citizens. With Medview operating to London they do not have the privilege to hike their fares and this is what they are scheming to do if they succeed in stopping Nigerian airlines. This is what government should understand and take it as its responsibility to protect our own. There is nothing wrong protecting your own,” the official said.
An industry observer alleged that Emirates might have used its ground handling company to stop Medview from operating to Dubai and noted that there was a time Emirates was operating daily flights to Abuja and twice daily from Lagos “but immediately our economy entered into recession, they withdrew their Abuja-Dubai flight and also stopped one of their daily flights from Lagos. You can bet that when the economy rebounds they will come back and the Nigerian government would give them quick approval. They were encouraged to treat Medview the way they did because they are aware of what BA did with Arik and knew that the Nigerian government did nothing to protect its own carrier.”