By Chinedu Eze
Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Chief Allen Onyema, has said that one of the major factors that contribute to the low value of the naira is the over $1billion, which foreign airlines repatriate yearly from the country and almost the same amount which the countryâ€™s airlines spend overseas for major maintenance of their aircraft.
Onyema said that the failure of Nigeria to repatriate the airlinesâ€™ fund because of the economic recession in 2016 and 2017, should be a reminder that the country should evolve ways to reduce the amount of money repatriated by empowering local airlines to operate international routes and to facilitate the establishment of major maintenance, overhaul and repair (MRO) facility in Nigeria.
He lamented that while Nigeria has huge population of travellers, the country imports every aircraft spare, imports aviation fuel and also imports technical personnel, adding all these, worsen the pressure on the naira.
The Air Peace Chairman remarked that airlines are diplomatic tools, which countries use to not only project their image in the international community but leverage on to develop and grow their economy and because of this, every country protects its airline industry from being ravaged by foreign competitors.
He cited example with the US, which is the home of aviation in the world, and noted that when Middle East carriers eroded the market of US airlines, the US government had to introduce policies that today curtailed the in-road of such airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad and others, which started recording losses after losing some of their US market.
Onyema urged government officials to bear it in mind that every decision they take, impacts on the nationâ€™s economy, adding that they should take it as a point of duty to eliminate the exploitation of Nigerian passengers by foreign airlines through exorbitant fares by supporting domestic airlines to join the international and regional market.
He also condemned the too many opportunities given to foreign airlines by the Nigerian government to operate multidesignation in the country, citing example with Ethiopian Airlines, which operates five destinations in Nigeria. He noted that in addition to that, there is rumour that the Nigerian government wanted to give the East African carrier management contract to take over Arik Air.
According to Onyema, Arik Airâ€™s goodwill and opportunities are worth more than $12 billion, besides its assets, so if Ethiopia wants to manage the airline, it should put such amount of money down before it is given the opportunity to manage the nationâ€™s major airline.
â€œEthiopia Airlines should not be allowed to come through the back door to ravage our country. We have capable Nigerians that can run Arik Air, so Ethiopian Airlines expressing interest to take over Arik Airâ€™s management is not to the best interest of the country. This is similar opportunities that are given to other international airlines like Air France and Lufthansa, which operate from Abuja to Port Harcourt and back to Abuja before they take off to their country everyday; meanwhile, they still operate their Lagos destinations,â€ he said.