For more than one year now, no Nigerian airline has operated long haul service. This means that international passenger traffic, which is over four million per annum and worth over $2 billion annually is airlifted solely by foreign airlines.
The last long haul flight operated by a Nigerian airline was that of Medview, which started Lagos-Dubai service in November 2017, but stopped in January 2018, in addition to its Lagos-London flights.
Arik Air used to operate to London, Johannesburg and New York for several years before it was stopped when the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) took over the company in February 2017.
The consequence of this is that most of the revenues generated from Nigerian passengers travelling overseas are repatriated by foreign airlines that provide the service in the country.
This also contributed significantly to the pressure mounted on the nation’s currency.
When this is added to the fact that major maintenance of aircraft of Nigerian airlines is done overseas, aircraft spares bought from overseas and simulator and other training of pilots done overseas, then one could imagine the humongous amount of money repatriated overseas from the aviation sector.
Many industry observers are of the view that the fact that about four million Nigerian passengers are airlifted by foreign carriers out of the country, should be a source of concern to the federal government and anticipated that government should strive to curtail the dominance of international carriers by empowering and seriously supporting Nigerian airlines.
But from all indications Air Peace airline, which has been planning to start international operation does not seem to be getting so much support from government.
It was the same situation when Arik Air wanted to operate long haul flights and when Medview Airline started its flights to London.
THISDAY learnt that the Nigerian airlines were left to shoulder the task alone, without any form of support from the government.
“Sometimes government put hurdles on their way by even giving more opportunities to foreign carriers, claiming that it runs open market to encourage competition, but it is only Nigeria that does not protect its own airline when you look at aeropolitics that guides international operations.
“When we started operation to London we were practically begging government agencies and the Minister of Aviation then to give us approvals which we had met the conditions. That is it.
“It is like government prefers foreign airlines to fully take charge of long distance flights from Nigeria,” regretted a former senior official of Nigeria’s major carrier.
THISDAY spoke to the Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema on the preparation of the airline for long haul operations.
He said the airline was meeting all the conditions in accordance to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations
“Doing international operations is not the same as doing domestic operations; it is a different ball game entirely. When you want to do international operations the very first time, it is like you obtaining AOC (Air Operator Certificate) afresh and trying to start airline operations for the first time when you have never been there before. “So you must make sure that everything is in place before you go into it. There are a lot of factors that comes to play and you must address every issue, don’t jump into it without looking. If you leap before you look you may hurt yourself.
“First of all, the charges, are you prepared for the charges? When you start and you don’t have the expected passenger traffic, how long can you take it? In Air Peace, we have told ourselves that the in the next one year, good or bad we must continue. “So we want to prepare ourselves; we don’t want to bite more than we can chew. We want to represent this country proudly; we want Nigerians to be proud of this airline,” Onyema said.
He said the airline was ready and has completed the requirements to start the operations.
“We are ready, we have done our over five hours of demonstration flight, flying our planes with only NCAA (the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority) officials to Dakar. We came back, we did another return flight to United Arab Emirate, to Sharjah, we came back.
“We did another one to Johannesburg we came back successfully. So we are waiting for NCAA to put this aircraft on our operational specifications so that we would be able to start, that is what we are waiting for.
“We hope to start our flight operations in April. Now, coming to the question of support, I don’t think we are getting the necessary support we are supposed to get. Because we want to start international operations next month and up till this time I do not have a business or first class lounge in my own country while other foreign airlines have.
“So the regulatory authorities and all the agencies of government that are in charge of aviation should do everything possible to support indigenous carriers. We are ready to start with Sharjah and Dubai,” he added.