Airline Operators Worried as FG Gives More Frequency to Emirates

  • It’s only for Hajj operation, says airline

Chinedu Eze

Airline operators and other stakeholders have raised concern over the federal government’s decision to allow international mega carrier, Emirates, to operate additional frequency to Abuja.

With this latest approval, THISDAY gathered that Emirates operates four times daily to Nigeria from its base in Dubai, translating to 28 times per week, while another UAE-based airline, Etihad, also operates daily to Lagos from UAE, which makes it a total of 35 times a week.
But in a swift reaction, Emirates said the additional frequency it started on the Abuja-Dubai route was only for Hajj operation and it would stop after the pilgrimage.

However,the Nigerian airline operators, who spoke to THISDAY on the matter, described the approval as disheartening as it came when a Nigerian carrier just started operating three times per week to Sharjah International Airport in UAE.

The operators said it was a deliberate act to kill Nigerian airlines, noting that while other countries are protecting their airlines, Nigeria is killing its own by promoting foreign airlines to take over all Nigerian routes.

The Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, told THISDAY that the action of government was a double standard, recalling how Arik Air was taken out of the Abuja-London route with the alleged influence of British Airways without the Nigerian government doing anything about it.

He said:“We should remember that this country needs jobs. Even though the airlines are owned by private individuals, they create jobs for Nigerians. If government can ban importation of rice to encourage local production and recently banned the importation of milk in order to encourage local production, why can’t government bring the same policy into aviation and protect Nigeria airlines that are operating international destinations?”

Also, the Chief Executive Officer of Top Brass Aviation, Capt. Roland Iyayi, said Nigeria signed an open sky agreement with UAE, just as it did with the United States, noting that approved airlines from UAE could go to any airport in the country.
He identified the implication of such agreement, saying that Nigeria is the one losing because such agreements do not favour the country and Nigerian travellers.

“Essentially,what was signed with Emirates was an open sky agreement; it is not the typical Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) arrangement. Based on that agreement,the airline and any other carrier from the UAE have the right and power to fly into any of the international airports in Nigeria, as many times as they want. It is not a typical commercial agreement.

“Essentially, it will erode into the domestic market substantially because what you are saying is that you have the power and the right even though you have signed it with them if you want to go to UAE now, you can only go to Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, but the disadvantage to us is that their own markets are the hub markets because it is where they have their major carriers,” he said.

A member of Aviation Round Table and Executive Director of Zenith Travel, Olu Ohunayo, expressed shock at the decision of the government to approve additional frequency for Emirates on the Abuja- Dubai route.

“It is shocking that government would have approved additional frequency into Nigeria for Emirates. What is the motive of the approval? Was it a reciprocity motive? This obviously is meant to stop Air Peace from operating successfully into the United Arab Emirates. Here is a country with two airlines. One of them has two slots into Lagos and one into Abuja with bigger aircraft than that of Air Peace. Now, additional frequency has been given to them into Abuja. They should have given another Nigerian carrier the approval to operate into the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

Ohunayo said foreign airlines had monopoly of all Nigerian routes and that was why Nigerian travellers pay exorbitant fares to travel to international destinations, adding that since Air Peace started operation to UAE all the airlines operating to that destination have reduced their fares due to competition.

“When Air Peace joined the route the other airlines dropped their fares, not out of love but out of competition, but if they succeed in driving Air Peace out of the market, the fares will go up again. This is where we expect the government to come in. It is the responsibility of government to protect its airlines. Immediately government designated Air Peace to United Arab Emirates, it becomes Nigeria’s flag carrier on that route.

“Any Nigerian-registered airline is a Nigerian carrier owned by Nigerians; so, it is surprising that government could add another frequency to Emirates operations to Nigeria,” he stated

He said to encourage Nigerian carriers, government must withdraw the policy.
“That frequency must be withdrawn immediately. This is not fair to Nigeria and Nigerians if we continue to throw away these frequencies,” he said.

Industry stakeholders and aircraft engineer, Sheri Kyari, said what government did by granting additional frequency to Emirates was to knowingly kill Nigerian airlines.

“The granting of additional frequencies to Emirates Airlines will exacerbate the consequences of multiple entries by foreign carriers into Nigeria. Increasing the frequencies won’t be beneficial to anybody other than the airline itself,which is very bad for the system in Nigeria. I want to say that we are getting to a point where stakeholders will have to defend the system. It is honestly a sad scenario.

“If the government doesn’t want to listen to the voice of wisdom, the stakeholders will have to do something in order to rescue our airlines, our money, our employment and rescue every opportunity that should be given to local airlines to impact on the nation,” Kyari said.

However,Emirates allayed fears of the airlines and other stakeholders, saying the additional frequency is for Hajj and it will stop after the pilgrimage.

Emirates media representative in Nigeria, JSP Communications, told THISDAY that the additional frequency to Abuja by the airline was for Hajj operations.

According to the agency, there is no indication that the service will continue after the Hajj operation.

Emirates had earlier issued a release through JSP Communications that it would add another frequency to Abuja during the Hajj, but industry insiders alleged that the service would likely continue after the pilgrimage.