Keyamo Assures of Plans to Boost Fleet of Nigerian Carriers to Make Them Competitive

•Explains how aero-politics, intrigues denied Air Peace Heathrow Airport slot

•Reveals Emirates may resume flight to Nigeria before June

Chinedu Eze and Funmi Ogundare

Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, has said Nigerian airlines would soon be able to obtain aircraft and increase their fleet as the federal government’s interventions in the sector begin to kick in. Keyamo said the increase in fleet would help to bring down airfares in the domestic market, while boosting the airlines’ capacity to compete effectively on international destinations.

Keyamo gave the assurance yesterday during an interview on “The Morning Show” on Arise News Channel.

The minister disclosed how far he had gone in trying to resolve the issues that stopped lessors and aircraft manufacturers from granting long term lease of aircraft to Nigerian carriers, known as dry lease.

He also spoke on the intrigues that denied Nigerian major airline, Air Peace, the Heathrow Airport slot in its Lagos-London flight services and forced the airline to choose the second option of Gatwick, where it had been operating from since March 30, 2024.

Keyamo disclosed that Emirates Airlines, which stopped services to Nigeria about two years ago, might resume flight operation before June. He stated that as the naira exchange rate continued to appreciate and the economy improved, the aviation market would continue to build up to what it used to be.

On boosting the fleet of Nigerian carriers, the minister said as a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Nigeria had authorised international creditors and lessors, under the Cape Town Convention, to reclaim aircraft in case of lease default.

Nigeria had been developing a practice direction to align with Aviation Working Group standards. If these are guaranteed, Nigerian airlines would be allowed to lease aircraft on long term basis.

In order to implement the policy, the minister said he had collaborated with the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, and Chief Justice of Nigeria to fortify airline support. He said he had also briefed the president and vice president on enhancing the ease of doing business.

Keyamo highlighted challenges Nigerian airlines faced in competing with foreign carriers on international destinations, disclosing that 70 per cent of the challenges border on their inability to acquire aircraft.

Keyamo regretted that Nigerian airlines were made to compete with international airlines that relied on dry leases and single-digit, long-term loans to obtain their equipment and manage their operations.

He said Nigerian carriers obtained credit facilities from banks at upwards of 26 per cent interest and could not acquire aircraft on dry lease. So they faced difficulty in leasing and even in purchase of aircraft due to the outrageous interest on loans.

Keyamo stated that he had held discussions with the Aviation Working Group, co-chaired by Boeing and Airbus, and indicated that Nigeria must amend its injunction practices to access dry leases.

He said lack of credit facilities for the carriers made it extremely tough for the airlines to buy aircraft outright or lease rentals.

According to the minister, “The real reasons why we (Nigerian carriers) cannot compete with international airlines is that we don’t have access to aircraft on the same terms with the big airlines around the world.

“The biggest airlines in the world, like Qatar, British Airways, Emirates, KLM and others, don’t run their fleet 100 per cent based on the actual purchase of the aircraft.

“For all the fleet you see, 80 per cent of the fleet across the world is on a leasehold or dry lease. The airlines have access to loans in single digits. Our banks are doing 26 per cent and our banks are not big enough to finance wide-body aircraft.  For you to survive, you must have access to these aircraft.”

On the blacklist of Nigeria by aircraft lessors because of default by operators and the difficulty faced by aircraft owner in retrieving their equipment, Keyamo expressed sadness over the action of the culprits. He explained that the action was in contravention of the Cape Town Convention, which Nigeria is a signatory to.

Keyamo disclosed that the federal government was working with the Aviation Working Group on a practice direction to enable domestic airline operators to dry lease aircraft.

He said, “So, I went around to enquire about what guides aircraft leasing around the world, and I discovered it was the Cape Town Convention, which regulates aircraft leasing across the world.

“Nigeria is a signatory to that convention. We have signed and ratified that convention. And there is a group responsible for the observance and compliance of that convention. The group is co-chaired by Airbus and Boeing. The group is called the Aviation Working Group, headed by Jeffrey Wool.

“I called all of them and held a meeting to ask why our local operators are not getting these aircraft. According to them, they have blacklisted Nigeria because it didn’t comply with the convention.

“So, I told them I would do that. I spoke with the Attorney General of the Federation, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the President and Vice President, who is the head of the Ease of Doing Business; all of them have agreed that it is a critical issue.

“We are in the process of drafting a practice direction to satisfy the Aviation Working Group that once we give a practice direction that says, please, our judges, don’t grant injunctions to detain aircraft that are on dry lease in Nigeria because it gives us a bad image and it is against the Cape Town Convention of the Aviation Working Group.”

On the operation of Air Peace from Gatwick instead of Heathrow, Keyamo explained that when he was appointed minister, Air Peace faced challenges in its bid to operate to London.

He revealed, “When I came, I saw that Air Peace was struggling and had been struggling and I said this is one of our objectives: to support private businesses in Nigeria. I called Allen Onyema (Air Peace Chairman) and he told me all his problems and I said, ‘look, let’s start on this.’

“I wrote a very stern letter to the transport minister in the UK that under our BASA, we will not allow this to continue. I told him that he is taking 21 slots from Nigeria and we deserve 21 as well.

“What they gave Air Peace was even below the standard of the BASA we have because BASA does not only talk about reciprocity, it also talks about the airport.

“We have given you our tier one airport, which is MMIA, you should give us Heathrow, and we kept going back and forth and they asked him to bring a huge amount before they could allow him to Heathrow.”

Keyamo added, “They gave the excuse that they had given Heathrow Airport out to private concessionaires. The British government said they were no longer in control of Heathrow, so, we cannot give you Heathrow.

“I told Onyema to let us start with Gatwick and they started giving us all kinds of excuses to fly by 3am. I travelled again to London and put our foot on the ground before we were able to eke out what we had.

“What we are doing is not for Air Peace but for everybody, local operators.”

The minister also assured that Emirates had concluded plans to resume flight operations to Nigeria before June, stating that he has received a letter from Emirates on the return of the carrier.

He clarified that the first announcement in October last year over the proposed resolution of the face-off between Nigeria and United Arab Emirates was not fake news, but was “hasty”.

Keyamo stated, “Emirates flight resumption is almost happening. I just received a letter from Emirates. The letter is on my phone now. They are ready to come back. They will announce the date because to restart a route, they have to get an aircraft for that route.

“I am announcing to Nigerians for the first time that I just received a letter from Emirates now. The letter is with me. I have a hard copy thanking you for all the efforts we made. Mr. President was the showman here. He was the one who pushed for it. He made my job easy because he went there, and had a diplomatic shuttle to resolve all the issues.

“That was why I said the last announcement was hasty and not fake news. They will announce the date for their next flight. We have received a letter confirming that all the issues have been resolved and prepared to start coming back. It may be before June.”

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