Empowering Nigerian Airlines Through Fly Nigeria Act

Chinedu Eze

Many aviation insiders believed that if public servants are forced by law to patronise Nigerian airlines while travelling overseas, it will keep in the country huge amount of money that would have been otherwise repatriated by foreign airlines.

Industry observers believed that such revenues would have strengthened domestic airlines that operate international routes and reduce pressure on the naira.

That is the reason why some stakeholders in the aviation industry are canvassing for Fly Nigeria Act. The mechanism is that if government will pay for travel of an official or anybody or group of persons, those involved must patronise any Nigerian airline that operates to that destination; but if no Nigerian airline operates in that route, they will patronise the airlines that partner Nigerian carriers.

One of the key campaigners for Fly Nigeria Act is a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba.

In a recent press conference, he held on Fly Nigeria Act, he advised the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Space Management, Festus Keyamo, to enact the Fly Nigeria Act to strengthen the aviation industry.

Agbakoba explained that the Act would ensure that all public funds that require air travel, whether by government or government consultants would be on a Nigerian carrier, adding that it would immediately give Air Peace and other airlines passengers. 

He observed that the Act would strengthen the aviation space, noting that there have been too many failures in the aviation sector.

He recommended for the insertion of a corporate governance code into the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Act to strengthen the Act, adding that it is akin to what happens in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

“The Nigerian aviation sector faces significant challenges that have hindered its contribution to the country’s economic growth.Despite the potential to generate revenue, create jobs, and stimulate other industries like hospitality and tourism, the sector has experienced a high turnover of registered airlines, with many having a short lifespan of 5 to 10 years. The absence of Aviation Cabotage, an enabling legal and policy environment for national airlines, is a fundamental factor contributing to the failure of Nigerian airlines.

“Proposals such as the Fly Nigeria Bill, Aviation Corporate Governance Code, and the domestication of international conventions have been suggested to address these challenges. Olisa Agbakoba Legal (OAL) has been working on these issues for 15 years, advising several ministers, with the current Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, being the most responsive,” he said.

He explained that the OAL Fly Nigeria Act, remained modelled to the Fly America Act and aims to make it compulsory to apply public funds for air travel exclusively to Nigerian carriers, generating passenger traffic and supporting their international growth.

Agbakoba said other critical components of the proposed reforms include: amendment of the NCAA Act to introduce a strong governance code as most national airlines are one-man businesses; domestication of international instruments; enforcement of Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) and concessioning of airports.

“These reforms will free the government from direct management of airports, create jobs, drive revenue, and allow for a limited government focused on policy while enabling private sector growth. Recent successes of Air Peace, with its direct flights to London, and the Dangote Group, with its world-class refinery, have brought down prices and reduced pressure on foreign exchange. These achievements highlight the potential of private sector-driven growth in Nigeria.OAL is committed to working with the Federal Government and other stakeholders to facilitate the passage and implementation of comprehensive aviation sector reforms, unlocking the industry’s potential and positioning Nigeria as a major player in the global aviation market,’ he said.

Also speaking on the Act, the Secretary General of Aviation Round Table (ART), Olu Ohunyo said if the Act is passed into law and is enforced it would save Nigeria a lot in forex.

“I am not only looking at the savings in dollars, but it will also strengthen the naira and also attract partnership and investment in our carriers and the Nigerian aviation industry. We will be the ones to benefit, we will be the ones the economy will smile at and there will be that improvement in services provided, looking at what will be coming into the purse. So I strongly support the Fly Nigerian Act. We have been on this for more than 15 years and we will not relent in the push for the Fly Nigeria Act to come to fruition. But happily, the Minister has shown that he is ready to work with the domestic airlines, those who are willing to fly on the international routes.

“It is a clear departure of what happened in the last eight years, whereby there was no interest in encouraging local carriers. So I think with the zeal we have seen in the Minister, this can also be pushed; we can work with the him, work with the House Committees on Aviation to see how we can push this because it is only by legislation that you can get the public organizations, the public sector to use public travel on Nigerian airlines on routes operated by Nigerian carriers. It is a push that we have to do. We have done it before under former Minister, Babatunde Omotoba. Omotoba took it all the way to the Presidential Council and then at the last minute it was knocked down; looking at the ownership structure of the airline,” Ohunayo said.

He expressed optimism that if the agenda is pushed this time, it will sail through.

“We can just fly and begin to work on how to bring everybody along and see what areas, what adjustment to come in, whether in legislation, whether in structure of ownership. But most importantly, it must be Nigerian carriers that will benefit from it. And I think it also helps the dream of having Nigeria control its destiny, coupled with SAATM (Single African Air Travel Market), that is in place that we can also expand on. But I am very positive that we will be able to attract more investment to the airlines, we will attract more commercial partnership when they see the volume. And I think we should also take a cue from what the Australians are doing.

He said that while travelling at government expense you must patronize Australian carrier; it is only when there is no availability on Australian carriers that other airlines are sought  and all these airlines come and bid with the agency controlling public travel.

“I look forward to it,” he added.

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