AIRLINE operators, under the umbrella of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), have disagreed with Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika, over the Federal Government’s decision to grant foreign airlines multiple entry into the country.
According to the operators, giving foreign airlines rights to fly into several locations in Nigeria could hurt the revenue of domestic airlines, who they asserted would suffer undue competition from their foreign counterparts.
The chief executive officer of Air Peace and vice-president of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Allen Onyema, who represented the AON at the 1st Quarter Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI) Business Breakfast Meeting held in Lagos on March 31, described the multiple entry idea as “a form of slavery” that should be abolished.
Sirika had earlier at the meeting declared nothing was wrong with the idea, though he admitted that the matter had become contentious in the industry.
Just recently, Qatar Airways was granted extra two entry points into the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano, and Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), Omagwa, a move the AON condemned.
The minister, in an address delivered on his behalf by former commandant of Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, John Ojikutu, admitted granting foreign airlines multiple entry was against the Cabotage Act, and that it hampered local airlines from generating the needed revenue to make them grow.
He added that the pressure of foreign exchange required by airlines for their smooth operations, which would help in repatriating funds, was another disadvantage of the policy.
He, nonetheless, argued there were still prospects for domestic airlines.
He said, “Domestic airlines have opportunities for improved domestic markets by distributing international passengers for connection with these airlines. The grant of entry points to foreign airlines should also be such that they are given multiple entries, to either Lagos or Abuja and not Lagos and Abuja, in addition to any other airport outside the geographical area of the choice of Lagos and Abuja, e.g. Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu. In this way, they do not take over all the business on all the international airports.”
Airline operators, in a swift disagreement, expressed unhappiness with the minister’s position and threatened a court action if the policy was allowed to stand.
Onyema pointed out that the issue of multiple entry points was not acceptable even abroad.
He said, “How do you encourage your national airline when foreign airlines are allowed to conduct domestic operations in the name of international operations in your country? No country allows that, not even the United States with its powerful economy. Even for private jets. If you fly a private jet to the United States and, maybe, you are going to Atlanta, if New York is nearer, you land in New York, they will allow you.
“If you take off from New York and move to Atlanta, they would probably ground that plane there. Wherever you want to go in the United States, you are not allowed to fly in your private jet again as a foreigner. They make you use their own indigenous airlines. When you are leaving, you go the way you came – and this is a private charter – not to mention commercial aviation.
“You allow Qatar Air land in Kano, from Kano they go to Port Harcourt, from Port Harcourt to Abuja and then Abuja back to their country. AON is not ready to wait another one month for this thing to be rescinded; that is the thrust of this paper I am holding. Not Allen Onyema but AON. This must be rescinded. This is another kind of colonisation.”
The Air Peace CEO extended gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari for easing domestic airlines’ pains by giving waivers on spare parts and custom duties, especially as regards importation, but maintained that the AON might seek redress in court if nothing was done sooner on the multiple entry policy.
He said, “I am sure that the minister would see reasons to make amends. They know they are fooling us. What we are doing here won’t be allowed in our own country. The earlier they stop the better, or else we would go to court. That is what AON has stated. But because we believe in our minister, we are going to present this to him.
“We believe the minister would stop this in the next 21 days. It is not an ultimatum, but we believe this because of his interest in raising the bar in aviation. It is not only Qatar. We have Ethiopia, Emirates, Turkish and others. With those airlines ravaging Nigeria, what is left for the local airlines to take?”
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