The attention of the Senate has been roused by the motion moved by Senator Ifeanyi Ubah representing Anambra South in the 9th Senate on the urgent need to save Indigenous Airlines. The mortality rate of indigenous airlines and stunted growth of the aviation industry generally provided the authentic reason for the Nigerian Senate to rise in unison to adopt intervention measures. The senate was alarmed that over 50 indigenous airlines have existed in the country in the last 20 years, but only nine are flying presently.
Senator Ubah’s motion x-rayed the unfair competition raging between the well-resourced foreign airlines and their struggling indigenous counterparts, and brought to the fore the urgent need to protect Nigeria’s indigenous airlines from extinction due to multiple designations and frequencies granted foreign airlines by Nigerian regulators.
The lax regulation is such that foreign airlines do multiple routes within Nigeria, a practice not allowed in other countries. This is denying indigenous airlines the business opportunities in their own country. Global aviation best practices do not permit foreign airlines to make the rounds within a country but go to designated ports, while local airlines, in partnerships, move passengers to and fro the designated airports. This, in aviation, is referred to as code-share partnerships. By this method, airlines can extend their reach even beyond countries of final destinations.
In other words, rather than form code-share partnerships with indigenous airlines as done in other countries, foreign airlines are allowed to do the rounds within the country by themselves. This is not allowed in other countries. Senator Ubah’s motion therefore is aimed at strengthening and repositioning Air Peace in particular and other indigenous airlines, in line with his determination to revamp the South East economy.
Through the motion, the Senate got to know that foreign airlines operate between many cities in Nigeria, namely; Enugu, Kano, Kaduna, Abuja and Lagos and fly multiple frequencies daily into Nigeria, thereby running indigenous airlines out of international routes.
It is noteworthy and commendable that Air Peace being Nigeria, Central Africa and West Africa’s biggest Airline has commenced international flight operations into Sharjah and Dubai since the 5th of July, 2019. But Ubah and other Senators’ worry is that this initiative can be stifled with the unfair advantage given to foreign airlines by Nigerian aviation regulators.
This fear is not unfounded. There were Nigerian airlines such as ARIK, Virgin Nigeria, Medview and others, that were in the past been run out of international routes by this same unfair advantages allowed foreign airlines in Nigeria. So, Ubah’s motion was to forestall a reoccurrence by seeking the halting of the policy, which if left unchecked, would ultimately lead to the collapse of Nigerian indigenous airlines as has happened repeatedly before now.
Though one or two senators disagreed with the issue of capacity, there is truly evidence that indigenous airlines have the basic capacity to cover all the domestic routes being operated now by these foreign airlines and so, can only do better if supported by government. Some proof can be found in the fact that Air Peace alone has 26 aircrafts in their fleet, 4 of which are Boeing 777 deployed mainly to their foreign operations. One also reliably gathered that the airline is also expecting over a dozen more aircrafts to add to their near future.
For all intents and purposes, Senator Ubah’s argument was centered on the unrestrained grant of designations and multiple frequencies to foreign airlines. Obviously, the practice is hurting the growth of the indigenous carriers and equally constitutes a disservice to the economy of Nigeria. One of such ways it hurts the country is in the capital flight out of Nigeria, which should concern every reasonable Nigerian.
The present government has been so concerned about spiraling unemployment. Yet, the unnecessary concessions granted the indigenous airlines to the detriments of indigenous airlines is more like outsourcing labour, thereby draining jobs off the nation’s value chain in the aviation sector. For good measure, the number of jobs created by all the foreign airlines put together is not up to what Air Peace alone created in its first year of existence. Remarkably also, Air Peace Airline alone has over 3,000 employees and has also created over 8000 ancillary jobs.
So, the senators were legitimately roused by Senator Ifeanyi Ubah’s motion, worried that this unwholesome practice is not only threatening the survival and growth of Nigeria’s aviation industry but, to a large extent, harming the nation’s economy.
An international airline is a diplomat because it carries the flag and name of a country to different parts of the world. This is what Air Peace is now doing for Nigeria and should be commended, protected and supported. But Aviation politics is the reason air travel from Nigeria is dominated by foreign carriers, which charge Nigerian passengers exorbitant fares, as travellers do not have alternative airlines owned by Nigerians that can compete with them. For instance, do you know that a six hour flight to Europe from Nigeria cost more than nine hour flight from Johannesburg to Europe?
It should be stressed that there is nothing wrong supporting our own. For airlines to operate international destinations successfully, they must be fully supported by government. It is in that light that Senator Ifeanyi Ubah’s motion and the massive support it received from the Nigerian Senate can be appreciated.
Apart from lack of government support and international aviation politics, Nigerian airlines face many operational challenges. Besides the high and fluctuating prices of aviation fuel, there are also infrastructural challenges and policies that are generally inimical to successful airline service in Nigeria.
Senator Ubah believes that government, as part of protective and supportive measures, can even help indigenous airlines in areas like Code-share partnership to extend their reach to the outside world rather let them struggle all by themselves.
Senator Ifeanyi Ubah’s motion under reference carried 4 prayers, which were all adopted by the Senate, and they are: the senate to summon the permanent secretary of the ministry of Transport, the Director General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority(NCAA) and Managing Director of FAAN to explain to the Senate why foreign airlines are allowed to fly multiple routes within Nigeria to mop up passengers; a practice not allowed in other countries.
Another was to mandate foreign airlines to provide statistics of Nigerians in their employ and encourage them to employ more Nigerians and to partner with indigenous airlines. The other was to urge the Federal Government to give the indigenous Airlines the necessary support and protection so as to keep them afloat; and the senate to invite the indigenous airline operators to explain to the Senate the challenges they are facing in the aviation industry in Nigeria and the way forward.
There is no doubt that these prayers when pursued to their logical conclusions, would go a long way. Not only aviation sector, all other sectors of Nigerian economy should receive similar interventions as pushed by Senator Ifeanyi Ubah.
- Dr. Law Mefor, Forensic and Social Psychologist and Journalist, writes from Abuja, Nigeria. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel.: +234-803-787-2893.