Foreign and domestic airlines have disagreed on the plan by the federal government to stop multiple entry points for the former.
While domestic airlines are complaining that the decision to allow foreign airlines to operate in more than one airport in Nigeria is killing their businesses, their foreign counterparts have challenged them to build their own capacity.
Indigenous airlines said foreign carriers should be granted access to one major airport – either the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, or the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja – while they should be allowed to distribute the passengers.
The Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, had, during an interview with journalists last month, reiterated the government’s resolve to cancel the multiple designations granted to some foreign airlines operating into Nigeria.
- 10 suspected car thieves nabbed in Osun
- Why Atiku’s name change affidavit was signed on a Saturday — Aide
The minister, however, stressed that the domestic airlines must first show the capacity to deliver.
The domestic airlines, under the aegis of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), later met with the minister and canvassed for stoppage of multiple designations for foreign airlines.
The minister, at the meeting, had hinted at the possibility of reviewing the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) with foreign airlines with a view to ending the era of multiple destinations for foreign airlines.
Our correspondent reports that there are no fewer than 22 foreign airlines operating into Nigeria, with some of them flying to more than two destinations or international airports in the country.
If the planned review is carried out, foreign airlines might be restricted to either Lagos or Abuja as the domestic operators are demanding.
The domestic carriers also said the foreign airlines could enter into code-share agreements with them to help in distributing their passengers across the country.
Speaking to Daily Trust, a member of the AON, Roland Iyayi, noted that domestic airlines are also members of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) operating with the same high standards as any international airline.
He stated that the decision to allow foreign airlines to carry passengers from different parts of the country was against the Cabotage Act, saying no country grants the eighth and ninth freedom to any foreign airline.
The eighth freedom is the right to carry traffic from one point in the territory of a country to another point in the same country.
The ninth freedom, on the other hand, is the right to carry traffic between two domestic points in a foreign country without a flight continuing on to an airline’s home country. This freedom is also referred to as “full cabotage” or “open-skies” privileges.
Iyayi said: “No country gives 8th and 9th freedom to international airlines to the detriment of its own domestic market.
“Domestic carriers have the domestic market to explore; for them to go international is a different thing entirely. So, if you allow foreign carriers, who ideally are meant to fly into Nigeria to one airport, to now fly into that airport and then conduct additional flights within the domestic market for instance as done by Qatar Airways.
“Qatar flies into Abuja and on alternate days, it flies from Abuja to Port Harcourt, carry passengers and then Port Harcourt to Abuja, carry passengers and then the next day flies to Abuja-Kano and then Abuja before going to Doha, that is cabotage and it is illegal and even the ICAO convention says that is allowed, only on limited basis, but we have institutionalised it in Nigeria to the detriment of the domestic carriers.”
But a former spokesman of the defunct Nigeria Airways, Mr Chris Aligbe, urged the minister not to toy with reducing the number of airports foreign airlines fly to, saying it is a political minefield that could blow him off.
He said, “If an airline has a designation to fly into…like Air France flies into Lagos and Port Harcourt, Air France can take London passengers going to Lagos, drop them and then it goes to Port Harcourt.
“It can pick passengers from Port Harcourt going to Amsterdam but not going to Lagos. It flies into Lagos, picks Amsterdam going out, and doesn’t operate domestically.
“Let me tell you, the minister should avoid going to that place, it is a landmine. It will blow him off. You know how Air France started going to Port Harcourt? It was because of a protest by the government of those days, oil workers who said they could not fly from Lagos because they have an international airport. Why will they travel to Lagos to catch a flight? That is how Nigeria Airways was operating.”
Build your capacity, foreign airlines challenge domestic carriers
The president of the Association of Foreign Airlines Representatives in Nigeria (AFARN), Mr Kingsley Nwokoma, said no domestic carrier was prevented from flying to other countries in line with the dictates of the BASA which provides for reciprocity.
In an interview with Daily Trust, he challenged domestic carriers to build their capacity if they want to fill the gaps that would be created by restricting foreign airlines from more than one international airport.
“The foreign airlines are not stopping you. There is reciprocity; you must reciprocate the BASA agreement. If an airline is coming from the UAE for instance, a Nigerian airline has the same right to go to the UAE. That is how it works.
“So, Nigeria is big. It is just like for instance, you have some foreign airlines going to Kano and Port Harcourt; those airlines are not stopping our own airlines from doing the same. But we don’t just have capacity. We’ve not even conquered our own terrain. You see a series of delays and so on.
“Let’s make sure we’re good enough. There’s no local domestic carrier that’s in the IATA clearing house. What that means is that you’re not attractive enough to have an alliance with the foreign airlines,” he said.
What Bilateral Air Service Agreement says
Nigeria has over 70 BASAs with different countries and in each of the BASAs, there is the principle of reciprocity, meaning that if an airline from one country is operating to Nigeria, a Nigerian carrier can also operate to the country.
However, over the years, Nigeria has not been able to reciprocate due to little or absence of capacity. Out of the 12 scheduled carriers in Nigeria, only Air Peace operates international destinations.
But the domestic carriers said it is only in Nigeria that a foreign carrier would operate to multiple destinations within the country, saying no country in the world would allow another airline to operate into many destinations within the country.
Findings by our correspondent, however, revealed that some international airlines operate into multiple designations in other countries. For instance, Ethiopian Airlines flies to four designations in China, including Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing.
Also, Emirates, the United Arab Emirate’s flag carrier, flies to four destinations in the United Kingdom and seven in the United States. Turkish Airlines also operates into more than two designations in the UK.
A former General Secretary of Aviation Roundtable, John Ojikutu, said: “Multiple destinations is not the same as multiple frequencies. Don’t permit multiple destinations for the foreign airlines but allow multiple frequencies.
“In allowing multiple frequencies, restrict the foreign airlines’ flight to Lagos or Abuja and not to Lagos and Abuja. The foreign airlines may be allowed to have a second destination airport from the alternative geographical location to the airport of their first choice.”
On her part, Partner, Avaero Partner, Sindy Foster, kicked against the move to stop multiple designations for foreign carriers.
She stated, “100% no. We do not yet have local capacity to reciprocate on BASA routes.
“So, we need to focus on growing capacity, not reducing the existing capacity of foreign airlines which will only increase fares for Nigerian passengers (who are in the majority carried by international airlines).
“Looking at the data when international traffic was restricted to Lagos and Abuja only, this reduced the number of domestic flights at the airports which previously received international traffic. This will make more Nigerian airports less viable than they could be.”