There are mixed feelings in the aviation business community especially in Kano, following the planned commencement of flights to Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA) by Qatar Airways, a Star Alliance member.
From March, Qatar Airways is expected to land in Kano as part of its expansion of frequencies to Nigeria amidst excitement from members of the business community in the state who have over the years lamented the limited flight options in the commercial capital of Northern Nigeria.
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However, to aviation pundits, the announcement does not evoke any excitement. In fact, they see it as further exploitation of the domestic air transportation market to the detriment of the domestic players.
Qatar Airways has been advertising Kano-Port Harcourt flights which commence March 2 in Kano.
Daily Trust reports that the flights would increase the frequencies of the airline to 21 daily flights from the present 14. The airline currently flies daily to Lagos and Abuja. The addition of Kano and Port Harcourt is expected to be a tag flight as part of the determination of the airline to connect more cities in Nigeria.
In a tag flight, an aircraft makes a stop in the first city and continues to the next, before making the journey in reverse. This means that the airline would pick passengers from Kano, then proceed to Port Harcourt before heading to the final destination. This is akin to the operation of Air France back then in Port Harcourt.
Daily Trust reports that several businessmen had in the past lamented how they missed crucial international flights by having to go through Abuja or Lagos, citing the ineffectiveness of domestic flights which sometimes delayed or cancelled flights.
Earlier in the year, several Kano residents protested to the office of Azman Air for the cancellation of their early morning flight without proper warning.
Some of those that participated in the protest said they had international flights to catch in Lagos for medical, academic or business activities outside the country but missed their flights because of the disappointment from the domestic airlines.
This is why they are excited about the increased slots by Qatar Airways. And with Qatar coming to Kano, it would be the third airline, in addition to Egypt Air and Ethiopian Airlines, operating to the state.
Alhaji Dalhatu Abubakar, the President of Kano Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (KACCIMA) said the Kano business community is eagerly looking forward to the presence of Qatar Airways in the state.
He said airline business has been on the low for a while now because of insecurity; to connect an international flight you have to go either through Abuja or Lagos.
“When Qatar Air finally starts flying from and to Kano, it will change this. They will get more patronage because our people don’t want to fly through other states (Abuja and Lagos). Our people are ready. But you know they are scared of going to Abuja or Lagos (because of the insecurity),” he said.
He added that Kano has many international business people, especially those travelling to Dubai.
He appealed to the federal government to commission the newly constructed international wing of MAKIA, saying that would further encourage travellers and bring more international airlines to the state with the attendant economic advantage it will bring to Kano and the nation at large.
Also speaking, Alhaji Sufiyanu Ali Madugu, National Vice President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), said it is a very good initiative and opportunity for Kano to have additional linkage to the outside world.
“We pray and hope that Kano people will really patronise this airline and there is need for an initiative from Kano. And it is good if it’s from the government like for the state government to reach out to neighbouring states and carry out a campaign that their governments should channel all their travelling through Kano so that anybody who is travelling officially will go through Kano.
“It is easier for them to go through Kano and come back to Kano. And another major thing to bring to their (other northern states’) knowledge is that unless Kano airport is well developed, their airports too would never develop.
“So the traffic in Kano is what will make other domestic flights fly more frequently to their states.
“Now, everybody is talking of Abuja alone and you will find out that government travel is through Abuja and even we the locals, some of us that are not conscious of developing Kano still go to Abuja to travel.
“For this airline to have a very good initiative to come to Kano, we want them to stay, not just come and spend 3-4-5 months and couldn’t their passengers. They are not Father Christmas so they will just stop,” he said.
Also excited about the prospects of Qatar Airways in Kano is another international businessman in the state, Alhaji Sani Husseini Sale, who said because of the strategic position Kano holds in the country, and even West Africa, any airline that adds the city to its route will benefit a lot.
“In the past, we had a lot of issues especially in Kano and other northern parts of the country when you want to travel for any business, be it Europe, Asia or any other place.
“We had to go through Abuja or Lagos and that adds costs, extra expenses and stress especially for businessmen and manufacturers,” he said.
However, some aviation experts say they are not excited about the flights as they would further exploit the already lopsided commercial agreements.
Aviation analyst, retired Group Capt. John Ojikutu said, “Kano-PH-Doha is okay provided the airline does not include Lagos and Abuja. If it does, or is approved by anyone in the administration of our government, I call it a unilateral decision and exploitation of commonwealth to our domestic airlines.
“It is nothing but an exploitation of the BASA and the Commercial Agreements. The exploitation is in connivance with the officials in the administration of our government.”
Mr. Olumide Ohunayo, Director of Research and Strategy, Zenith Travels, said there is nothing to be excited about the new flights.
According to him, the additional frequencies for Qatar Airways are not in the best interest of the country.
He said, “This is nothing to cheer about. We were clapping two months ago over what the government did by fighting for Air Peace to get its slots in Dubai which is a necessity.
“Government did not go out of the norm to do what they did. Yet in January this year, we saw these multiple frequencies to Qatar Airways and the lopsided appointment by the minister of Aviation.”
He noted that it has become a norm for state governments to advocate for foreign airlines to fly into their capitals but noted that the development does not make economic sense as it kills the market for the domestic airlines.
Ohunayo noted that Qatar Airways could have operated the same flights through interlining and codeshare agreements with the domestic airlines.
“That same flight could have landed in Abuja and gotten an Azman flight to take them there or any other airline based in Kano to do a charter flight and bring those going to Qatar back to Abuja. Everything would have been built in the ticket fare,” he said.
Qatar Airways had stated recently that it would explore codeshare and interlining agreements with some domestic airlines in its expansion drive to some Nigerian cities.
“It is something that we consistently look at and monitor. Like I said, at first, we started flying back to Nigeria once a day, which we then increased to two flights a day and we tagged Abuja to it because initially, Abuja was a tag flight via Lagos. We then de-tagged Abuja when we saw that there was a bigger demand.
“We saw that there was opportunity for us to have direct flights into Abuja and as more markets were opening up, we started Kano and Port Harcourt. Obviously, we constantly monitor the market, so if there are opportunities that come up, we will explore further,” said Hendrik du Preez, Qatar Airways VP, Africa, in a recent statement.