UK, Canada says Nigerian airlines can’t evacuate would-be returnees, hundreds stranded
Despite the insistence of the Federal Government that Nigerian airlines would be allowed to evacuate its citizens stranded abroad in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the decision by Canada and of recent the United Kingdom to deny a Nigerian carrier landing permit is raising dust, Daily Trust reports!
Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic globally, countries have imposed sweeping flights restrictions to contain the spread of the disease.
This development, however, left many people stranded worldwide, with Nigerians not exempted.
In March, the Federal Government also imposed a ban on both domestic and international flights until airports recently reopened for domestic flights.
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Though international flights are still not permitted, the government, through embassies, organized various evacuation flights to repatriate Nigerians stranded across the world as was done by other countries since the global pandemic started.
Available records indicate that close to 7,000 people have been evacuated inbound and outbound by airlines.
However, the decision by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to hire foreign airlines to evacuate Nigerian citizens abroad when many domestic airlines could do so has angered Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation and other interested parties.
For instance, Max Air, Air Peace and Azman have wide-bodied aircraft like B777s, 747s, A340s in their fleet to carry out the operation but foreign carriers have been evacuating Nigerians from the United State, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and so on.
After outcries, Foreign Affairs Minister, Godfrey Onyeama, assured that domestic airlines would be considered for the evacuations.
After evaluation, Air Peace was found to have met all the safety requirements and with the cheapest fare of all the competing airlines, has been designated to evacuate Nigerians from Canada.
Daily Trust learnt that 309 passengers had already paid Air Peace the sum of $1,134 as against the $2,500, which another carrier charged.
But it was not uhuru for the would-be returnees as in May, Canadian authorities denied Air Peace landing rights over “safety concerns,” as confirmed by the Nigerian High Commission in Ottawa.
“You will recall that in our public notice of 12th May, 2020, the High Commission announced that the Canadian government had expressed reservations concerning the granting of necessary clearance/landing permit for Air Peace to fly into Canada, due to safety concerns,” a statement by the High Commission said.
“Kindly be informed that after protracted engagement, the Canadian government has unfortunately reverted with what appears to be a final refusal. As a result, the Air Peace arrangement is cancelled.”
This decision has not gone down well within the Aviation Roundtable and Safety Initiative (ART), who questioned described the safety concerns raised by the Canadians authorities as nebulous.
They said the airline has not only met the safety requirements for international flights but it has successfully and seamlessly carried out many international flights in the past including its scheduled flights to Sharjah – UAE which was temporarily shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The airline had already made 19 flights to the US since 2014, flew to Tel-Aviv, Israel several times; scheduled flight operations to United Arab Emirates, the UK, Ireland, China, Turkey, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland and others.
“We have IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification and we are a member of IATA. We have also evacuated Nigerians from South Africa during the xenophobic attack of Africans there.
“We are grateful to the Federal Government and the Ministry of Aviation for all the support it is giving Air Peace and other ingenious carriers,” an official of the airline said.
With the would-be returnees stranded in Canada for over a months until a Portuguese airline and Euro Atlantic were contacted to carry out the flight.
“ART views this action not only as an unfriendly act but an unwarranted discriminatory and anti-competition act bordering on avoidable aero politics,” the aviation think-tank said, referencing an issue that has dominated the global aviation scene.
Daily Trust learnt that the argument by the Canadian government was because the airline was not licensed to operate commercial flight to Canada but observers say since it was an evacuation, this should not be relevant, especially has evacuated Nigerians from China, Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand. It also airlifted medical supplies from India.
However, Canada would not be the only country to deny landing rights to the airline.
Air Peace had evacuated Nigerians from the UK on June 28 and with two more flights scheduled, the UK authorities withdrew the landing rights, leaving 500 passengers stranded.
The airline had to contract a UK Airline to fly in the Nigerians.
Foreign Affairs Ministry on Twitter confirmed the development, thanked Air Peace for its sacrifice to get Nigerians home and expressed shock over the UK’s decision
“Air Peace could have just refunded the passengers but exceptionally, patriotically and altruistically agreed to find an alternative carrier acceptable to the UK authorities to carry out the evacuation a day later than scheduled but for much higher fares,” the Ministry said.
“These higher fares could legitimately have been passed on to the evacuees but Air Peace bore this huge cost itself.
“This is to let the aggrieved evacuees know that the objects of their grievance should be neither Air Peace nor the Nigerian Government.
“They should rather be eternally grateful to Air Peace.
“The Nigerian Government will review its Air agreements with various countries as a result of the unacceptable treatment of Nigerian carriers during this pandemic.”
Also Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa condemned the UK’s decision at the last minute describing it as outrageous and absolutely unwarranted.
“I hope our relevant authorities will not take it lightly,” Dabiri-Erewa said.
Incidentally, British Airways have been evacuating their citizens from Nigeria.
About 3, 000 have so far been evacuated in about 12 flights since COVID-19 broke out, it was learnt.
Also, 253 Nigerians were evacuated from the UK on May 8 aboard a British airline while Air Peace was only allowed to evacuate 315 Nigerians from London Heathrow on June 28.
Stakeholders say the unfair treatment of the Nigerian carrier underscores the age-long disparity in international flight operations worsened by aero-politics, which over the years Nigeria has refused to play.
In an atmosphere of unfair competition, countries usually stand up to protect their own but analysts and experts believe Nigeria, beyond expressing shock and displeasure, should deploy its diplomatic arsenals against any unfair treatment of its carriers as the principle of reciprocity demands.
Aviation veteran, Capt. Dele Ore said government should be deeply involved in aero politics, which according to him, is anchored on “protectionism”.
“It is government to government and ICAO said there is nothing wrong in you protecting your own interest. The whole policy leads to protectionism,” he said.
Former Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Engr. Benedict Adeyileka said Nigeria needs to take a tougher stance.
“Anything Nigerian is good enough as long as it is qualified to carry out the operation and Air Peace has international operation experience.
“I insist that the Nigerian government should put its foot down on this.
“Nigerian carriers should not be stopped from conducting international operations,” he said.