By Chinelo Obogo [email protected]
From setting sniffer dogs on cabin crew from Nigeria, to making it almost impossible to get landing permits, Nigerian airlines have continued to complain about how much hostilities and humiliation they have had to endure while on international flights.
Speaking on Wednesday, during a Joint Committee on Aviation at the National Assembly, the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) said they have had to sufferso much disrespect overseas despite the Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA) that provide for civil aviation certifications to be shared between Nigeria and other countries.
The Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, who is also the Vice President of AON, was reacting to the outcry by foreign airlines over their funds from tickets sales currently trapped in Nigeria banks. Some of the foreign airlines had early last month threatened to suspend their operations in the country until the trapped funds are released even as the Central Bank of Nigeria made $265 million available to them. But the cache was that 50 percent of this sum would be paid immediately, while the remaining 50 percent would be paid by end of October.
Onyema however told the NASS joint committee that the AON was disappointed that many foreign airlines decided to block their low inventory, thereby causing an astronomical increase in cost of air fares. He also lashed out at industry experts whom he said were defending the actions of the airlines but who hardly spoke when domestic airlines faced hostilities abroad.
“There are so many issues raised and I want people to understand that the Nigerian airlines are not against foreign airlines repatriating their money but we feel so sad that some Nigerians and international airlines are using certain narratives in an attempt to rubbish the government and the country and that is unacceptable. He who comes to equity must come with clean hands. A situation whereby people sponsored some agents to go on television to badmouth the government that it has failed because funds were trapped is unacceptable.
“This issue of trying to prevent Nigerian airlines from doing what they are doing didn’t start now. Let us take our minds back to the evacuation flights during covid and when they say it is because of trapped funds that the disparity in the cost of flight tickets is so huge, I disagree.
“During covid evacuation, the cost of fuel was not this high. Air Peace struggled to get landing permit into Heathrow airport to help Nigerians. Our tickets were sold out within two hours for a 364-seater aircraft which is our triple seven. Why was it like that? It is because Air Peace understood the plight of Nigerians and fixed it fare at less than N400, 000, while another airline coming from there was taking about two thousand pounds from Nigeria. We charged Nigerians less than six hundred dollars to and fro. We went there and they tried to discourage us. They sent dogs after our aircraft to sniff at our pilots and at the end of the day, they stopped Air Peace from doing its walk-around on its aircraft, something that violates safety. The rule of aviation is that when you take off and your aircraft leaves the ground for just two minutes, if that plane wants to land, before that plane can take off again, it must do a walk around because anything could have hit the plane in transit.
“We flew six hours into London but we were not allowed to go round our aircraft to know if it has been compromised. Thankfully, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) petitioned the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) over that. They do these things to us but Nigerians would not go on television to complain and ask questions about that but we were very quick to run the government of Nigeria down, saying that they failed because foreign airlines couldn’t get their money. Nigerians must begin to de-stigmatise themselves because what is happening is very unfortunate. Anything could have happened to our aircraft on its way back to Nigeria and because they saw that we were going to bring these fares down, the second one flight which we had gotten approval for was cancelled. I didn’t want Nigerians to suffer, so, I hired a European airline and paid for 584 Nigerians to be brought back free of charge.
“We must begin to love our country. We are not against them collecting their money but how do you explain that someone flying nine hours from South Africa to London, is paying less than a Nigerian flying six hours. How do you explain how someone flying from London to Las Vegas is paying far less than what a Nigerian is paying for six hours. We belong to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and I would implore them to use the same force to tell these people that we are also qualified. If Air Peace could do a 14 hour non-stop flight to China, six hours to London is a piece of cake. But we are always hitting brick walls. So, I expect the (IATA) and those Nigerians clapping for the foreign airlines to know that are doing ourselves a disservice. Our forex is depleted. Nigeria didn’t seize funds because the CBN has told them to go through the Investors and Exporters (I and E) forex window just like domestic airlines are doing.
“You cannot give what you don’t have. If the government had the money, the foreign airlines would have been paid. What we should be thinking about is solutions to these issues so that they would stop blackmailing Nigeria. How do we solve this problem? You knew quite well that your funds would be trapped in Nigeria and you are increasing your frequency every day to the detriment of the local airlines. What we are saying is that Nigerian airlines should be allowed to access these foreign countries.
“I know that after speaking here, I will face problems but I do not care. Let us not allow this stigmatisation to continue. Air Peace was flying into the gulf and one of the gulf carriers applied to have a third frequency out of Lagos in 2019 and they were getting it, until we kicked. It is not as if they would get enough passengers to fill the third frequency. The idea is just to snuff the life out of the indigenous carriers so that when you shut down your operations, they would make Nigerians pay for their flights through their noses and it is very hurtful that Nigerians don’t see some of these things. We support the foreign airlines getting their money because this is business. However, Nigeria would not cut its head to pay them. The foreign airlines on their own should reduce their frequencies and the cut throat competition should stop. Why are you running many frequencies and at the end of the day, you compound the woes of the country. Why would anyone pay N2.3 million for a six hour flight to London. That is indefensible,” Onyema said.
African airlines to the rescue
The President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Susan Akporiaye, however told Daily Sun that unlike their European counterparts, African airlines have left their lower inventories open, making most Nigerians who used to prefer traveling with European operators, now opt for African airlines.
“We are in a serious crisis but we thank God for African airlines that refused to join European airlines in jacking up cost of flight tickets. African airlines are still selling all their classes of tickets unlike European airlines. Those are the ones that people are really depending on. It is not that the forex and fuel crisis doesn’t affect the African airlines, I just want to believe that they are being patriotic with Nigeria because we are all Africans and they want us to support each other,” she said.