Inimfon Gregory Kubiat
There is no denying the existence of a serious mismatch in demand and supply for air transport services in Nigeria. The impact might not really be felt by those resident in Nigeria, but certainly not for those in the diaspora. Take the yearly December/January yuledite homecoming as an example; many in the diaspora consider it an inevitable ritual – it allows them to reconnect with family, friends, and love ones and to find that elusive peace, joy and fulfillment that a year or more working overseas fails to provide. But arriving in Nigeria and finding a flight to ferry you from Lagos to other domestic airports had remained over the years a huge challenge.
I was on a foreign airline returning home alongside other Nigerians when we contemplated the Nigerian aviation sector. It was a long haul flight from Europe. The tail of the massive Airbus aircraft where some of us went to stretch our legs had provided an avenue to discuss the challenge of flying domestic airlines during festive seasons.
“Its a big challenge; I usually buy my ticket about October or early November because I know how tough it can be getting a seat on a flight around December 23-26,” said one of the discussants. “What if you arrive and the flight is canceled and not in operation. I don’t take the risk. Once I arrive in Lagos, I go with whatever flight available,” said another. “But that could be very expensive,” another quipped. “We have fewer aircraft chasing a multitude of passengers.” “It’s been like that over the years.” “Every country has its peak period.” “In Nigeria its the season where airline overprice their services.” “Things are never made easy here. Flight cancellations and delays reigns. We can’t still invest in the facility to land and takeoff at zero visibility.”
The views were disturbing; cynicism and hopelessness reigned, until a new entrant who had remained quiet all through but attentive interjected: “It could have been worse without Air Peace in operation with the fleet they currently boast of. That’s why am praying and wishing nothing untoward happens to the airline.”
It was his comment that forced a temporary silence and moment of introspection from all. The contemplation thereafter turned to the subject of ‘Nigeria without Air Peace.’
Although, we all linked the challenge of flight scarcity, cancellations and delays to either the fewer number of airlines in the country (about nine of them) or the total number of aircraft in the fleet of all the airlines, what no one failed to acknowledge was that Air Peace has bridged this gap quite significantly.
From seven aircraft at its launch in 2014, Air Peace has expanded its fleet size to 27 aircraft.
It became the first airline in Nigeria to buy the wide-bodied Boeing B777, first to make firm orders for 10 Boeing 737 Max and10 Embraer E195-E2s aircraft. Air Peace today accounts for more than 60 per cent of the domestic flights.
In fact, the deployment of the Embraer jets have gone a long way in achieving the no-city-left-behind initiative where cities with abandoned airports are integrated with major airports in the country. The airline makes it possible for more Nigerians to fly to various destinations locally than any other local airline. And one only needs to consider the case of over 500 stranded Nigerians in South Africa that were recently brought back to Lagos at zero cost aboard Air Peace Boeing 777aircraft following xenophobic attacks in that country to appreciate the importance of a strong and vibrant airline like Air Peace to a country.
Today, aside being the dominant airline on the domestic market, the airline is flying to Dubai, Sharjah, Monrovia, Freetown, Accra, Banjul, and Dakar on the regional and international front. For a country grappling with massive unemployment, the airline CEO, Mr. Allen Onyema recently disclosed its operations had created jobs for over 3, 000 Nigerians, among them pilots, aeronautical engineers and cabin crew who hitherto roamed the streets unemployed. Additional indirect jobs have similarly been created by the airline for caterers, cleaners, hoteliers, cab drivers, maintenance contractors, while the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), and Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) have benefited hugely from taxes and charges paid to keep them afloat since the airline launched its operations four years ago.
And the truth remains that Air Peace definitely is boosting the growth of Nigerian economy (in job creation and GDP) more than most foreign airlines that have been in operation in the country for the past five decades.
The absence of a viable national or flag carrier in recent years makes thousands of Nigerians resort to cheaper but long haul flights. In 2020 there is every reason to support a local airline that has the fleet capacity to operate internationally as a flag carrier. I have twice flown for over 12 hours on an African airline from Lagos to Dubai with a three-hour layover in the African state. It is a journey that was really impossible for me to contemplate until the misfortune of Medview Airline which saw the only Nigerian carrier pulling out of that lucrative route and leaving the gulf state carriers to enjoy a monopoly that also saw air tickets sold above that obtainable in Ghana, Benin, Togo and other West African states.
That monopoly, interestingly, has been curtailed by the Air Peace Lagos – Sharjah – Dubai flight and a sigh of relief heaved by hundreds of Nigerian passengers on that route. Air Peace nurses the aspiration of making a foray into more international routes – Johannesburg, London, Houston, Mumbai, and China for its next phase of international flights.
It is a quest that requires the support of the Nigerian government, relevant regulatory institutions and stakeholders to succeed given the inherent benefits to the country. At present, Nigeria is unable to reciprocate over 83 of its Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) with other countries, no thanks to the absence of a strong local or national carrier to take up these routes. The implication is that we have become a dumping ground of a sort; foreign airlines dominate our sky. And according to the local airline owner chairman, Nogie Meggison, these foreign airlines repatriate about $3billion as capital flight annually from Nigeria. Who then wouldn’t want government and the industry to throw its full weight behind a local airline to d cut down the colossal waste in capital flight in 2020. It is money if retained in the country would greatly grow the banks, insurance, airlines, and airports, create more jobs, boost GDP, and the overall economy.
It is called international aero politics; nations all over the world do it to protect and ensure the survival of their national or flag carriers. It is called tax rebates and fiscal incentives, that’s what nations around the globe do for their airlines; that’s what Air Peace needs from Nigeria.
As 2019 winds down and 2020 beckons, I will be too glad to see these assistances extended to local airlines like Peace to enable it launch into London, Johannesburg, Houston, Mumbai, etc. Who wouldn’t? According to a popular saying, child that washes his hands clean can eat with the elders. Air Peace given its strides in the last four years has proved to have washed its hands clean enough to merit and cherish the support of government in its quest to fly the Nigerian flag as internationally. The benefits, am sure, will be collective – enjoyed by all, government and citizens alike.
Kubiat, an aviation analyst, writes from Lagos