• Thursday, February 29, 2024
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National carrier or national airline policy

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The combinations and other equations that are presently being molded for a caesarean delivery of a national carrier should be reviewed and reconsidered in the interest of the industry and the nation at large.

In a statement from an unnamed official, Ethiopian Airlines will provide long haul aircrafts for the new baby, while a gulf carrier has also consented to participate in the project. The new carrier will primarily be built around the ashes of Air Nigeria and the financially troubled Aero Contractors.

These carriers are heavily indebted to banks, hence the takeover by the Asset Management Company (AMCON), yet we are always reminded that government is not involved in the new carrier. Who owns AMCON?

In a recent interview with a national newspaper, the CEO of AMCON, said the Ministry of Aviation approached his organisation on the need to have a national carrier from the fused airlines. In giving his consent, he asked if the deal will be transparent, in the national interest and good for AMCON.

The Ministry expectedly gave an affirmative answer. The CEO AMCON tacitly supported the deal by misinforming the public that he was reliably informed that the new national carrier will have landing rights anywhere in the world, codeshare with international airlines, spur competition and reverse a decade of embarrassment without a national carrier.

In another interview the CEO said the priority of his organisation is to save depositors’ funds, the financial system and legitimate borrowers, whose business offered a safety net. He concluded in that interview that the recovery process starts with getting advisers, advertising the organisation and getting requisite approval from regulatory agencies.

From the above, which reputable organisation did AMCON contact on this issue for advice? Why was Air Nigeria and Aero not advertised like other troubled organisations in their fold, to ascertain if the offers will not be far better than the risky concoction called national carrier ? How did AMCON come to the conclusion that this debt ridden project is in the national interest?

Landing rights are principally negotiated between government of two or more countries on behalf of their respective designated airlines, private or public. The airline so designated becomes the flag carrier and will be given all the necessary support and protection as enshrined in all bilateral or multilateral agreements. Landing rights are therefore not and never reserved for a national carrier. Our negotiating prowess, based on reciprocity, as enshrined in ICAO civil aviation policy gives landing rights.

Codeshare is an agreement between two airlines, with commercial synergy. It is usually influenced by the requisite international safety certification, membership of a clearing house such as IATA, scheduling potency at hub airport and most importantly corporate governance with reputable reference.

Virgin Nigeria despite her young age and ‘Tokunboh’ aircrafts was able to codeshare easily because of these qualities, internal system and processes provided by the Virgin team. It also ensured IOSA certification in record time. Being a national carrier will not give an airline codeshare partners, neither will an array of brand new aircraft.

Competition thrives when airlines and passengers are served with by a voluntary or regulatory consolidation process that builds strong flag and other scheduled carriers owned by Nigerians which will attract foreign investors and partners.

We currently have family owned carriers that got facilities from banks owned by Nigerians, which were not properly managed and intend to use public funds to support recovery process. A national carrier has exclusivity, protection and regulatory impunity, which will shackle other carriers and competition.

The AMCON chief also mentioned transparency thrice in that interview, on what basis are we protecting a particular family via pseudo public funds when others were allowed to bite the dust or are about to bit the dust. If the ministry approached AMCON directly who is the mysterious facilitator that is entitled to ten percent of the new carrier shares?

The matter of embarrassment actually spans over three decades, because Nigeria Airways was an embarrassment long before liquidation. Numerous efforts at restarting a new carrier side by side with Nigeria Airways ended in catastrophy.

Therefore, a country can also be embarrassed by its national carrier; we can ask the Italians, Greek, Mexicans and all the countries in our sub-region. Most of the people calling for a new national carrier today and linking it to the payment of terminal benefits of former Nigeria Airways staff, worked assiduously to frustrate government efforts in the past.

The industry world over has moved from national to legacy to flag and low cost carriers. Countries that share our present mentality of setting up a new national carrier include Malawi, Zambia, Congo, Ghana and Gambia. Do we choose to belong to this crowd?

We have opened our skies too wide and fallen treacherously in love with BASA funds at the expense of competing and empowering, which have literally weakened our carriers and made them unattractive to foreign carriers. The Ethiopians are in Togo (ASKY) and almost concluding arrangements with the Malawian Government for a carrier, all they want to give back is leased long haul aircraft. The Chinese that are giving us loans for the terminals and also executing it have invested in an airline in Ghana. Etihad has invested in Seychelles and Air France in Congo, Burkina Faso, Mali etc. They only ask for frequencies and multiple entries into Nigeria with our politicians happily receiving their inaugural flights.

What we need is a national airline policy that will strengthen the industry and our airlines, not a national carrier. The policy should include reduction of taxes, modernisation of ATC, regulatory burden reforms, stabilisaton of aviation fuel prices, provision of market for the flag carriers through a Fly Nigeria Act, economic growth stimulation with accompany jobs and pay, while also ensuring our carriers consolidate and compete globally through partners.

Permit me to digress into the industry rot that is a recurring statement lately used by politicians and surprisingly by some agency heads, whom practically grew through the system at every forum to render the industry stagnant over the years, while the certifications and international accolades inherited are flagged.

I quite agree that we have made some appreciable improvements under the present minister, and also acknowledge the rot in the terminals is being transformed, there are others waiting. These include airport certification, fragmented carriers, lack of insurance for agencies, skewed bilateral, executive interference and impunity.

By: Olu Ohunayo