Allen Onyema, the chairman and CEO of Nigeria’s largest carrier, Air Peace Nigeria Limited, says lack of transit facilities at the international airports in the country is one of the major challenges facing domestic airline operation in Nigeria.
Onyema who commended Nigerians and the federal government for their role in making the airline a success as it tuned nine last week, stated that not having transit facilities at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja has blunted the competitiveness of Nigerian airlines.
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He said that Air Peace operates to destinations in the West and Central Africa, so, it ought to bring passengers from Douala, Banjul, Accra, Lome, Monrovia, Dakar, Freetown and others to its hub in Lagos and from Lagos airlift them to India, China, South Africa, Jeddah and other long-haul destinations.
“But unfortunately, we don’t have transit facility where these passengers will stay until they board their next flight and Nigeria Immigration Service and Nigeria Customs Service are yet to segment this class of passengers who in other countries are made to wait in the transit facility on the airside until they are due to fly again.
“Currently Immigration treats them like other passengers whose final destination is Nigeria and are expected to obtain visa and follow other procedures like other passengers who are arriving Nigeria. What is usually obtained is that as long as the passengers are not leaving the airport, they do not need visa because they are on transit.
“If Air Peace can bring these passengers from neighbouring countries and take them to farther destinations, the airline will be doing well on the long-haul routes. It is these kinds of policies that inhibit the success of Nigerian airlines. For example, the Katoka International Airport, Accra has such transit facility and we take our passengers from there to Monrovia. For Nigerians airlines to compete and benefit from the Single Air Transport Market (SAATAM), we must upgrade our airports to include transit facilities and also Immigration should adopt a new policy that recognizes transit passengers.
“What we need now is airport infrastructure, not national carrier. If supported by government, Nigerian airlines can provide the needed capacity. What the airlines need is the support which government in other countries give their airlines.
“We need transit facility at the Lagos and Abuja airports. Some airports in African countries have these facilities and that is why airlines that operate from those airports are excelling. If we have to maximise the benefits of air transport and the fact that we are the most travelling people in Africa, we must have to provide the infrastructure that will enable our airlines to benefit from flight operations. It is only then we shall begin to benefit from SAATAM,” he said.
Another challenge, the Air Peace Chairman pointed out is the fact that Nigerian airlines cannot obtain dollars even from the Central Bank of Nigeria, disclosing that Air Peace paid CBN naira to obtain about $14 million dollars for the maintenance of its 15 aircraft at maintenance facilities overseas but that money has not been made available to the airline since the past six months.
He also recalled that the federal government owed Air Peace about $10 million and also owed other Nigerian carriers that operated the Hajj service, noting that these debts impair the operations of the airline and others.
Onyema therefore urged CBN to provide the foreign exchange so that Air Peace could bring back its aircraft that were ferried overseas for maintenance.
“We ferried 15 of our aircraft for maintenance overseas. We needed dollars to pay for the maintenance; so, we paid naira to CBN, which is equivalent of $14 million needed to pay and bring the aircraft back to Nigeria after the checks. We have not received this money.
“This is money we borrowed at 26 per cent interest rate but six months have passed and we are yet to get this money from CBN. The total debts we are expected to be paid to us from the CBN is $24 million. This is why we said that what we need is conducive environment and Nigerian airlines will blossom. If these monies are made available to us and other airlines, Nigerian carriers will do very well. Nigerian airlines have capacity, what we need is support from our government,” Onyema said.
The Air Peace Chairman who disclosed that Air Peace has secured Foreign Carrier Operator Permit (FCOP), which allows airlines from other regions to fly to Europe and Third Country Operator Permit (TCO-UK) that enables airlines to operate to UK, said that to obtain these permits the airline went through stringent audits to ensure that it met the high safety status, capacity and standard conditions; so, it is now qualified to fly to the United Kingdom.
“We obtained these permits that qualify us to fly to UK. Before you obtain these approvals, they will audit you very well. You have to go through stringent audit, which we passed. We obtained the permit last week,” he stated.