Muneer Bankole is the chief executive officer of Med-View Airlines. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, spoke on the need for partnership between local carriers to sustain international routes.
How did local airlines get to where they are today; in the sense that there has been stunted growth in the sector?
That is what I think is important. Do we need to be here at this critical time? The development we had in the past months to the extreme challenge of our foreign partners like travel agencies and other stakeholders, hardly anybody would be able to buy a ticket, not even economy or business class travelling out of Lagos to any destination.
This is because the foreign carriers put themselves together as a force, working with International Air Transport Association (IATA) representatives, putting a lot of challenges to the industry, which has no bearing on anybody; take it or leave it. We should ask ourselves, how did we get here?
You buy tickets locally, you run the business locally and you have a special window for customers who want to pay in dollars. Business should be flowing that way.
Secondly, you talk of Nigeria Air, all the stories that came until it finally came out as a ruse. It is sad. Well, it is still on its way.
Thirdly, you talked about the airline industry; there is no way we can compete with any foreign airline. The environment we are in is not the same environment as the foreign airlines. I have gone to precisely 17 countries to do registration under Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) without any hitch.
Internationally, I had seven, regional routes. I had an average of 14 international routes. I was in Jeddah, Sierra Leone, Dubai, UK, and applied to Portugal. When I was in the UK, American people came to meet me and asked me when are you coming? I divided the West Coast into two. The Anglophone and the Francophone and I touched all the places to let them know that those were the things we were doing for them to bring them to Lagos and from Lagos, they will come and buy and take them back home. Lagos used to be their London.
Those were the experiences I brought to the market. I have grown in this industry. Whatever any airline or airlines are eating today is food made by some of us. Today, we can be happy in line with this development.
Do you think the government has been protecting the indigenous airlines with the various BASA arrangements it is signing with various countries?
We are making a grave mistake. I will tell you honestly that all those who run into airlines telling people that BASA is one-sided, it is absolutely not correct. The reciprocity that we are talking about is nothing. I visited London, Virgin came up and everybody wanted to fly to Nigeria because this is the market. How many of our people want to go there? I repeat, I don’t know and I say it openly; we went there. There are four airports in the UK and they are Heathrow, Gatwick, London City Airport, and Stansted Airports.
We asked them, where do you want Med-View to fly? I did a study and I chose Gatwick. They are calling on Med-View to come back. The reason they are calling us to come back is because we opened up the business for the world to see and Nigerians were going and coming. The airport was nothing to write home about then and that is BASA for you. We are not going to say that somebody has 15 frequencies. Nobody has said to us that we should not come, but you must meet their requirements. Nigerian airlines should come together.
There is no sentiment about it. You have 17 aircraft, and another person has five aircraft, go and put heads together and discuss with a good mind, open your heart, and let people know who is speaking so that Nigeria can drive a new way forward.