Capital flight: We just need to strengthen our airlines- Demuren
The industry chief policeman, Dr. Harold Demuren in this report explains what needs to be done to reduce capital flight to the barest minimum among other things he also explain what the country would gain with a rapid upgrade of infrastructure. ANTHONY OMOH reports
Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren has said that foreign airlines flying into the country and causing a lot of capital flight will soon be at an end given that the country provides airlines strong enough to fly into viable routes.
The industry’s chief policemen who spoke in interview expressed sadness that there was no balance anymore and foreign mega carriers were having a field day leaving leftovers for Nigerian airlines.
Last week Daily Champion wrote a report on capital flight from Nigeria via the major airlines that fly into the country establishing that government continues to practice the open skies agreement without the intention of strengthening the domestic players to be able to compete with them.
The paper also expressed the ideas of various stakeholders who feel government should not just emphasize on the Bi lateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) they get and spend ridiculously but must review the agreement with some countries.
However, Demuren who agrees with the fact that foreign airlines are carting millions away from the country is also of the opinion that if the indigenous carriers are empowered they will compete adequately with the mega carriers that fly into the country.
He said in a recent interview,” Foreign airlines in Nigeria are having a field day. I came back to this country in 1979. Then, Nigeria Airways could match British Caledonia. They operated the same aircraft. They trained the same crew. The market share difference was minimal. There was that balance. Now, we have lost all that. “
“Foreign airlines in Nigeria are having a field day. Right now, we are almost carrying the leftover. That’s why we need to support our own airlines and make sure they are strong. We must strengthen our institutions to make sure they can provide the services. Yes, there is competition. I like sustaining competition because with it, you have good services. Today, you can see the plane Arik Air is flying on international operations. Good competition is coming in and we will remove all obstacles to make sure they can compete effectively. That’s the way to get there. “
“Unfortunately, because the foreign airlines have been having a field day, the whole thing has been in their favour. Emirates came in few years ago doing daily flights. Before we knew it, it was two flights daily. You can hardly get a seat. Of course, I am jealous. I like to have a Nigerian airline that can do that. But how can this happen? I must have a strong Nigerian airline that can compete and can sell those seats.”
“We want our airlines to go to Paris, London, and Dubai. How can they do that? The airline must be a member of IATA. If they can sell your ticket for you, you will be able to interline. That is what we are asking our airlines to do. We want them to get good technical partners and be able to partner. That is why we said we would like them to be IOSA compliant. “
“I remember several years ago when they asked if it was compulsory. I said we would like to make it compulsory. They said they would like to make it voluntary. We settled that it was going to be voluntarily compulsory. We are working with them to make sure we improve and get them to compete. “
He went on to canvass for certain things to be done differently by Nigerian Airlines, if they are to stand the test of time, chief among which was changing their corporate image, improving passenger confidence in them especially with regards to flight cancellation and treatment of passengers.
Demuren said, “Firstly, they need to improve their corporate image. Nigerian travellers are very sophisticated. When they know you are going to have a safe operation and that you are regular and punctual; and they have confidence in the system, they will travel with your airline. Nigerian airlines need to get the confidence of the flying public. It is very important. We have lost it over the years but it is coming back. “
He also called on government to support the indigenous carriers to win back the confidence of the flying public and giving the airlines an edge.
His words,“ If we cannot support our own airlines, who will support them. “
“Go to Europe. In England, they support British Airways. In France, they support Air France, in the US, they support American Airlines. In Holland, they support KLM. So you must support your own. In Nigeria, we are already supporting our own by making them strong. They are bringing in good aircraft now. They have Boeing 777s, A340s and A330s. They can do it well. We also need to improve our cabin and in – flights services.”
Dr. Demuren also spoke on some pressing hurdles that the country needs to scale to put it at par with its peers in Europe, emphasising on the infrastructure decay at the nation’s airport, ageing workforce and low funding.
According to him the Murtala Muhammed International Airport was built over 30 years ago and no other terminal has been built 30 years down that line.
“I think we need now to improve our infrastructure. We have three challenges; ageing infrastructure, ageing workforce, and inadequate funding. Since Murtala Mohammed International Airport was built in the 70s we have not had another terminal building since then; thirty years after, it has done well but 30 years has gone.”
“We should do something else; we are meant to build another one. To me, that is a major challenge, look when you are flying an airplane, you can sleep now, it’s very safe now and we pray to keep it that way. Our airspace has improved; there is radar, we have improved our MET (meteorological services), all those services; that is good. “
“However, when the passengers come to the airport, if you have to wait three hours to get your luggage, it’s not good enough, the facilities are over stretched and you can’t just blame the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN); it’s 1970 architecture. We are now in 2011 we need to do new things now; those are the things we should be talking about.”
“We are now Category 1 certified. We are now making Nigeria the hub for Africa. So this is important for us to do; we must do that. And they are all looking up to us that we are going to do it; the whole world is looking to us, that Nigeria must do it. We have done it in the past; we can do it again,” he said.
On his greatest challenge since assuming office as Director General, Doctor Demuren said that it wsa the 2009 near bombing of Delta Airlines by Nigerian, Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab because of its many security implications it had on Nigeria and the ricochet effect.
“I have got some challenges; may be the greatest one would be Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. You remember what happened on December 26th 2009? That was a great challenge because of its security implications. It was a major security challenge to us. It was during Christmas, a boxing day when all of us were set for merriment; suddenly my phone rang in the middle of the night quite unusual; it was my Minister to say there is a problem. “
“He woke me up and said ‘Dr Demuren, are you watching the television?’ I said no sir; in fact I have just been sleeping. He said watch television and tune to CNN, there is problem. And I did, wow! Nigeria, Nigeria, Nigeria!!! I was so worried. Of course that night I took my phone and woke up all my colleagues, all the security agencies at the airport, I woke everybody up and by 7 am this office was full and we did not leave till 9 pm.”
“We made a statement, I read the statement to the international community at about 9:30 pm; we did not leave this place until that time. I am not sure anybody even cared to eat anything. We had to find a solution, I am happy that our name which was put on the list of countries of interest watch list; were able to remove Nigeria’s name from it. That was a great challenge; but we give thanks to God that we were granted the grace to overcome.”