AT the 22nd League of Airports and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC) Annual Seminar, Chairman of Air Peace, Barrister Allen Onyema bore his mind on a myriad of issues. The frank-talking chairman reiterated his stand on the proposed Single African market, skies as well as lack of protection of Nigerian carriers abroad against their foreign counterparts flying into the country. He also expressed a thought for the new national carrier Nigeria Air. Excerpts
You have spoken eloquently about the problems of Nigerian airlines, what do you think in concrete terms is the panacea, exactly what must government do to alleviate some of the problems you enumerated?
Well, there are so many challenges out there, the VAT issue was just one of them. There are so many other that are very debilitating. The government has done well by removing VAT and we appreciate and thank the government for doing that, we also expect government to improve first and foremost the airport infrastructures in this country. The airport infrastructure are not all that supportive of our airline operations, not just Air Peace but every other airline. Once the airport infrastructure is improved upon the airlines will start to get it right.
On the domestic terrain, is there anything being done to ensure that domestic airlines in the country interline?
Yes, of course we are discussing, the Nigerian domestic airlines are discussing, the discussion has been on for the past one year, we are trying to see how can corporate with each other so that we ensure consumer satisfaction, so that when you have one plane down it doesn’t that the world will come to an end. Your brother airline can come to your rescue. Interlining is the way to go in this business and we are speaking to ourselves sooner than later you will hear something from us.
Your experience in the west coast are you collating it to give to the government, because BASA means reciprocity. And how friendly are other ECOWAS nations?
It is not as if the Nigerian airlines do not support the single African transport market, we support it but there has to be a level of reciprocity, it shouldn’t be one-sided. Nigeria shouldn’t open its doors unrestricted in the name of open skies while those other countries are not allowing us easy gateway into their country.
We have a country in west Africa, they do about 4, 5 operations into this country, no single Nigerian airline is going to their country not because we don’t want to go there but because they are making it impossible. One of the countries in West Africa their country is preventing us from going there because when Air peace went there to set up, what they did was that they slammed us with about $10,000. For every landing you do into the country you are spending about $10,000. How many people are you carrying on that plane? They are not getting the same treatment in Nigeria. In Nigeria we are laying the red carpet for foreign airlines to rape our economy, it shouldn’t be.
So in the name of open skies we shouldn’t do unrestricted traffic to the foreign airlines because they are not doing the same thing to us. Togo even wrote me stopping me from coming to Togo, they said because one other Nigerian airline has been given one right to come in, meanwhile, ASKY of Togo was coming into Nigeria about five times a day until I wanted to go to court that was when they Now gave us the permit. But they will wait for you in their countries and frustrate you, that is what we have been getting. The kind of charges we pay in these countries their own airlines don’t pay them and that is against the spirit of IATA and ICAO and all the conventions you can think of. So we have to protect ourselves. I cannot get offices in my own country and foreign airlines are being given offices. I want to do international in the last two years I have not being able to do, allocated a lounge that can give my business class or first class passengers and tomorrow everybody will be shouting that Nigerian airlines are not performing. Am I being supported? We are not being supported, so we need to support our own, we must start supporting Nigerian indigenous airlines for them to succeed. We are not asking them for money, we are asking for enabling environment to operate. I don’t see the reason why I should not have a lounge in my own country and foreign airlines are being given preference over me. So these are the thing we are saying. We support SAATM but it must come with the right price.
Launch of new national carrier? PPP, are you looking at partnering with the government if they come to you?
The government has launched a national carrier, myself as Air Peace chairman, why did I go into aviation on in the first place, I went in to create jobs, I love touching lives, so if this national carrier will bring about more job creation in the country, I support it. if this national carrier is going to improve the lives of our people I will support it. However, if this national carrier is going to disrupt the industry negatively and affect the local airlines negatively then I will not support it. That is why we are calling for transparency in everything. If it is private sector driven, I am a private sector, Medview is private sector, Dana, Overland Topbrass and others.
Now, if the national carrier is a private sector driven airline, we support it. I cannot say there shouldn’t be national carrier, I support it. Me not supporting national carrier is tantamount to me not wanting another airline to exist, that is not the issue here. The issue here is that the Nigerian indigenous airlines are saying we want to be carried along, we want to know how we are going to run this national carrier. If you say it is a private sector carrier, that means it is going to be owned by private person or private persons. Are you going to give these private persons the privileges of my country which you have not made available us who are existing.
I have acquired 4 Boeing 777s, today Medview first 777 arrived Nigeria, we have invested massively, the question is what the lot of these private indigenous airlines who have massively invested in acquiring these planes. I am sure the national carrier is not going to acquire 5 777s between now and December. Now others have acquired it are they going to come to us and say okay lets partner? So we are not against that but we are asking for a level playing field for everybody. Because you cannot give the privileges of my country to another private person and neglecting me that have already been there, then it is not fair.