As countries across the world gradually open their air spaces for international flight operations, governments of various states are implementing policies that could help in resuscitating airlines which have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.
While some countries, especially African countries may not have the financial muscles to provide financial palliatives for airlines’ survival, there are however deliberate policies that could help in sustaining the airlines.
One of such policies is the governments of countries ensuring that the few flights that operate as air spaces gradually re-open is reciprocated accordingly in a bid to protect local carriers.
While carriers from other countries leverage Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) to obtain landing permits and operate multiple frequencies in Nigeria, Nigerian carriers have continued to be denied landing permits to fly into other countries.
It was therefore commendable when Hadi Sirika, the minister of aviation announced a few weeks ago that only countries that allow Nigeria airlines to fly to their countries will be granted permits for their airlines to operate into Nigeria.
The minister had appealed to the countries banning Nigerians from going to their countries to be conscious of the level-playing field in reciprocity as the country will also apply the same measure.
“The principle of reciprocity would be applied. I bet you the conditions you give Nigerians who travel to your country – we will apply the same thing. If you ban us from coming to your country, the same will apply the other way; we just hope for a level-playing field on the issue of reciprocity,’’ Sirika had stated.
Stakeholders commend minister’s decision
Stakeholders in the aviation sector who commended Sirika’s decision said the decision would elevate the image of Nigeria in the comity of nations and send a signal to international airlines that it is no more business as usual.
In a letter written to the minister, Allen Onyema, Air Peace chairman commended him on the laudable decision of the federal government, he said, “You are causing a positive revolution in the aviation world. You have, by this action, brought so much respect to our people and our nation. Nigerians all over the world are walking tall with enormous pride since the last few hours when the news broke out. This is the beginning of the end of the stigmatisation of Nigeria and everything Nigerian. God bless you always. From my sincere heart, I have come to appreciate your nationalistic tendencies.”
The Air Peace boss also said the minister by his conduct and commitment, has ensured that the aviation industry is unencumbered, noting that Sirika facilitated the customs duty waiver on aircraft and spares and is currently working on the unification of charges paid by domestic airlines.
Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst said the country is battling with a pandemic and it is the citizens that pandemic affects, so the emphasis should be more on citizens of the country.
He said the policy is supported by industry players, adding that he supports the government in reciprocating whatever is provided by any country.
“If we have countries that are stopping Nigerians based on the pandemic then we also have to do the same at this point in time and that is the only way to show that there is a government that is interested in its people and protection of the citizens; which is number one priority for every government,”Ohunayo said.
Implications of the policy for the sector
Experts have said if the government can be that bold to go the whole hog to actually reciprocate in accordance to BASA provisions, then the aviation sector will not only grow but the local carriers will be protected.
Seyi Adewale, the chief executive officer of Mainstream Cargo Limited told BusinessDay that he strongly believes it’s time for Nigeria to also flex its own strength in the community of Nations.
Adewale recalled that Nigeria ranked the 3rd at one time of POS Sales at Heathrow Duty Free Airport Stores in the UK and only after China and Russia, adding that this means Nigeria which boosts UK’s economy and Duty Free stores will ‘feel’ the impact of Nigerians not allowed into their Airports or country.
“This also happens in many other countries. In addition, the recent Fareed Zacharia CNN study report on the significant impact and contributions of Nigerians to the US economy only amplifies this fact a little further by paying more taxes than most races therein.
“So, whether the world likes it or not, Nigeria, the most populous and largest GDP (approx. $414.912Billion) in Africa are needed in a world system craving for stability, fluidity in trade and commerce, hardworking, energetic and highly creative people. I fully support the FG stance on this reciprocity choice. We have our very strong strengths and potentials and we cannot be easily ignored,” he stated.
Experts suggest models to adopt in implementing reciprocity
Experts have said the policy on reciprocity of flights should not be short lived rather the federal government should review the country’s BASAs.
Olumide Ohunayo hinted that while Nigeria may not be able to stop airlines from coming into the country based on the BASAs that are already in place, this period can be used to correct errors that were made in the past, especially the multiple entries and multiple designations.
“The government has only approved Lagos and Abuja for international operations and have also limited the number of flights into these two cities. As flights increase, I expect the government to use this opportunity to begin to streamline and watch the effects on the improvement of local airlines.
“The problem of our relationship with foreign airlines when it comes to operations is after the agreement; they come back, use government officials to negotiate other commercial agreements that are not in the initial bilateral agreement.
“These are the kind of agreements that take foreign airlines to other cities, increase frequencies and the capacity of aircraft that is being used. We wonder why they push for these agreements when we do not have an airline that is responding and if we have to push, can we find a way around it by involving Nigerian carriers?,” Ohunayo said.
Seyi Adewale recommended that the federal government sets up a very high powered team led by Minister of Foreign affairs to Chair a newly set up committee, adding that the minister could be supported by Head of Nigeria Diaspora (to review from native biases), representative from ministry of trade and commerce (to supply inputs from trade and investments between Nigeria and target countries), representative from Ministry of Aviation (to submit potential impact on local airlines per decision/ country specific), representative from Intelligence (to submit/ analyze alternative options) etc.
This committee Adewale said will work to champion the ultimate interest, liaise or negotiate with these needing countries, advise on alternative course of actions, articulate and communicate course of action to Nigerians and review from course of action, timely and periodically.
He also suggested that the government could force foreign airlines needing more routes and frequency to interline or partner with a local carrier in order to have favourable opportunities within our space.
The chief executive officer of Mainstream Cargo Limited also advised that the country should not always be in a hurry to sign BASA but should allow inputs from relevant government agencies and departments and also enable to review the proposed document.
Air Peace builds capacity
Same stakeholders had earlier argued that Nigerian carriers do not have the capacity to reciprocate flights into other countries but this argument has been debunked by operators and some stakeholders especially after Nigeria’s largest carrier, Air Peace acquired and registered its Boeing 777 aircraft in the country.
Three of the four wide-body aircraft it acquired for its long-haul operations to Dubai, Sharjah, Johannesburg, London, Houston, Guangzhou and Mumbai had so far been delivered.
The airline had in 2019 commenced the Dubai route but was awaiting landing permits from other international countries before the compulsory lockdown, making it impossible for airlines to continue scheduled international operations.
Since the lockdown, Air Peace has been operating a series of ‘special flights’ to and from different countries, including China, Turkey, India, Israel and South Africa. Therefore, the airline has demonstrated its vibrancy and capacity to fly to any destination across the globe.
For airlines to survive this pandemic, deliberate policies must be put in place. If the government can keep to its promise to reciprocate, do tit-for-tat for those countries that have been hostile to local airlines lately, as international flights resume, this will be a start in the right direction.
Start earning cryptocurrency/gram today with no investment by taking rolls, watching videos, referring, signing smart contract etc. Earn 500 grams($1000) like i do with no investment. Click here to joinPls SUBSCRIBE below to our Youtube channel and mailing list to get fresh updates on money making and inspiring videos and articles.