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Using international aero-politics to grow Nigerian airlines



On Sep 7, 2020
As uncertainties continue to hover around the resumption of international flights into Nigeria, key players are mounting pressures on the Federal Government not to shift its position on the need to enforce the principle of reciprocity on the foreign carriers operating into the country. In this piece, SHOLA ADEKOLA samples opinions of key players on the government’s decision.

Prior to now, the home countries of many of the over forty foreign airlines operating into the country, despite the unlimited opportunities their airlines enjoy here had engaged in unfair aero politics to frustrate the Nigerian airlines designated to reciprocate the air travel agreements Nigeria has with them.

This act of hostility towards the Nigerian carriers is not limited to Europe, America and Asia but even perpetrated by fellow African countries who often work against the Nigerian airlines designated to their domains.

Amongst the agreements Nigeria has with countries around the world include: the dual designation policy it signed with the Great Britain which has seen two carriers; the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways operating the slot of their government into Nigeria while presently no reciprocation from Nigerian side.

The open skies agreement Nigeria signed with the United States which has allowed airlines like Delta still operating into Nigeria while United Airlines operated into Nigeria up to a point until it stopped from Nigeria its zero reciprocity.

The agreement Nigeria has with the Middle East has seen three airlines, Emirates, Qatar and Etihad enjoying the slot of their government effortlessly.

Even the fellow African carriers are not left out of the one sided aero politics as they continue to frustrate the all important open skies for Africa meant for implementing the Yamoussoukro Decision initiated by African leaders since 2002 which aimed at the full integration of the African air transport market by African carriers.

While Nigeria has been at the forefront of opening its airspace to many African carriers like: RwandAir, Ethiopian, Asky, Air Lome, South African Airways and many others, majority of the African countries have continued to frustrate the implementation of the agreement as they restrict their air service markets to protect their own airlines.

Nigeria’s Air Peace airline at a point narrated the bottleneck put before it by the Togolese government which frustrated its effort to commence flights into the country. Again, many key players had before now urged the government to pull the carpets off the feet of the African airlines to send a signal to their countries that the ‘big brother’ role of Nigeria should not be taken for granted.

Despite the privileges many of the airlines enjoy from Nigeria in view of the multiple entry points and loose frequencies government doled out to them here, their home governments are known to be displaying their hatred for Nigerians and the Nigerian airlines.

The height of the unfair aero politics played out during the special evacuation flights of hundreds of Nigerians stranded in countries like Britain, Dubai and Canada when despite the air travel agreements Nigeria signed with the countries, Nigerian carriers especially Air Peace was frustrated from evacuating the stranded Nigerians for the sole purpose of giving their home airlines priority over the Nigerian carrier.

Many Nigerians home and abroad condemned the hostilities towards anything Nigerian by many of the foreign countries whose own investments and business interests enjoy government patronage to a fault here.

FG bows to pressures

After a long period of ignoring the different calls by many key players to government to join in playing aero politics to protect the interest of Nigerian airlines against foreign conspiracy, hope finally came the way of concerned Nigerians particularly those within the aviation circle as the federal government recently declared its interest to now enforce what it called the principle of reciprocity on the foreign airlines and their home countries.

The latest pressure being mounted on the Nigerian government to stand by its declaration has become heightened in the last few days following the announcement by government to throw open its airspace to the foreign carriers to return to the Nigerian routes after over five months of suspension of flights caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many of the foreign carriers are already gearing up to bounce back to the Nigerian market for the obvious reason of the huge market and profits they often generate, there is however, a renewed call on government to only approve the return of only foreign airlines whose countries are friendly to Nigeria and its airlines.

Key players canvass tit for tat

For the head of Human Resources and Administration at 7Star Hangar, an aircraft maintenance company at the Murtala Muhammed Airport and an aircraft engineer, Comrade Sheri Ayuba Kyari, he commended the action of the government to join in what he called the commensurate retaliatory aero politics saying: “I believe we are just waking up to the reality of global aero-politics. I encourage this government action. But I pray that they will follow it up and give our domestic airlines the opportunity to utilize such Bilateral Air Services Agreements.

According to a former National President of the National Cabin Crew Association (NACCA) and now a director at Zenith Travels in Lagos, Mr Olumide Ohunayo,

It is appropriate and I support the government in reciprocating whatever is provided by any country. If we have countries that are stopping Nigerians and their airlines 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. We may not be able to stop airlines coming into the country based on the BASAs that are already in place. We can use this pandemic to build international operations into the country. We can now use it to correct errors that were made in the past, especially the multiple entry and multiple designations. The government has only approved Lagos and Abuja for international operations and they have also limited the number of flights into these two cities. As they begin to 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 bi-lateral agreement. These are the kind of agreements that take foreign airlines to other cities and 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 whereby they get a Nigerian airline involved in some of these movements beyond their point of entry rather than allow them move into other cities. The problem is not only that of government, we also have leaders and governors who have turned flight operations into an ethnic game. You see governors who say flights must come into their states. You see governors even going beyond the mi nister to the presidency, just to ensure they have foreign airlines operating into their states. When we have this kind of mentality of not placing Nigeria first before personal interests, we may have a long battle ahead of us.”

Alhaji Muhammed Tukur, who is the Managing Director of Afrijet Airlines and a one time publicity secretary of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) pledged his support for the government’s decision saying it will greatly encourage the domestic airlines in the face of bad international aero politics. His words: The foreign countries and the foreign carriers that show cooperation should also receive similar gesture while those against us should be rewarded in likewise manner. I support the government. We need to move forward.

Group Captain John Ojikutu, retired, the Managing Director of Centurion Security and a member of Aviation Round Table, in his opinion, called on the government to henceforth reduce the loose frequencies and multiple entry points hitherto granted the foreign airlines by restricting each of them to only Abuja airport or Lagos airport and not the present approval granted them to operate to the two international airports simultaneously. According to Ojikutu, the new approach should allow each of the foreign airlines to have access to one of the international airports but free to add other airports from alternate geographical areas; e.g. if an airline takes Lagos in the south, the alternate geographical areas should be in the North, like Kano or Kaduna for instance and not Abuja. “Similarly, if Abuja is taken by others, the alternate in the south should be Port Harcourt or Enugu. That way, the intrusion of international airlines into our domestic routes will be curtailed and the domestic airlines that can not effectively compete on the international routes can now take over the routes and improve their earnings in the domestic markets with increased traffic operations.”

A regular international traveller, who simply introduced himself as Alhaji Junaid, said the decision by the federal government to pay back the foreign countries in their own coins this time around was the best decision so far taken in the recent past. According to him if the decision will strengthen the Nigerian airlines and give more honour to the Nigerian traveling public who contribute in no small means to the GDP of the foreign countries, so is it.

“Going by what these foreign countries do to the Nigerian airlines and how they humiliated the entire country before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, I think the time has come for Nigeria to clip their wings. I just hope the government will not allow itself to be hoodwinked by the cronies of the foreign countries who are sadly fellow Nigerians benefitting from the bad aero politics agains Nigeria. If Nigeria had been involved in this type of international aero politics, Air Peace and many other Nigerian carriers who had been humiliated by the countries would not have suffered such bad injustice”, Junaid declared.

Benefits of aero-politics

Key players who have thrown their weights behind the government’s decision attributed their reasons to the numerous advantages playing aero politics will bring to the country and the domestic airlines.

Besides the economic gains, Nigeria joining in international aero politics they say will bring dignity not only to the country and its citizens who travel around the world, but would encourage private investments like airline business. For the key players government should not just stop at designating its domestic airlines on international routes but go further in engaging in air transport politics to protect airlines like Air Peace against extreme protections from the foreign airlines in connivance with their home countries.

The fears

As the country particularly its air travelers are watching keenly to see how things play out with the foreign airlines and their home countries, many are nursing serious doubt as to if government will not reverse its decision for aero politics. According to many of the key players, there is a serious pressure being mounted on government by the allies of the countries in Nigeria to prevail on government to change the decision.

The government may have concluded the game plan and there may be no going back as the atmosphere around the aviation sector in particular is somehow tensed with threats emanating from the unions and other airport users to oppose any move by the government to chicken out of the international aero politics.

Nigeria Has What It Takes Not To Shift Ground:

Key players who are calling on government not to blink an eyelid as it goes to enforce the international aero politics policy are attributing this to the strategic position of the Nigerian market and the opportunities available which they said the foreign airlines cannot enjoy elsewhere.

Citing the huge market and the fact that Nigerians are known to be regular travelers not limited to any season which many foreign airlines had attested to on different occasions, the hostile foreign countries have no choice but to review their hostile and unaccommodating attitudes towards Nigeria and the Nigerian airlines designated to their countries. Though 80% of the money coming into the Nigeria’s aviation sector comes from the foreign airlines, but it is being argued that this amount remains infinitesimal compared to the capital flight they cart to their home countries regularly. The consistency of Nigerian markets has continued to serve as survival strategy to many of the foreign airlines in the face of global challenges. The key players are therefore calling on the foreign countries to learn how to accommodate Nigeria and its investments in their countries as it is being done in Nigeria.

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Keyamo Seeks ICAO Support for Nigeria’s Aviation Master Plan



Minister of Aviation, Mr. Festus Keyamo has sought the support of the international aviation regulatory body the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on the comprehensive civil aviation master plan and airport development of the country.

The Minister made the disclosure when he paid a familiarisation visit to the ICAO Headquarters in Montreal Canada.

Keyamo with the ICAO Council President, Mr. Salvatore Sciacchitano, the Secretary-General, Mr. Juan Carlos Salazar, and Nigeria’s Representative on the ICAO Council

The minister on behalf of the continent of Africa also mentioned the important role of air connectivity which he said ICAO should continue its support on the actualisation of other safety development-related matters.

Keyamo, accompanied by the Director General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Captain Musa Nuhu, Nigeria’s Representative on the ICAO Council, Engr Mahmoud Sani Ben-Tukur, and other officials during a courtesy call on the ICAO Council President, Mr Salvatore Sciacchitano

On hand to receive the minister was the ICAO Council President, Mr. Salvatore Sciacchitano, the Secretary-General, Mr. Juan Carlos Salazar, and Nigeria’s Representative on the ICAO Council, Engr. Ben Tukur; while the Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu accompanied the minister on the visit.

It is however not clear how ICAO intends to assist Africa in air connectivity considering the fact that not all of the countries in Africa are signatories to the Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM).

Owing to the poor state of road, and rail networks and fragmented transportation infrastructure across Africa, travelling by air stands out as a quick alternative and efficient means of connectivity.

Unfortunately, Africa’s air services are poorly connected, often necessitating multi-day journeys or flights via other continents to reach destinations within Africa. To address the bottlenecks, the African Union (AU) launched the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) in 2018 to create a single African air transport market that promotes economic integration and air connectivity.

Sadly, its slow implementation stifles liberalisation of air transport markets in Africa. Only 34 out of 54 African countries have signed up to the SAATM.

SAATM and AfCFTA according to experts are growth drivers, with liberalised air transport playing a pivotal role in paving the way for African airlines to operate scheduled flights with ease within the continent.

AfCFTA they said could boost air cargo from 2.3 to 4.5 million tonnes, with the AfCFTA requiring 254 aircraft by 2030.

SAATM and AfCFTA are interlinked, with SAATM boosting intra-African airline connectivity, while AfCFTA enhances regional integration, trade, resources, capital, and passengers within Africa. An open passenger travel will enhance AfCFTA implementation.

Africa has the lowest air connectivity in the world. Among the 1,431 pairs of African Union countries, just 19% had significant direct service (at least once a week annually). Out of these, 35% had daily or more frequent service, while only 13% had service twice daily or more.

The Yamoussoukro Decision was adopted in 1999 to rule out stringent regulatory restrictions within Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) among African countries which are detrimental to intra-African connectivity and the development of the African aviation sector. SAATM evolved from the Yamoussoukro Decision thereby eliminating BASAs.

In most African nations, African airlines encounter hurdles like restrictive agreements, high taxes, expensive fuel, and visa restrictions which limit growth and profitability.

Some African countries that have endorsed the SAATM treaty haven’t adhered completely to its regulations, resorting to high landing fees and other charges to discourage other African airlines from operating within their airspace. This isn’t unconnected to the high flight tariffs in Africa.

Abuja airport followed by Lagos airport is adjudged as the most expensive airport in Africa, their exorbitant charges are impediments to Nigerian airlines’ competitiveness globally. 32 out of 53 African airports impose fees exceeding $50 per traveler, and 10 airports charge above $100. In comparison, European passengers are billed an average of $30.23, and in the Middle East, the average is $29.65.

West African return tickets remain excessively expensive compared to Europe where 100 euros can cover travels. Air travel in Africa is costly, time-consuming with long stopovers, and hampers socioeconomic growth.

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NSIB Boss, Olateru Honoured for Transparency and Contribution to Air Safety



The Director General , Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau(NSIB), Engr. Akin Olateru has been honoured with the ‘Integrity and Anti-corruption Ambassador’ award by the Nigerian youth against Corruption and Transparency Initiative in recognition of the transformation and developmental strides the Bureau has witnessed under his leadership.

This is according to a statement by Mohammed Farouk Yakub on behalf of the Director, Public Affairs and Consumer Protection of the Bureau.

Presenting the Award at the Bureau’s Headquarters, in Abuja on Wednesday, Group Coordinator, Engr. Abdul Malik Usman, said members of the Group decided to confer the award on the Bureau’s Director General in recognition of his contributions to the development of the nation’s aviation safety through rapid transformation of the Bureau to emerge as one of the best accident investigating bodies in the world.

“Our Organisation is very proud of the transformation and developmental strides in the Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau( NSIB) which cannot be overemphasised. Your unrelenting dedication to a corruption-free society, contribution to nation building, among others, called for appreciation and recognition and to this end, we decided to honour you with this award, he stated.

Receiving the award, Engr. Olateru appreciated members of the organisation for recognising his modest contributions to aviation safety through the Investigation of occurrences and timely release of reports along safety recommendations which he described as the by product of the investigation usually addressed to industry stakeholders such as, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA), the affected airlines, Air craft Manufacturers, among others, to prevent the reoccurrence of the incident.

The Bureau established in 2006 according to him, and had done its best under his leadership since 2017 when he became its head in the fulfilment of its mandate to probe into air accidents / incidents and timely release of reports for a safer airspace in Nigeria and beyond.
He informed the organisation that the government, in recognition of the roles played by the Bureau, signed into law the NSIB Act 2022 for the expansion of its mandate and scope as a multi-modal agency to investigate not just air accidents and incidents , but maritime, railway and any other modes of transportation across the country.
“And that has put Nigeria at par with countries like United States of America, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, among others , to have a single agency doing all the investigations,” he stated.

Engr Akin Olateru with the NSIB Management after the award

Explaining further, Engr Olateru said the reason behind this, is to ensure transparency and objectivity in the investigation of occurrences.
“There are 3 legs to any transportation system. You have the service providers, you have the regulators, and then, the Investigators. During occurrences, sometimes it could be the regulators that might have caused the reason for the occurrence. That is why you can’t be regulator and the Investigator all together”.

He recalled between 2003 to 2005 during which period Nigeria had such situations which led to numerous air crashes in the country.
“Nigeria used to have this arrangement, but the wisdom of government to separate regulatory from investigating responsibilities has not just improved air safety, it has also enabled air transport business to dramatically rised in Nigeria .

“Gone are the days when people hesitated boarding an aircraft” he stressed further, saying in the past people would rather travel by road instead of aeroplanes for safety considerations.

“Today, this is not so as the conscious efforts that had been put in place by the Bureau in collaboration with other relevant agencies which have ensured a safer airspace for the flying public.
“Safety is not achieved by accident. It is not something that just happened at ago. Conscious efforts had gone into it . For a safer airspace to have been in place , the regulatory body, the investigating agency and other industry stakeholders must have contributed their bits to the overall safety networks”.

Olateru assured of the Bureau’s continuous prompt response to occurrences and timely release of its reports along with right safety recommendations to deal with the reason why that particular occurrence happened. This, he said, is the only way the agency can continue to protect the system from reoccurrence.
He noted that the Agency under his leadership enhances air safety from the rear which explained his delight for been spotted and honoured with the award.

“We enhance safety from the rear. And that is why am so happy that you spotted us. I really want to thank you for this initiative and for giving us the encouragement to do more, “ he added.

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Aviation Safety: Nigeria Has Best Record in Africa, says Olateru, NSIB Boss



The aviation safety record of Nigeria has been described as the best in Africa, with the country recording only two fatal accidents in the last ten years.

According to the Director General, Nigeria Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB), Engr. Akin Olateru, the country, within the period, recorded nine fatalities. This was contained in a statement by the Director, Public Affairs and Consumer Protection of the Bureau, Dr James Odaudu on Friday.

“In the last 10 years, there have been two fatal civil accidents leading to the unfortunate loss of 9 souls in Nigeria”.
Speaking on “Nigeria Evolving Approach To Aviation Safety And Learning From Occurrence Investigation – The NSIB Experience.” at the 7th Aviation Africa Summit held in Abuja, Olateru said between 2005 and 2023, 78 accidents and serious incidents have occurred in the country with four incidents in the Safety Bulletin amounting to 82 while 260 safety recommendations have been issued by his agency within the period with 12 incidents in the Safety Bulletin totalling 272 safety recommendations.

The safety recommendations, and their appreciable implementation and enforcements, he further reiterated, were largely responsible for the safety successes recorded since the inception of the current NSIB administration.

Explaining the legislative changes and transition of legislative responsibilities over the years, Olateru said “there were 154 accidents, 46 of which were fatal between 1948 and 2005 with a total fatality of 1,445 passengers. Initially, Civil Aviation Department (CAD) of the Ministry of Aviation handled aviation occurrence investigation as well as Airworthiness Certification. This created a peculiar challenge of the Regulator also being the Investigator.
“How could the Regulator be expected to objectively investigate herself and hold herself accountable in cases were contributing causes of occurrences were traced to poor or non-existent regulatory oversight function and enforcement by her?” he asked.

“It was becoming clear that we had to re-jig our Aviation safety regulations and Accident Investigation and bring them to par with relevant ICAO annexes and international best practices.”
NSIB, he said, now embodies the evolving approach to aviation safety and learning from occurrence investigation which has led to safer skies over Nigeria.

He listed the evolving approach to include Separation of investigative from regulatory Functions, granting autonomy and investigative independence to the Investigator (NSIB) and emphasis on Early release of Accident Reports.

Others are: Synergy between Regulator (NCAA) and Investigator (NSIB) in the monitoring and enforcement of Safety Recommendations, MOUs for collaboration with neighboring countries to help with investigations, and sharing of facilities and information.

The NSIB boss also identified development of mechanism for early reporting of occurrence, development of identified technical skills amongst NSIB staff, engaging the public and stakeholders on the need to report occurrences as soon as they happen or become aware of them (Mandatory & voluntary) as part of the evolving approaches to accident investigation in Nigeria, as well as training of First Responders on what to do at accident sites and keeping an occurrence database for the purpose of analysis to Identify Trends and Patterns.

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