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Amid the hues and cries of granting more frequencies to foreign airlines’ operations in Nigeria, it does not appear that stopping these carriers would happen any time soon. From what is playing out, the carriers have been more emboldened to request more flight rights, writes WOLE SHADARE
While Nigerian registered airlines are overwhelmed with challenges with so many complaints and justifiably so, many international airlines are seeing opportunities in a market that has great potential.
The way these carriers expand their tentacles within a short space of time after their entry further reinforces the view of many that Nigerian routes rank amongst the most lucrative in the world. Nigeria has the highest seats per mile rate anywhere in the world.
Emirates, Air France-KLM, British Airways, and many others may fly between 10 and 15 times to New York, from Dubai, Amsterdam, Paris, or London, but the revenue it makes from one daily flight from Lagos/Abuja to London, Dubai, Paris is about three or four of what it generates to New York.
This is not just for Emirates, Air France-KLM, BA, smaller airlines are doing a kill on the Nigerian route because of the propensity for the Nigerian middle class to take to air travel, including a huge population.
Although, less than 20 million people travel in Nigeria, which by all standards, is said to be extremely low for a population of about 200 million.
Nigerian carriers’ diminishing powers in West Africa
Perhaps, ASKY and, notably, Africa World Airlines, would not have a strong foothold without the Nigerian route. Africa World Airlines may have effectively edged out Nigerian airlines like Aero Contractors from the Accra route and the West coast, leaving only Air Peace in the midst of the ‘predators’ on the lucrative Lagos-Accra route and other routes in the West African sub-region.
Many Nigerian carriers that dominated Gabon, Banjul, Abidjan, Freetown, Douala, Accra, Dakar, and Monrovia have either closed shops or were forced to quit, while new players take the centre stage. Time had gone when the routes were lucrative for Nigerian operators.
The yield that the Nigerian market gives to the carriers is extremely good to be ignored. No wonder foreign carriers can do anything to get additional frequencies from the Nigerian government, which, to many, is a win-win, while others, particularly Nigerian carriers, and other commentators, see it as an erosion of the market for the country’s airlines that have been boxed to a corner and require more than protests for government to listen to their cries by withdrawing new approvals for new requests or at best encourage them to partner with the local airlines.
Asking the airlines to partner with their Nigerian counterparts may be a tall order because of the poor flight schedule, propensity to mismanage passengers’ luggage, and other poor service delivery that may scuttle the partnership.
Finding right partners
Qatar Airways Vice President for Africa, Hendrik du Preez, stated that even if there are these opportunities, one of the key things is to find the right partner that “we both have the same vision and to make sure safety and security are in place, having the ability for all passengers to enter another airline that is safe.”
He further stated that it is something that they were investigating to see if they can work much closer in the Nigerian market as well.
He reiterated that there are some of their partners they have been able to align their schedules with, stressing that at the end of the day, it just gives opportunities to people to travel, to grow the aviation market, which is beneficial for everyone.
In that case, it becomes extremely difficult to do. On the other hand, the government has the responsibility to provide air travel or bring air travel very close to the people as long as it makes the carriers part with more money in the name of royalty for the extra frequency it grants to them, a situation that would not make Nigeria lose on all fronts.
Case for foreign carriers
Truth be told, the taxes the foreign airlines pay to the government form about 80 percent of the total taxes from aviation accruing to the Federal Government.
Just recently, Egypt Air disclosed that it had submitted requests to the Ministry of Aviation for the granting of more frequencies and more routes.
Widening the gulf
Egypt Air’s Country Manager, Muharram Abdel Rahman, told Aviation Metric in his office in Lagos that the plan of the carrier was to add Sokoto and Port-Harcourt to its route network while announcing the increase of its frequencies to Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA).
His words: “But it is our pleasure to inform you that with effect from April 14, 2022, we have increased our frequency into Kano to four flights weekly – on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
“Furthermore, we are currently in the process of increasing our frequencies out of Lagos to 10 weekly flights, subject to approval by the Ministry of Aviation.
“Nigerians need to fly on Egypt Air. If I brought wide-body aircraft from Kano, you will not find seats available because a lot of people want to travel through Egypt Air. Even Lagos or Abuja market, as soon as we increase, you know that we have the market.
“Our flights from Lagos are full. That is the reason we need more frequencies to accommodate more passengers. People now need Egypt Air because of two reasons. Firstly, our price is affordable and everyone can have it. We are not increasing our fares because it is cheap and the services on our flights are the same services you can get on any other big carrier.
“We need to increase to give our teeming customers more choices and opportunities to connect to over 120 destinations in the world to our hub in Cairo,” he added.
Just in February 2022, Nigeria’s Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) with Qatar got further expanded as Qatar Airways doubled its network to Kano and Port Harcourt.
Turkish Airlines, on March 28, 2022, resumed Istanbul-Port Harcourt. It operates on a triangular basis, routing Istanbul-Port Harcourt-Malabo-Istanbul, three-weekly, using B737-900ERs.
Qatar Airways, before now, spent nearly 10 hours on the ground in Abuja. This significant downtime, for connectivity reasons, enabled Kano and Port Harcourt to be added.
The two added cities mean that Abuja will rise to once-daily. Launched 13 months ago, it operated four-weekly via Lagos until December 2021. It ditched the one-stop but continued to operate four-weekly non-stop. Now it will rise to daily.
For Chairman, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Noggie Meggison, recently said the time is now for the Nigerian aviation sector to wake up and contribute as it should to the economy.
According to Meggison, Nigerians travel by air a lot, disclosing that a particular foreign airline did a turnover of $2 million, while another made over $2 million profit, with Nigeria their most profitable route.
He noted that Nigeria has the highest seats per mile rate anywhere in the world, but asked what have been the mutual benefits of those bilateral air services agreements (BASAs) signed with the Nigerian government, in terms of financial gains, skills, and employment of youths?
Looking at Nigeria’s position geographically, it is at the centre of Africa and is four and half hours from almost everywhere. The Nigerian population of 200 million, 60 percent of the West African population of 350 million, makes it an attraction for foreign airlines.Google+