Domestic airlines under the aegis of the Air Operators of Nigeria have expressed concerns over the proposed partnership between the Federal Government and Ethiopian Airlines to form a national carrier scheduled to begin operations by December.
They said the agreement was tantamount to opening the nation’s domestic market to a foreign carrier; a development they said could ‘decimate” the local airline industry and lead to capital flight.
The spokesperson for AON and Chairman of United Airlines Nigeria, Prof Obiora Okonkwo, spoke on Thursday during an online aviation town hall meeting titled, “Nigeria Air: The Solution to Nigeria’s Aviation Problems?.”
The event was organized by aviation consultancy firm, Avaero Capital Partners.
He said, “We have not seen anything Nigerian in this Nigeria Air. It is a camouflage of interest. The decision to set up a national carrier in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines is a policy somersault. The people in government have continued to demonise the local operators. Aviation companies have collapsed in other parts of the world, not only in Nigeria. What the aviation sector needs is support. The private sector will collapse with this (national carrier) arrangement. Nigeria will be losing much. It must not be allowed to be sustained. There is nothing Nigeria in this Nigerian Air.”
This came as other aviation stakeholders including pilots, aircraft engineers and aviation business experts who spoke at the webinar rejected the proposed Nigeria Air, saying its shareholding structure was absurd and could plunge the aviation industry into further chaos.
The Managing Director of Top Brazz Aviation and former Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Roland Iyayi, said the proposed national airline would help Ethiopian Airlines to achieve its domination of the African market, adding that the Ethiopian national carrier had formed similar agreements in eight other African countries.
He said, “This approach will decimate the local market. Agreement with Ethiopian Airlines will create cabotage. Ethiopian Airlines will come into our domestic market, lower fares (non-competitive fares) with the aim of taking over the market. The choice of Ethiopian Airlines will destroy our industry. We reject this totally.”
Iyayi, who is also a pilot, further said, “In anticipation of the Single African Air Transport Market, Ethiopian Airlines want to dominate the African market. The government is meant to support local carriers. Ethiopian Airlines has partnerships in eight other countries in Africa.
“ET currently has 135 planes. The CEO of the airline has said its plan to increase their fleet to 250 planes in the next five years. The intent is to go into the domestic market of all the African countries where they have footprints. This is simply aviation colonialism. If we take all of this onboard, you will wonder whether the government has the interest of Nigerian airlines at heart or not.”
Also speaking, President, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of Nigeria, Mr Alex Nwuba, said with Ethiopian Airlines having 49 per cent stake in the proposed national carrier, it would be difficult for Nigerian Air to fly intercontinental routes.
Nwuba, a former managing director of Associated Airlines and a pilot, said, “We do not think this is the best thing happening. It is not genuine. We reject it. Nigeria Air will not suffer any fate different from what befell the defunct Virgin Nigeria that could not go to the United States. This is clear in the Bilateral Air Services Agreement regulations.”
The aviation expert also queried why MRS and SAHCOL, listed as private investors in the proposed national carrier, had yet to inform their shareholders via the capital market their decision to invest in Nigeria Air.
“MRS and SAHCOL have yet to put up statements at the capital market to inform shareholders that they will be putting some money in the national airline. This is unethical,” he added.