The U.S. government may have begun reaping the gains of the lopsided open skies agreement signed with its Nigerian counterpart about a decade ago, as the third American carrier, Continental Airlines, concludes plans to commence flight operations between Lagos and Houston, Texas, USA.

Open skies defy the principle of reciprocity which countries deploy to protect their commercial aviation from exploitation by foreign carriers, specially as it provides parties to the agreement equal stake.

Consequently, the agreement has given the U.S. the liberty to designate to Nigeria as many airlines as possible, provided they have the wherewithal to operate to the country.

Already, Continental Airlines has secured the approval of the federal government, through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, to start operations billed to start in November 2011.

The coming of Continental Airlines brings to three the number of U.S. airlines operating flights into Nigeria.
United Airlines had last week announced plans to commence flight operations between Lagos and Washington DC, en route Accra, Ghana, with effect from December12, 2010, while Delta had since December 4, 2008, been flying direct from Lagos to New York, and had since added Abuja to its route network.

Experts see the renewed interest in Nigeria by American carriers as a direct result of the recent U.S. government’s certification of the country’s aviation sector as one in the group of the most safety-driven systems in the world, with the category 1 status granted Nigeria by the Federal Aviation Administration,FAA, in the United States.

According to experts, Continental’s coming to Nigeria would have further enhanced the capacity of the U.S. to consolidate its hold on the nation’s commercial aviation market, leading to unbalanced trade with Nigeria, with resultant capital flight.

At present, Arik Air remains Nigeria’s only airlines operating into the United States,  against U.S. three carriers of Delta, United and Continental, and this already places the country at a disadvantaged position.

Because Arik does not have the kind of connections paraded by the American carriers, Nigeria’s earning capacity from the airline’s operations to the U.S. is further limited.  Delta, United and Continental are either in One World, Star Alliance or other airlines’ network, which take their passengers to every corner of the globe.

A pressure group in the sector, Aviation Round Table, ART, had persistently called for a review of the open skies agreement between Nigeria and the United States, contending that Aviation Ministry officials who signed for Nigeria at the time the pact was consummated were ignorant of the workings of such an agreement.

Considering the huge market offered by the country, it is very likely that many more American carriers may soon invade the country to have a share of the market, and there is no corresponding move by more Nigerian airlines to take advantage of the agreement to also fly into the U.S., with a view to reducing the stakes of the Americans.

Many European carriers have spoken so glowingly about how they had used their operations to Nigeria to underwrite losses incurred from their operations in other parts of the world.

Consequently, stakeholders in the industry fear that the Americans may have, by this, been given a path to follow to maximise their inroad into Nigeria’s aviation sector once more.


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