By Lawani Mikairu
The shabby treatment Nigerians who boarded foreign airlines from their respective destinations to Lagos got in the last two weeks has once again brought to the fore the urgent need to support domestic airlines who are already doing international flight and encourage those who are yet to, to commence international operations.
More than 1,500 Nigerians were stranded in Accra, Ghana after they were dumped there by British Airways, BA, Delta Air, and other foreign airlines when their flights were diverted to Ghana due to the inclement weather in Lagos and poor visibility at the Muritala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
Instead of thinking of alternate airport within Nigeria where visibility is good for landing, these foreign carriers took the unilateral decision to divert their flights to Ghana and subject Nigerians who had urgent engagements in Nigeria to untold hardship. British Airways told some of the stranded Nigerians who could not get flight from Ghana to bring them to Nigeria that they could take them back to Britain if they could no longer endure their hardship at the Accra airport in Ghana.
In their advisory sent to the affected passengers, British Airways said : “ We would like to sincerely apologize for the disruption to your journey to Lagos. Due to adverse weather at the airport, we were unable to safely land into Lagos Airport. We regret to inform that due to the operational constraints, we have had to cancel this flight. We recommend you make your own travel arrangements to Lagos as we are unable to operate safely in the coming days.”
“If you wish to travel from Accra to London, Heathrow, there are limited availability of seats to book on. Please speak with our colleagues at the airport to adjust your ticket, subject to availability. BAO78 Accra to London Heathrow is schedule to depart at 23.00 local time,” it added.
The advisory further said,” We understand this is not what you expect when you travel with us …..”
The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika while expressing concern over the diversion noted that the flight diversions and, in many cases, outright cancellations, due to the inclement weather conditions were regrettable. He, however, decried the diversion of flights to another country, stating that the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja could have conveniently handled those flights, revealing that Qatar Airways was already diverting Lagos bound flights to Abuja.
Sirika said : “On the diversion of incoming international flights to neighbouring countries, we wish to reiterate that the decisions are purely those of the airlines which we have no control over. However, it should be noted that those flights could, and should have been rerouted to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja which is shorter or equidistant from Lagos to the foreign airports to which some of the flights have been diverted”.
“In recognition of Abuja as an alternate airport, Qatar airlines has applied to divert its flights to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International airport, to which the Minister granted immediate approval. It is left to be seen why some others decided to divert to another country”.
The question that readily comes to mind is; would these passengers have been abandoned in other countries if they were flying Nigerian airlines operating international flights? The emphatic answer is no. They would have sought alternate airports within the country that have better visibility. All the major international airports in the country did not have poor visibility at the time Lagos was bad.
Currently, Air Peace airline is a major carrier in the country who operate international flight and has been given approval to United Kingdom, UK, India, South Africa, United States of America, USA, Israel, United Arab Emirates, UAE and other West Africa destinations. The airline has been operating flights to Dubai/Sharjah in the UAE since July, 2019 and has received commendation from aviation stakeholders.
It currently operate flights to Dubai, UAE, three times a week. All that is needed is for the federal government to support the airline and assist in playing the international aero-politics that has been delaying the commencement of other approved international routes.
The airline has shown its readiness to compete on international routes by acquiring the necessary manpower, training and aircraft. Recall Air Peace set a domestic record as the first Nigerian airline to acquire and register the 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 have so far been delivered.
Speaking with Vanguard on the need for government to support any domestic airline currently doing or is capable of doing international flight operations, a Director in one of the aviation agencies, who pleaded anonymity because he is still in the service, said domestic airlines will always treat Nigerian passengers better and accord them the respect they deserve.
According to him : “The federal government needs to immediately support Air Peace airline to commence the international routes the air airline has been granted approval to operate. Aside from creating more jobs for Nigerians with route expansion, the airline will come to the aid of Nigerians in times like this. Nigeria being its hub and operation headquarters, it will not divert and dump its passengers in other countries since all their planes must return to base.”
“Their pilots will always think of other international airports within the country to land if there is poor visibility in one airport. Abuja Airport had good visibility for landing, but out of anger, these foreign airlines decided to go and dump their Nigerian passengers in foreign countries as a way of embarrassing the government. There is nothing as good as supporting your own,” the director said.
A frequent international traveler who also spoke with Vanguard, Mr Kabiru Aliu said he had to cancel his London business trip when he learnt that British Airways was dumping Nigerian passengers in Ghana.
He said he would have proceeded with the trip if any Nigeria carrier was flying to United Kingdom. “ If Air Peace was going to UK, I would have boarded it to go knowing that it will always return me back to Nigeria which is also their headquarters. Government has to support domestic airlines to start international operations. It will help the country and restore our pride and dignity”.
Speaking about Air Peace airline’s readiness to sustain its international flight operations, the Chairman, Barrister Allen Onyema said last year: “We have trained over 100 pilots, some of them passed and we took them. I have sent some local pilots to get trained on Boeing 777 and about six of them will be leaving soon. They have been flying for over 30years and will be type-rated on Boeing 777,”
Apart from Sharjah, you know the federal government of Nigeria has given us some six destinations, Mumbai, Guangzhou, China, Atlanta, Houston (US), Heathrow (London) and Johannesburg (South Africa). We have started Sharjah (Dubai); the next to come in is Johannesburg. The Nigerian government was magnanimous to give us our destinations some three years ago”.
Speaking about the international aero-politics, Onyema said : “ We have written to these countries since then but it took them a long time to respond to us. This is why I keep on talking about open sky in Africa, the Single Africa Air Travel Market (SAATM).
“Sometimes I say SAATM is a fraud against Nigeria because while our country keeps to the principles of SAATM, other countries that endorsed it have refused to abide by those principles for Nigerian airlines”.
“ We made requests to these countries but it took them three years to reply. It was the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) that intervened on our behalf as we pilled pressure on those countries before they answered us. I remain grateful to NCAA and the federal government. So South Africa has given us the permit now for us to come in. They have audited Air Peace and they have found us okay to come into their country, so they have given us the permit to come”.
”After Johannesburg, the next in line is India, depending on what happens, we might be starting India and South Africa almost at the same time. The Indian community in Nigeria is yearning for Air Peace to come in. You must have heard from their Ambassador in Nigeria. They want a direct flight from Nigeria to India; so they are in the forefront, they are the ones pushing and the federal government has designated Air Peace to that destination. The federal government even wrote them to support us. So I thank President Muhammadu Buhari for that support”.
“After India, we would look at flying to Guangzhou, China. We planned to do international routes. When we started this airline we outlined our growth pattern and we have religiously followed it. So when Air Peace was importing one Boeing 777 after another and bringing them and keeping them at Lagos international airport, we were criticized. But it is all part of our plans,” he said.