…Says Nigeria’s domestic airlines should benefit from aviation agreements
By Tordue Salem
Hon. Nnolim Nnaji, Chairman house of representatives committee on aviation, in this interview with Tordue Salem, speaks on a myriad of problems bedevilling the aviation sector, the need for reforms and suggests stringent sanctions against foreign airlines in breach of aviation sector agreements.
What is the house of Representatives’ agenda for the aviation sector?
Our agenda is to bequeath to Nigerians a robust, reliable and vibrant aviation industry. We will love to see Nigerian airlines flying all over the world like other African airlines. We have the market; we are the biggest economy in the continent, we are the giant of Africa so we have to be giant in the skies. All the European airlines target Nigerian market, some come in thrice daily, even the Asian and some African airlines operate twice daily into Lagos and perhaps one to Enugu or Abuja yet no reciprocity for any Nigerian operator.
Which aspect of BASA do you want amended or reviewed?
Like l said earlier quite a number of European and other foreign airlines operate several flights daily into Lagos and some other cities without Nigerian airlines enjoying same.
You know Bilateral Air Services Agreement, (BASA) is usually between Nigeria and another country for the purposes of maintaining direct air link between them. It is bilateral if only one airline each is designated by each country and multilateral where we have more than one airline designated. Nigeria at the moment has three different air services agreement viz: bilateral. Multilateral and open skies.
By my understanding, we have two multilateral air services agreements or what you may prefer to dual designations with the United Kingdom with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic designated. Nigeria is equally supposed to reciprocate that by designating two airlines to operate into London.
The second multilateral or dual designation is the one with the United Arab Emirates which Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways are utilizing again with no Nigerian airlines designated to UAE.
The third agreement is the open skies with the United States which has no restrictions to the number of airlines that can be designated by each country.
However, the aspects I think we will look into, are is the multiple entry points like flying into Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu.
I will prefer a situation where all the foreign airlines are given slots to land only in one international airport in Nigeria and if they must fly to other cities they interline with local airlines for that point beyond Lagos.
With that you can curtail capital flights and encourage growth of local airlines. It may also interest you to know that for the extra frequencies if the airlines operate outside the prescribed slots in the agreement, a certain amount is charged as royalty by the Nigerian Authority on each passenger lifted so there may be a need to review such royalty.
Are you considering any bills to improve or accelerate the development of the industry?
For now no. But as we progress if there is the need for that we will not hesitate to do so.
Like l stated even in my inaugural address to my members we desire to see an improved aviation industry that will give Nigeria positive image in every respect so where legislation is required to achieve that, we will do so working with our senate counterparts and the Ministry of Aviation.
What are the specific areas of the aviation sector do you think require urgent attention?
I want to see our airports better than they are now. The first impression a visitor gets about our country starts from the airport so we must improve on service deliveries. Our conveyor belts must work, passenger facilitation must be apt and off course the security must be to the international standard.
I will also love to see more business activities at the airports. If you travel outside you see hotels at the airports. There is no reason we should not have such in our airports.
Our airports are too dormant. Not every businessman or inventor has the luxury of entering the city all the time. Some just want to transact businesses at the airport and fly away but we have not provided them with that choice because the facilities are not there.
Can Nigeria do without sharing our airspace with foreign airlines in a globalized economy?
Of course we cannot and that is why we signed various air links agreements with several countries. Even without agreements some airlines still overfly our airspace though they pay for the navigational services provided for them by the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, (NAMA) which is the parastatal in charge of our airspace.
Do you think the budgets for aviation in the last three years have been sufficient?
Do l think the budgets of aviation in the last three years been sufficient? My answer is no and why do l say so, all our international airports apart from Lagos have single runway which means if you have an accident in any of them flights will be diverted because the airport will be closed until accident investigators are done with preliminary investigations.
If the funds are there all the airports should have dual runways. Again, not all the airports have perimeter fencing but that is a must security requirement for every airport whether local or international.
This is why in my argument at the plenary during budget debate l made case for the retention of aviation’s internally generated revenues, (IGRs) 100 percent for a period of ten years for the development of aviation infrastructure so that we can address the shortfalls.
Abuja Airport for instance is chaotic because there is no appropriate car park and it must be provided so you need quite a lot of money for all that.
Which areas of the sector do you want revamped?
I want to see a vibrant airline industry. You can see that most of our domestic airlines are not doing well. It will be my joy to witness strong airlines operating locally and internationally offering quality services.
Are there any amendments to the laws setting up the regulatory agency you will be proposing in this 9th Assembly?
I don’t think the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA) which is the regulatory agency is lacking in statutes to function. It has powers to regulate airlines and other agencies like the Federal Airports Authority, (FAAN), the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, (NAMA), and the rest of them. In fact NCAA regulates every service provider in the industry whether private or public.
What do you think is responsible for the challenges in the sector?
The challenge is the funding like every other sector. There is so much to do to in the sector. If we have all the funds required . . . but l don’t think we have done badly. However I believe there is always room for improvement. Aviation is a very dynamic industry and we will keep on improving on the facilities in line with the global trends.
Which of the specific policies of the Federal Government do you think are hampering the growth of local airlines?
I don’t think there are any policies of government that are hampering the growth of local airlines per say. The only thing l will expect the government to look into is the aspect of multiple entry slots or designations granted some foreign airlines. I want to see a situation whereby they are allowed to operate only to Lagos or any other international airport while Nigerian airlines are allowed to also operate in these countries.
The liquidation of Nigeria Airways by the former President Obasanjo has been roundly condemned, would your committee like to revisit it?
No, there is no need for that. Once an entity is liquidated, it is dead. You cannot resurrect it any more. But what l will rather suggest or propose if possible is the floating of a new national carrier or encouraging our domestic airlines to fly internationally. This has been my position and I still maintain it. I believe that will be the best way to go if you ask me.
Do you think the N10 billion approved for the Akanu Ibiam Airport is sufficient or do you have suggestions as to what you want allocated for the reconstruction project?
How will I know? I have not seen the bill of quantities to know if the money will be enough to execute the project or not. I believe before the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN) came up with that amount it must have done all the due diligence and cost analysis so I don’t have anything to say about the cost. All am interested in is how the airport can be fixed as soon as possible.
The Minister has assured the South East Leaders that the job will be properly and speedily done and he told the House Committee on Aviation same thing, so I believe him.