Nigeria: Addressing Lopsided Air Services Agreements


Flight operations into Nigeria by foreign carriers that evacuated nationals of different countries during the COVID-19 pandemic were largely seamless. Nevertheless, the recent denial of landing rights to an indigenous carrier into airports in Toronto and Calgary in Canada and Gatwick Airports in London United Kingdom respectively by their aviation authorities has called to question the principle of reciprocity in the bilateral air services agreement Nigeria signed with over 80 countries. To reverse the trend, the Federal Government is considering a review of its existing lopsided air treaties.


By: Kelvin Osa-Okunbor

Source: thenationonlineng.net


Operations by international carriers into Nigeria will assume a new dimension in the coming months as the Federal Government concludes plans to review its bilateral, multilateral and commercial air agreements with many countries across the globe.


Though a definite date has not been fixed for resumption of international flights, a few developments that took place during the ongoing pandemic is pushing the government to rework the terms of its air treaty with over 80 countries.


To drive the implementation of its air treaties, over 30 foreign carriers operate flights into Nigeria leveraging the dual designation, open skies and multiple entry point’s policy.

Besides the United Kingdom, whose carriers – British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways enjoy both dual designation and multiple entries into Nigeria. Other carriers namely Lufthansa German Airlines, Air France /KLM;  Emirates Airlines; Qatar Airways; Etihad Airways; Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air; South African Airways; RwandAir and Kenya Airways enjoy multiple entry points into Nigeria. These carriers cart away over $5.6 billion capital flight out of the country.


But, some Nigerian carriers namely: Arik Air; Medview Airlines; AeroContractors; DANA Air; Air Peace and Overland Airways which  have been designated on international routes, however, do not enjoy multiple entry points in the countries that they are approved to fly into.

This lopsidedness in air agreement has engaged the attention of industry experts, who have, in the past few years, formed a coalition to drive agitation for the review of bilateral air treaties among Nigeria and other countries.


The coalition comprising industry groups; experts; members of the National Assembly; airlines’ association and industry think-tank groups have called on the government to review the identified lapses in Nigeria’s air treaties.


Only last week, a drama played out in the United Kingdom when the British Government denied Air Peace landing rights into Gatwick Airport in London, a day the carrier was billed to airlift stranded Nigerians home.


The airline had earlier evacuated some Nigerians from the London Heathrow Airport into Abuja and Lagos Airports before the application to operate from Gatwick Airport London was turned down.


The traffic denial, experts say, speaks volumes about Nigeria’s air services agreement, which has been largely lopsided in favour of foreign carriers.


Piqued by the development, Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Geofrey Onyeama said the government was considering reviewing all its existing air agreements with the United Kingdom over the shoddy way Air Peace was treated.


The minister, who spoke through Mr Ferdinand Nwonye, said a UK airline, Air Partner will operate the flight. Following the refusal of the UK to grant diplomatic landing clearance to Air Peace, the Federal Government said it appealed to Air Peace to engage the services of an alternative airline to airlift the stranded citizens instead of refunding their payments.

Recently, the government of Canada denied traffic rights to Air Peace to evacuate Nigerians from the North American country; citing safety reasons.


The development, which piqued Nigerian authorities, triggered protests by members of the National Assembly, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON)-an umbrella group of indigenous carriers- which accused Canadian authorities of hiding under nebulous safety considerations to deny the indigenous carrier the opportunity of carrying out such flight.


The airline had, in a statement, announced that it postponed the operations due to logistic issues. But, Onyeama clarified that the airline was denied landing rights by the Canadian authorities.


Worried over the development, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, Hon. Nnolim Nnaji called on the government to support Nigerian carriers in their bid to carry out critical national assignments.


The Committee chairman said the planned use of Ethiopian Airline, a foreign airline, to evacuate stranded Nigerians from Canada instead of Air Peace Airline earlier billed to evacuate them, would not be accepted by the House. If so designated, it must evacuate Nigerians from the North American country.


According to the itinerary, Air Peace was scheduled to airlift Canadian citizens from Nigeria and take them to Canada and then evacuate Nigerians from that country from Toronto and another stop in Calgary and bring them back to Nigeria.


Nnaji insisted that the ministries of foreign affairs, aviation and indeed the COVID-19 task force must explore all available diplomatic channels to ensure that a Nigerian airline operates the evacuation flight out of Canada.  The Canadian government was alleged to have given preference to Ethiopian Airline for the evacuation of stranded Nigerians desiring to come home as against the Air Peace which the taskforce has already engaged for the evacuation. Air Peace is charging $1,134 per passenger as against the sum of $2,500 charged by the Ethiopian Airline.


The Aviation Committee Chairman observed that Canadian authorities had no reason to deny Air Peace landing right since available records had shown that the airline has the requite certification and approvals to operate internationally.


He further emphasised that findings have shown that Air Peace is an International Air Transport Association’s Safety Oversight Audit; (IOSA) certified which is a major international parameter for measuring airlines’ safety standards.


Nnaji also noted that there was a need for the Canadian government to treat the flight as a special emergency occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic and immediately grant the necessary approvals to Air Peace.


The President of Aviation Round Table (ART), an industry think-tank group, Dr Gbenga Olowo, commended the action taken by the Federal Government so far, especially the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Godfrey Onyeama for insisting that a Nigerian carrier should be allowed to airlift the evacuees.


Dr Olowo said a foreign carrier should not be allowed to evacuate Nigerians when there are Nigerian carriers that are capable of doing so.


“But what they want to do is to intimidate Air Peace and deny Nigeria the opportunity of its own airline to evacuate Nigerian citizens. The Nigerian carrier is using a very good aircraft, a Boeing 777 ER (extended range), which is very good for the operation,” Olowo, who is also the President of Sabre Network, West Africa said.


Nnaji insisted that the ministries of foreign affairs, aviation and indeed the COVID-19 task force must explore all available diplomatic channels to ensure that a Nigerian airline operates the evacuation flight out of Canada.


The Canadian government was alleged to have given preference to Ethiopian Airline for the evacuation of stranded Nigerians desiring to come home as against the Air Peace which the taskforce has already engaged for the evacuation. Air Peace is charging USD$1,134 per passenger as against the sum of $2,500 charged by the Ethiopian Airline.


The Aviation Committee Chairman observed that Canadian authorities had no reason to deny Air Peace landing right since available records had shown that the airline has the requite certification and approvals to operate internationally.


He further emphasised that findings have shown that Air Peace is an International Air Transport Association’s Safety Oversight Audit; (IOSA) certified which is a major international parameter for measuring airlines’ safety standards.


Former Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Benedict Adeyileka described the action of the Canada High Commission as political and urged the Federal Government to stand firm on its position that a Nigerian carrier should conduct the airlift.

“I don’t agree with what is happening. It is very political and Ethiopian Airlines is playing a dangerous game. Ethiopian Airlines has new aircraft but it was Boeing 767 it deployed to airlift Nigerians from the U.S. and some of the passengers complained, even as they paid higher fares to the airline. But Air Peace is deploying Boeing 777 for the evacuation.”


The outbreak of the Coronavirus disease triggered flight bans on some countries and led to airspace closure. This led to the government creating a window for national/flag carriers of some countries to embark on special or evacuation flights.


Such flights, The Nation learnt, were covered by approvals secured under the terms of bilateral air agreement Nigeria signed with the benefitting countries and their airlines.

While some foreign carriers enjoy multiple entry points into Nigeria, including the United Kingdom carrier – British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, Nigerian carriers designated on that route ought to enjoy such privilege of reciprocity according to the terms of the agreement between both countries.


In the last few years, a coalition has been agitating for the review of bilateral air treaties among Nigeria and other countries.


The coalition comprises industry groups; experts; members of the National Assembly; airlines’ association; industry think-tank groups called on the government to review the identified lapses in Nigeria’s air treaties.


The agitation for a review of the policy, which has reached a feverish pitch, is gaining ground in the face of lopsided bilateral air services agreement signed among Nigeria and other countries.


They listed the lopsided air treaties to include Multiple Entry Points Policy granted foreign carriers; Dual Designation Agreement and Open Skies Agreement. Multiple entry by foreign carriers into many airports, experts say, was not only depriving indigenous carriers potential passengers traffic on such routes, but denying them opportunities to sign interline deals to distribute such passengers.


Nigeria is the only country in Africa that grants unfettered access into its domestic market to foreign carriers. Despite its supposed market potential, Nigeria annually loses over $5.6 billion in capital flight to remittances by foreign carriers on sales of tickets by over 30 airlines that operate in her airspace.


Experts say such huge sums could be retained locally if the government puts in place protectionist policies for her carriers; as is the case by other countries.


Some of the measures, they say, the government could exploit are the balancing of lopsidedness in its bilateral air services agreements and designation of strong flag carriers to reciprocate flight operations on routes on which foreign carriers operate.


Continuous implementation of these agreements as they are currently, they say, will undermine the growth and development of the domestic transport market.


Chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Captain Nogie Meggison urged the government to reconsider granting permission for multiple entry points into Nigeria to foreign carriers, saying the arrangement is killing indigenous airlines.


Olowo said the different layers of air services agreements signed with foreign carriers were further eroding the capacity of indigenous carriers.


The Air Peace Chairman, Allen Onyema had, during his inaugural flight to Sharjah Dubai, called for the government’s support, stating that the airline may not thrive internationally if the government does not provide the support.


He said: “Let me make this clear, Air Peace will never be able to combat international aero-politics without the support of the government. We can only combat it if our government supports us. It is a shame that several Nigeria airlines have come here (Dubai) and they were pushed out either through unfair competition or some arm-twisting tactics. It is very unfair.