Local airline operators have faulted the Federal Government’s grant of additional frequency to Emirates Airlines to bring its daily flights out of Nigeria to four.
Emirates’ 28 weekly flights against Air Peace’s three skew the balance of trade in favour of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and against Nigeria, especially as local airlines should be protected by their home government.
Though frequency giveaway allows more options to the flying public, it also emboldens stronger airlines like Emirates to out-muscle their local competitors with unfair pricing that has allegedly begun.
Nigeria’s sole flag carrier on the international front, Air Peace, about three weeks ago opened the Lagos-Dubai via Sharjah route. Emirates, apparently citing competition on the route it has dominated for years, bid for an additional frequency to bring daily flights out of Abuja to two, and equal its two daily flights out of Lagos.
The airline also halved its ticket fares to about N220,000 to match Air Peace’s N180, 000.
Stakeholders, under the aegis of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), said it will be unfair for Emirates to be allowed such increase barely two weeks after Air Peace’s launch to Sharjah.
Chairman of the AON, Capt. Nogie Meggison said the move effectively placed the indigenous carriers at “a massive disadvantage, including the Nigerian economy and the jobs of our youths and huge capital flight.”
AON earlier appealed to the government to stand tall to international aeropolitics to support Air Peace, otherwise, it will end up the same way of Bellview, Arik Air, and Med-View that lost out due to “wild and aggressive field of international aero politics.”
Meggison observed that besides Emirates’ four daily flights, its sister airline, Etihad, also operates daily flights out of Lagos.
“This translates to five flights daily and a total of 150 flights per month from UAE; as against a Nigerian Carrier that only just started operating three flights weekly. This is a colossal plundering of the Nigerian economy through the capital flight and a huge loss of Nigerian jobs.
It is unfair to unleash a band of ravenous and voracious wolves against a harmless and privately-funded puppy that is still trying to find its feet and doing all it can to survive, create economic impact and jobs for our youths. It is the role of government, therefore, to protect our very own Nigerian carriers and preserve the Nigerian economy and the jobs of our unemployed youths.
“The additional double daily flights given to Emirates, a highly subsidised airline is not necessary at this time, as statistics show that half of the flights out of Abuja are half-empty, and the fact that the Emirati airlines already have an unfair trade advantage of 150 flights monthly out of Nigeria; as against 12 monthly flights for Nigerian airlines that should have been allowed to stabilise and grow its operations into the UAE to a level where the airline can compete favourably on the route,” Meggison said.
Three major carriers in the United States — United, American, and Delta — recently accused Emirati airlines of “undercutting U.S. carriers through below-market prices” on the Middle East routes.
In 2017, the economic policy of the Trump administration to protect the American economy, jobs and the airlines forced the Emirati airlines to reduce their flights by about 30 percent.
Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, said the move by the American government was to protect the local industry and jobs, and Nigeria should take a cue.
Onyema said: “If I’m going to Dubai/Sharjah and you increase the frequencies of Emirates or any other airline on that route, believe me, that is a recipe for disaster for the Nigerian airline. And when that Nigerian airline leaves, these foreign carriers immediately go back to their old fares that they had crashed just to force us out.
“Nigerians should appreciate Air Peace on the Dubai route. Just within seven days, fares have crashed. This is money being saved for the Nigerian economy. Air Peace started with N180,000. A major airline doing direct flight has come down to N220,000 from the rooftop of about N500,000. The extra N300,000 is Nigeria’s money that would have left this country,” he said.
However, Emirates airline has explained that the additional frequency on Abuja route is temporary, to accommodate additional demand from Hajj pilgrims.
They said contrary to claims, the additional operation would be between July 27 and August 22, to support the Hajj journey to the Holy City of Mecca, after which normal schedule would resume.
The new Chairman, House of Reps’ Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji, said findings had shown that most of the foreign carriers operating into the country have continued to exploit Nigerians with very exorbitant fares since the exit of Nigeria Airways.
Nnaji said in Lagos that the National Assembly would through legislation and every possible means seek to stem the tide.