The Group Chief Executive officer (GCEO) of Ethiopian Airlines (ET), Tewolde Gebremariam, said lack of functional national carrier in Nigeria, and other African major air markets has been blamed for local airlines’ loss of international air traffic to their foreign counterparts.
Gebremariam who said this recently in Abuja, warned that the dominance may, in fact, worsen if Nigeria, among others, does not float a national carrier and make flag carriers competitive.
Gebremariam said in view of the situation ET has concluded plans to partner with Nigeria by setting up a strong airline.
The proposed airline, if the bid scales through, will operate as a private airline and not a national carrier.
The fresh proposal has, however, triggered reactions from stakeholders, with airline operators and travel agencies describing it as an insult on Nigerians.
Industry factsheet of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) revealed that the sector in 2018 recorded 14 million passenger traffic, out of which four million were international passengers.
The international passengers were ferried by 34 foreign carriers and three local operators, with the later accounting for less than 20 per cent of the four million international passengers.
Gebremariam said the imbalance is not peculiar to Nigeria, but continent-wide. He observed that Africa is where the new market is and the global aviation community knows it. But continuous dominance by non-African carriers poses a threat even to indigenous airlines.
He added that the failure of Nigeria to own a national carrier was a big threat to the airline industry in Africa, which he said was capable of displacing indigenous carriers on the continent.
“We have been discussing and exploring possibilities to establish or support a strong airline in Nigeria. I don’t mean that there is no strong airline in Nigeria, but we want an airline that can satisfy the demand of the domestic market, the regional market and international market.
“We are also in talks with Ghana government to establish Ghana Airways, but the biggest market, which is Nigeria, has been a challenge to be honest with you.
“We are discussing at all levels. We are also discussing with private carriers, local carriers in Nigeria and the government, but we are making it abundantly clear that we want to start a new one because starting from a clean slate or paper is advantageous as we won’t have any legacy or baggage to carry,” Gebremariam said.
Sources disclosed that the new bid is the second time of asking after similar proposal to the federal government in 2006 was turned down.
ET had then moved on to partner and establish the Lome-based, Asky Airline that is today known as the national airline of Togo. The airline operates no fewer than five frequencies into Nigeria daily.
Gebremariam noted that the Nigerian government was willing to partner with it on new airline for the country, hoping that very soon, both parties would have a strong base to start.
Stakeholders have, however, reacted to the offer differently, urging the government to be cautious.
The President, National Association of Travel Agencies of Nigeria (NANTA), Bernard Bankole, said he was unaware of any ET’s consultation with aviation stakeholders, even as such proposal is faulty in nature.
Bankole said there is nothing wrong with ET offering to help another country, but such proposition should be done appropriately and in a transparent manner.
“There are other operators in the industry aside government that also doubles as the regulator. Did you carry the other stakeholders along? You cannot just come to my house to say you want to help me when you don’t even understand my needs.
“Nigeria is not Togo or The Gambia that an airline can help. It is even an insult to us in the first place. Why didn’t ET go to South Africa to propose such help? Why didn’t they propose an interlining with our local airlines or a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility to show good faith? It is up to our government to ensure that all these forms of exploitation stopped, and even say no to people taking this country for granted,” Bankole said.
Apparently in agreement with Bankole, Chairman of Air Peace Airline, Allen Onyema, said it would be uncharitable of anyone to say there are no strong airlines in Nigeria, despite the toxic environment airlines operate.
Onyema said his airline, in less than five years acquired 27 aircraft with 20 already on the way, therefore it cannot be described as weak or in need of foreign support.
He added that the aviation authorities must be aware that many foreign airlines operating in Nigeria are already jittery with Air Peace’s foray into international market, and would stop at nothing to retain their dominance.
“It is, however, up to our government and Nigerians as a whole to support their own airlines to be competitive. Not only Air Peace, we also have Med-View, and Arik Air that should be supported and patronised. The thing is that aviation politics is very dirty, but we all must be ready to say no to their antics,” Onyema said.
Secretary General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said such proposal from ET amounts to “madness; where we are being called and pointedly so called fools, who know not how to manage our rights.”
“You gave a guest six executive rooms, who rightfully should have a room, and now he is asking for 20 more rooms that should belong to your children. What an insult from a very greedy guest.”