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Contrary to the general view that the open skies policy of the African Union (AU) as powered by the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) will deepen the operations of Nigerian domestic airlines and further provide opportunities for other service providers within Nigeria’s aviation ecosystem such as ground handlers, inflight service providers, fuel marketers and airport operators, indigenous experts have held a divergent view.
However, the ongoing review of the performance of the scheme by the Federal Government have been seen operators to be a stitch in time capable of saving nine if well handled.
According to the Chairman, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Nogie Meggison, “Nigerian domestic airlines were at a huge disadvantage to other African airlines largely powered by government backings and subsidies”.
He argued in an interview that leading African airlines are mainly those under the support and backings of their national governments like South African Airways, Kenyan Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air, RwandanAir and Air Maroc.
Meggison argued that “With the weight of taxation and its multiplicities, Nigerian carriers may find it hard to deepen their fleet in other to compete favourably with government-backed airlines in the continent.
For example, he revealed that South African Airways had gotten on the average, about $350m yearly in the past decade and Kenya Airways got about $600m in 2016; yet, they would be competing with Nigerian airlines with private finance at 28 per cent interest rate.
Continuing, he said “Nigeria is simply not ready to handle the level of unfair competition that the full implementation of SAATM will bring upon the country due to unfair treatment by the Federal Government over the years”.
Backing up AON’s boss stand, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace Airlines, Mr Allen Onyema, averred that SAATM as a fraud against Nigeria because it is structured from day one without level playing ground for all African aviation operators.
He said “The idea behind SAATM is noble. However, in the practical sense, it is a fraud against this country. Nigeria has the population and the majority of the Nigerian population is mobile. So, these countries are just making a feast out of Nigeria while at the same time making it difficult for Nigerian airlines to go into their countries”.
Considering the observations of AON and Air Peace boss, industry analysts who had been following the continental aviation politics have recommended for the Federal Government, strong engagement of AU Aviation policy makers to review the scheme so as to provide level playing ground for both government backed airlines and private sector driven operators.
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