FG, airlines differ on implementation of African Open Skies

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By VICTOR NZE

Nigerian airline operators have declared their opposition to the implementation of the African Open Skies agreement, also known as the Yamoussoukro Declaration (YD) by the Federal Government, saying its implementation would compound their operations in an already challenged environment.

This is just as African governments, airlines and other stakeholders have been charged to adopt and implement the Yamoussoukro Declaration (YD) as a means to curb the excessive incursion of mega carriers from Europe and the Middle East especially with the carting away of over 80 per cent of the market from the continent.

These divergent positions were made known at a one-day sensitization workshop on Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) at the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Annex with theme: Implementation of SAATM: Its impact on the Nigerian Aviation Industry and National Economy” where industry regulators urged airlines and government to get onboard with the initiative or risk losing out on the long run.

Chairman Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Captain Noggie Meggison protested that the airline operators were not carried along by the African governments as they have went ahead to sign off on the declaration’s implementation without putting in place facilities to aid domestic airlines to compete.

Meggison wondered if the country was actually ready for the intra-African open skies and what the benefits are especially since the AON feels the playing field is not level and is skewed against Nigerian carriers with regards to how their neighbors tax and charge them.

“Nigerian airlines are at a disadvantage to other African Airlines that are largely government owned and heavily subsidised. For instance, South African Airways got on the average about $350m yearly in the past decade; Kenya Airways got about $600m in 2016, while RwandAir has never published its financial results for over a decade. Yet they will be competing against Nigerian airlines with private finance at 28percent

“Nigerian airlines are subjected to multiple charges, taxes, levies and fees. On the average, we pay about 37 different charges that come under the guise of statutory levies and taxes to sustain a staff strength of about 18,000 staff of the various government agencies compared to most African carriers who pay a fraction in their countries to support a staff strength of less than 500.

“The charges around Africa are not uniform across board. Government should ensure all the taxes are uniform before the implementation of the Open skies. For instance, when we fly to some African countries they charge us heavy landing fees in excess of $5000 – $6000. The same countries subsidize their local operators who pay $200 for the same service. But when they fly into Nigeria they pay a mere $500, the same as our local carriers.

“Airlines in Nigeria pay high prices for JetA1 due to high taxes compared to some other countries where VAT and taxes in JetA1 have been abolished to their local carriers and some of them have local production of subsidised fuel”.

“He pointed out that the threat of non-African investors abusing the open skies by setting up airlines since there is no way of ascertaining their shareholder structure and how to ascertain whether they are Africans, thereby diverting investment from Nigeria into neighbouring countries with the Nigerian market as the target.

“Countries like Ethiopia that is a strong pusher of the open skies idea makes 45 percent of its income from Nigeria, yet Ethiopian Airlines has not employed Nigerians as Air Crew or Ground Technical staff, and drains our beloved country of our scarce resources to contribute 32percent of Ethiopia’s national GDP at the expense of the Nigerian economy and our ailing youths.

“It should be put on record that monies made in Ethiopia can’t be taken out of the country. This is a sharp contrast with our case in Nigerian where everyone comes into the country to make free money and move them out of the country effortlessly leading to huge capital flight and putting stress on our foreign exchange reserve.

“It is also noteworthy to state at this juncture that Ethiopia has a Visa on Arrival policy for over 40 countries. But sadly, and with disrespect, Nigeria that contributes immensely to their GDP, is not included among them and South Africa is the only African country included on the list.

“57 percent of the 54 nations in Africa are yet to sign the open skies deal. Only 23 countries have committed themselves to open skies. The question therefore is why is Nigeria in a hurry to sign the Treaty when we are yet to put our domestic aviation industry in order first and empower our Nigerian carriers to compete effectively,”? Meggison asked.

Chief Executive of WestLink Airline, Captain Ibrahim Mshelia who commended the idea of open skies, however, stated that the airlines needed more preparation to be part of the /and benefit from the single air transport market.

However, on her part, Secretary General of the African Civil Aviation Council (AFCAC), Ms Iyabo Sosina, reacting to the position of the AON affirmed that had not changed in over 20years, even as she added that the issues raised were purely domestic had nothing to do the YD.

Sosina explained that protectionism of local market share is not the way forward and that Africa needed to open its airspace within the continent.

On benefits, she stated the YD will provide African airlines commercial freedom, wider networks, better aircraft utilization and create a larger market share for the continent and improved access to capital as well as more flexible commercial arrangements such as alliances, codeshares, franchises, interlining, mergers and acquisitions among African carriers.

“As we are aware, the better connected a country is by air, the greater its ability to unlock the economic and social benefits that air transport can deliver through mobility of people and goods to the traveling public, air carriers, airports, other allied service providers, the economy of member states and the continent as a whole.”

Earlier, Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, stated that Nigeria was set to review all the subsisting Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASAs) to be in consonance with the YD while the process of domesticating the decision is currently at advanced stage.

Sirika has said Nigeria being one of the pioneer signatories to the Yamoussoukro Declaration, has constituted a National implementation committee to review the Agreements.

According to him, the future presented both greater challenges and the greatest potentials as a continent striving to reposition itself by leveraging on the immense potentials that the full implementation of Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) through the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) offers.

”We must all therefore strive to commit to the full implementation and operationalization of SAATM, we need to leap forward so as to become an effective global competitor in aviation.

“In this regard, Nigeria being one of the pioneer Member States signatories to YD, one of the 23 states that have so far made solemn commitment to the implementation of SAATM by 2018 has constituted a National implementation committee to review all the subsisting Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASAs) to be in consonance with the YD while the process of domesticating the decision is currently at the advance stage,” said Sirika.

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