Players in the Nigerian aviation industry have expressed concern over the return of the Middle East carrier, Emirates, to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja from its base in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The airline is also set to increase its flight frequencies to Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos from one daily to twice a day, amounting to 14 frequencies per week.
The UAE-based carrier had suspended flights to Abuja in October 2016 in the wake of the Nigerian economic recession.
Speaking to our correspondent, General Secretary Olayinka Abioye of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) expressed worry over the dominance of foreign airlines in Nigerian routes.
Mr. Abioye explained that the designation of multiple routes to foreign carriers was affecting the progress of the local operators and therefore urged the government to change that policy in favor of Nigerian operators.
He said that rather than open all the major airports to international carriers, the government should have made the Lagos airport a hub where foreign carriers disembark their passengers while local airlines airlift them to their final destinations, but decried that the reverse was the case.
“My fear is the domination of foreign airlines even within the domestic routes. We are thinking that if the government is up and doing, Lagos will remain a hub while all passengers will disembark in Lagos and local airlines distribute them to various airports across the country.
“That would have been better for us. But, the operations of the local airlines are nothing to write home about with this policy of the government,” Mr. Abioye said.
John Ojikutu, the former Commandant of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, similarly decried that most of the foreign carriers have turned Nigeria into their domestic operations.
He explained that virtually all the foreign airlines coming into Nigeria operate into at least two points in Nigeria, stressing that Ethiopian Airlines alone flies into five points in Nigeria and numerous others.
Mr. Ojikutu decried that while Nigeria was busy opening up its airports to various foreign airlines, their counterparts elsewhere were restricting Nigerian carriers from flying into airports of their choice.
“Now, you have five international airports which foreign carriers are flying into. They have more or less taken over your domestic markets. If you have an Ethiopian Airlines that is flying into five of your airports, what has it done?
“In those days, when it landed your Enugu passengers in Lagos Airport, you now take them to Enugu. If it dropped your Kano, Kaduna and other cities’ passengers in Abuja, your own airline will go and pick them and drop them in their various cities. Now, what has it done? It has taken over your domestic markets. Those are the consequences and the danger in giving multiple landings to foreign airlines when you don’t have reciprocity,” he told SaharaReporters.
Olumide Ohunayo, the Director of Research at Zenith Travels, attributed the sordid situation to inconsistencies in the Nigerian government’s policies.
He bemoaned that in spite of the kick against the multiple entries policies by a majority of players in the sector, most state governments are enticing foreign carriers into their states.
Mr. Ohunayo expressed that with such a policy, the government was indirectly killing the domestic carriers and urged the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika to reverse the “unfriendly” policy.
“When you look at a country whereby you are not united in policy, industry and the growth of the sector, then, you begin to enter some of these little crises at the peril of the domestic carriers.
“Here we are saying that we don’t want multiple entries for foreign carriers, yet, some governors want every foreign carrier to operate into their states. With this, there is no way the domestic airlines will grow. We are killing our own carriers with our attitude.”
It would be recalled that Emirates had on Friday disclosed plans to return to the Abuja airport by December 15, adding that it would increase its weekly frequencies to Lagos from seven to 14.
The airline had suspended flight operations to Abuja in October 2016 while it reduced its weekly frequencies to Lagos by 50 percent in June 2016.
At least 11 foreign carriers are currently operating an additional 30 frequencies to Nigeria weekly and are operating into different airports across the country.
Airlines with extra frequencies into Nigeria are British Airways, seven; Virgin Atlantic, seven; Air France, seven; Ethiopian Airlines, 14; Kenya Airways, three; Lufthansa, seven; Egyptair, seven; Air Cote D’Ivoire, seven; Africa World Airlines, three; Turkish Airlines, three; and Asky Airlines with another three extra frequencies to the Abuja airport.