Aviation industry stakeholders have rejected the plan by Ethiopian Airlines to set up a domestic carrier in Nigeria, using local investors.
Industry players who spoke to THISDAY described Ethiopian Airlines' plan as a strategy to sustain its existence amid challenges in the global air travel market at the expense of Nigeria, thus leading to the continued underdevelopment of Nigerian domestic carriers.
They also said the East African carrier was establishing airlines in many countries in Africa to take over the air traffic market in the continent, a strategy that would not allow countries in such partnership the ability to develop their aviati on sector to its full potential.
They said Nigeria being the most populous country in Africa and second country with the highest passenger traffic with well-educated and skilled manpower in all sectors of the economy, would not allow a foreign carrier to take over its domestic market.
They vowed to continue to mount pressure on the federal government to give more support to the sector so that strong airlines would grow in the country.
Ethiopian Airlines' Group Chief Executive Officer, Tewolde Gebremariam, in an interview in Abuja last Friday, had said the airline was considering establishing a domestic airline in Nigeria.
Gebremariam said the airline was in talks with the federal government, private sectors and airline operators in Nigeria to see how it could establish the airline.
He said the failure of Nigeria to own a major carrier was a big threat to the airline industry in Africa because that had given opportunity for international airlines to make foray into the continent, noting that their operations are capable of displacing indigenous carriers in the continent.
But reacting to that plan, the Chairman of Arik Air, Joseph Arumemi-Ikhide, said Ethiopian Airlines would not allow another airline to establish a domestic carrier in Ethiopia, recalling that an effort made by Arik Air some years ago to operate to Addis Ababa was allegedly frustrated by the airline.
Arumemi-Ikhide who spoke through his aide, Lanre Bamgboshe, said it was embarrassing for Ethiopian Airlines to say that Nigeria does not have a major carrier since the demise of Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL), adding that the East African carrier allegedly contributed to the inability of Nigeria to have major airlines.
He recalled that when Arik Air wanted to fly to Togo, the Togolese government said that Asky, which was established by Ethiopian Airlines in the West African country, would be allowed to grow and gain strength before Arik or any other carrier from the region would be allowed to operate into the country.
"When we wanted to go to Ethiopia, they did not give us clearance. The concerned authorities in Ethiopia kept on saying they did not see our letter. They stopped us from Lome. We don't have major carrier because Ethiopia is hindering the progress of Nigerian airlines," Arumemi-Ikhide said.
He added that what Nigerian airlines needed was government protection and support which governments in other countries give to their airlines.
According to him, although many African countries are signatories to the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), only Nigeria and Ghana keep the rules of the treaty; other countries bend it in a way it would protect their own airlines.
He said when Arik Air wanted to increase frequency to Angola, the Angolan government through its Civil Aviation Authority said that such increase in frequency must be approved by its own airline, TAAG Angola, adding that that is the way government supports its own.
Arumemi-Ikhide also said when Arik Air wanted to go to Brazil, the Brazilian government refused to approve the request because it said Gol, the country's major airline that would have reciprocated the flight right, was not ready.
He added that for Nigeria to have major carriers, considering the fact that the country has huge passenger traffic, government must be poised to protect its own and should support its own airlines in different ways, as other countries do.
Also reacting to the plan of Ethiopian Airlines, the CEO of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, said Ethiopian Airlines could contemplate this because it saw that it could push its way through the Nigerian government.
He called on the federal government to support domestic airlines as other nations do.
"We must come together and chart out what we want in the industry. My own idea of government support is that government should forgive the airlines that are heavily indebted to the aviation agencies so that they will start on a clean slate and with more strict oversight function and support, the airlines will grow," he said.
On his part, industry consultant and CEO of Belujane Konsult, Chris Aligbe, expressed shock that Ethiopian Airlines could contemplate setting up a domestic carrier in Nigeria.
"How can that happen? I don't know how that can happen because I know that it cannot happen in their country. It was even recently that the Ethiopian government allowed foreign investors to set up business in their country," Aligbe said.
He added that the plan would not be accepted by Nigeria.
"It is cabotage and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) advise against cabotage. I think, first, Nigeria's aviation industry should be extremely careful about this. Secondly, the Nigerian Consumer Protection Council and anti-competition law should look at it. Backdoor cabotage should not be allowed. They want to kill our domestic airlines. If we have a national carrier they cannot even think about it. Our government should be very careful," Aligbe added.
In his reaction, the President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bankole Bernard, said Ethiopian Airlines was merely flying a kite to test the waters, adding that it wanted to see how the Nigerian decision makers would react to it.
"Nigeria is the strongest market in Africa; the largest consumer of foreign products, so if they are allowed to come in they will dominate the market. Ethiopian Airlines is reacting to the future. If European airlines are allowed to take over the Nigerian market in the future, what will be their fate? You have to know that the Nigerian market is growing while the markets around the world are shrinking. There is no control in the Nigerian market. So Ethiopian Airlines is reacting to the vacuum that is in the industry," Bernard said.
Nigeria Loses $3bn Annually to Capital Flight, Says AON
Meanwhile, Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has said foreign airlines repatriated over $3 billion annually as capital flight from Nigeria.
The Executive Chairman of AON, Captain Nogie Meggison, said in an interview in Lagos yesterday that the huge capital flight had contributed to the weakening of the naira, loss of jobs in the sector and the inability of domestic carriers to grow.
He lauded the federal government and congratulated President Muhammadu Buhari and the Federal Ministry of Transport (Aviation) for moving the Nigerian aviation sector to the next level by assisting Air Peace to start international flights into Dubai on Friday, July 5, 2019.
AON urged the federal government to support Air Peace to succeed on the route in the face of stiff competition and aero politics, which the carrier would face in the near future.
"Air Peace has taken a bold step and they should be encouraged by Nigerians. The airline's maiden flight to Dubai means more jobs for our Nigerian youths; it means jobs for over 600 unemployed Nigerian pilots; it means hope for our various Aviation Training Academies at College of Aviation technology (NCAT), Zaria, International Aviation College, Ilorin and the International Helicopter Flying School, Enugu," he stated.