Nigerian airline operators and other stakeholders in the aviation industry have called on the federal government to review its bilateral air service agreements (BASAs) it signed with foreign countries to make them reciprocal as well as support the growth of the sector.
They urged the government to quickly stem the unfavourable condition in which 100 per cent of international flight services are handled by foreign carriers which stifles attempts by Nigerian airlines to reciprocate by flying to their own routes.
The stakeholders stated this at the 23rd Annual Conference and Award ceremony organised yesterday in Lagos by the League of Airports and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC).
President of Aviation Roundtable and Safety Initiative, Dr. Gabriel Olowo, said Nigeria needs stable legal and regulatory frameworks to grow the industry.
He said in 2015, the Aviation industry supported 254,500 jobs; contributed $940 million (N184.7 billion) to national GDP, noting that of this sum, 49 per cent (i.e. $462 million or N90.8 billion), was a direct output of the aviation sector (via airports, airlines and ground services) while 51 per cent constituted indirect jobs (via the supply chain).
The president also said there was additional job worth $464 million (N91.2 billion) derived from tourism, which raised the overall contribution to $1.4 billion (N275.9 billion).
Olowo said the Nigerian aviation market is however threatened daily by open skies for Africa, which Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), member countries are not honest in implementing, growing competition from other international African carriers, as international airlines focus on Africa and the present economic downturn.
He also decried the multiple entry points for foreign airlines, adding that it's a "disastrous and deliberate annihilation of the domestic market."
Olowo said a situation where some airlines fly to multiple airports in Nigeria without any Nigerian airline reciprocating is "a negative balance of trade.
"The essence of regulation is not only about safety. We have failed with economic regulations. This is a major weakness."
Also, the President of African Airlines Association, Nick Fadugba, said a situation where 90 per cent of the Nigerian market was controlled by non-Nigerian airline "is damaging to the economy."
According to him, "Nigeria needs to urgently review its BASA policy. An air route is like an oil block. You don't just give it out without something in return."
He said Nigeria deserves a national carrier with minority government shareholding, and it must be done transparently and skillfully with knowledgeable individuals.
On his part, Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, said the government has no other option but to support the Nigerian airlines to thrive and consequently protect jobs of many Nigerians in their employ.
Onyema said Nigeria is blessed with competent aviation personnel capable of transforming the country into an aviation hub without any exploitative foreign intervention.
He said the recent claim by Ethiopian Airlines that it was in talks with the federal government to establish an airline in Nigeria was an affront to the country.
Onyema said: "Nigerian airlines are very strong, and it is insulting for another African airline to come to our country to help us set up a national carrier. The government must trust our airlines because as I speak, other African countries are coming to Air Peace for assistance to set up their own national carriers, which we have agreed to assist them in a win-win situation. We must begin to resist such moves to belittle Nigerian carriers in order to continuously exploit the country."
He commended President Muhammadu Buhari for the support being given to Nigeria carriers especially with the removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) and granting of waivers on aircraft spares.
Onyema said there were investors willing to come into the sector but were being discouraged because of the policies currently in place, which were impeding business growth.
The conference was chaired by the Chairman and CEO of Medview Airline, Alhaji Muneer Bankole, who called for the support of domestic carriers by the government so that the industry would grow and create more jobs for the citizenry.