Chairman/CEO of Air Peace Airlines, Mr. Allen Onyema is urging the Federal Government to take urgent steps to protect local airlines from the unhealthy competitions posed by foreign carriers.
Onyema who alleged that some foreign airlines were out to frustrate Nigerian carriers from reciprocating the Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) signed between Nigeria and their countries said the government must help the nation’s domestic operators flying international routes to overcome the challenges of the ‘international aeropolitics’ unleashed on them from foreign airlines.
Onyema spoke with aviation journalists at an event held in Dubai to mark Air Peace inaugural flight into the United Arab Emirates.
My feeling after launching Air Peace Airlines first international flight into the UAE
First and foremost I thank God Almighty for what happened in Lagos with the large turnout of passengers for the inaugural flight. I thank Nigerians and I thank the media for their support. I also thank the Federal Government for its support too. Yes, we have started our international operations into Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but we are not just flying the Lagos-Sharjah – Dubai route alone, rather we are also flying from every destination where we operate in Nigeria into Sharjah and Dubai from the Lagos airport.
Now, let me explain this. We have an agreement with Air Arabia to act on their behalf as a middleman. So when we bring our passengers to Air Arabia (which operates as the major carrier in Sharjah airport), they will take them to the next destinations outside Sharjar. And it is a very seamless arrangement. So when we check you in at the Lagos airport in Nigeria, and for an example, if you are going to Jeddah, Mumbai, Medina, New Delhi and some other cities in India and of course even up to Moscow, we put you through Air Arabia once we get to Sharjah to take you to the next destination of your choice. What this means is that when you check in your luggage in Nigeria, you will get it at the next destination that your journey terminates. So, Air Peace is a one-stop shop for people travelling to some cities in Asia.
What other international destinations are you looking at?
Apart from Sharjah, you know the Federal Government of Nigeria has given us some six international destinations, Mumbai (in india), Guangzhou (in China), Atlanta and Houston (in the US), Heathrow (London) and Johannesburg (South Africa). We have started Sharjah (Dubai); the next destination that we plan to launch out to is Johannesburg. South Africa has given us the permit now to come in. They have audited Air Peace and found us okay to come into their country, and have given us the permit to come. We have already started setting up our structures in Johannesburg, South Africa. At the same time, we are looking for a partnering airline in Johannesburg so that when we drop passengers in Johannesburg our partnering airline will take them to Cape Town, Durban Port Elizabeth and others cities and even beyond South Africa, to a country like Lesotho and other neighbouring countries. Air Peace does not just want to fly Lagos to Johannesburg only, we want to be able to have these alliances with other airlines to be able to move Nigerians and the flying public seamlessly to destinations they will want to go once they land in South Africa. I believe that will help us to succeed in the long run. This is what Nigerian airlines were not doing before and it worked against them, so we are learning from that mistake. We are not going to start South Africa without having an agreement with partnering airline, which we are already very close to signing.
So we think we are going to start Johannesburg before August 30, 2019 or at most September by God’s grace. After Johannesburg, the next in line is India, but depending on what happens, we might even be starting India and South Africa the same time.
The Indian community in Nigeria is yearning for Air Peace to come in. They want a direct flight from Nigeria to India; so they are in the forefront and are the ones pushing for it.
So I thank President Muhammadu Buhari for giving us the support because they have written the Indian government urging them to give us every support we require. And we are looking forward to discussing with Air India their national carrier, which has a better spread to be able to spread for us within India. And their government also is urging us to partner with Air India.
In the near future and after we have succeeded in these first three international destinations (Sharjah, Johannesburg, and Mubai), we would look at flying to Guangzhou in China.
How we intend to combat international aeropolitics which competitors would deploy to drive us out of the market
Let me make this clear, Air Peace will not be able to combat international aeropolitics without the support of the Nigerian government. In fact, we can only combat it if our government is in support of us. It is a shame that several Nigeria airlines have come here (to Dubai) and they were pushed out either through unfair competition or some arm-twisting tactics; it is very unfair. The only plan we have is the plan of sustainability, to sustain our operations to the best of our abilities. That is as far as we can go because we gathered that as we launched our operations into Sharjah from Lagos, an airline from UAE wants to increase its flight frequency to Nigeria.We have BASA (Bilateral Air Service Agreement) with UAE. It is a country we love so much. We have BASA with them, Etihad is coming to Lagos from Abu Dhabi, Emirates is doing two frequencies into Lagos from Dubai, and one frequency to Abuja from Dubai. Now, this is the only time that a Nigerian airline is coming to the UEA, so we should be allowed to be. Now, if the Nigerian government allows that to happen, and an additional frequency is given to their airline, it will definitely count against a Nigerian carrier like Air Peace.
In other countries, the first obligation of the government is to protect its own. In the past, government officials will say Nigerian airlines don’t have the capacity (in terms of the requisite aircraft), but I am sure they cannot say that against Air Peace. When we started this airline we outlined our growth plan and we have religiously followed it. So when Air Peace was importing one Boeing 777 after another and bringing them in, and keeping them at Lagos international airport, we were criticized. But we knew what we were doing. We had to do so because if you wish to fly to China, for example, if you don’t have up to three long-haul aircraft, they won’t give you the permit. And I tell you that there are two more that are about to come because we really want to make Nigeria proud.
God willing before the end of this year, Air Peace will own six Boeing 777 aircraft. So, if they give the UAE carrier another frequency to Lagos, they will make it uncompetitive for us and that will force us to close this route and I will let Nigerians know why I closed the route. So, let us think of Nigeria first. Air Peace can only stay as long as we are protected by our government. I tell you the truth;, if we are not protected by the government in our international operations, we will not last, no matter what we try to do.
When you talk about support, what exactly do you want from the government as a local airline?
The Nigerian government must discourage unfair competition from the Gulf airlines. The American government did the same thing for their airlines. When the Gulf airlines brought unfair competition to the US, the airlines in America complained and the American government stepped in and stopped the advantages enjoyed by the Gulf airlines flying into the US. Let me state this clearly, multiple and proliferation of designations to foreign airlines into Nigeria is a great disservice to Nigeria and the local airlines. I don’t see why a foreign airline, when we are trying to make our own airlines grow, would be allowed to be doing local flights in Nigeria in the name of open skies.
I don’t see the reason why Turkish Airline for instance should land in Abuja, and move from Abuja to Port Harcourt, and Port Harcourt back to Abuja, and from Abuja back to their country. And this is permitted at a time when you have Nigerian airlines aspiring to come into the international scene? When you talk to some people, they will tell you it is good for competition; competing with who? Competing when it is denigrating your country’s economy? Is that what you call competition? They are killing the local airlines with multiple designation of routes to foreign airlines. We should stop giving multiple designations to foreign airlines. Let me tell you about America, even with your private jet, when you land in America, they will only allow you one more stop. For instance, if you land in New York and you want to go to Atlanta, they say okay, and they take it as you want to refuel. But the next one you want to fly to, they stop you and you must use their local airlines to move about to other states, and then when you come back, you can take your plane out of their country.
And that’s for private jets. They protect their own. But here we don’t. When you protect Nigerian airlines and they thrive, they create jobs. If people have jobs, maybe you won’t have Boko Haram, we won’t have militancy or kidnapping or others. The private sector only needs the enabling environment to create more jobs; that is what Air Peace is doing.
But if we don’t give opportunity for airlines in Nigeria to survive, they would continue complaining that airlines are not strong, and it hurts me. It hurts me when they say our airlines are not strong, that they are indebted. I am not indebted.
Air Peace is energising the Nigerian economy; Air Peace is acting as a catalyst, an airline doing about 110 flights daily, moving Nigerians around in the economy, and creating jobs for Nigerians.
You don’t want to know the kind of employment Air Peace has generated in the last four years. We have generated over 3,000 direct workers; over 9,000 ancillary jobs for Nigerians. Even the people doing catering for our airline, the other day I went there, I saw about 500 people working in the factory. That factory is filled up with Air Peace stuff. These people are employed because of Air Peace. They are employed because we are currently doing 110 flights daily, it is the reason that these 500 people were given jobs. When I visited that place, I shed tears, and my tears were borne out of the fact that some people in government agencies do not share in the same dream of supporting local investors as I share so that more jobs can be created for Nigerians.
You talked about load factor. You saw it for yourself on our inaugural flight.The aircraft is a 364-seater plane and we had about 316 passengers and about 30 plus were non-revenue passengers.
So we want the support of government that can enable us fly Nigerians to any destination that they want and the support that can allow us create more jobs.
There are many Nigerians out there that cannot even eat for a day; these are the people we are employing.
When you go to Air Peace counters, observe closely an you will see that some people there are like village people. And we said, are we going to leave those ones to die because of where they come from? They are not polished. So! have so many of them from the north; from the West, and from the East and South South. We are changing the dynamics. Some of these people, we found out that after two years they become better human beings. Those are the people we are fighting for.
Why are you turning down partnership deals with other African airline to fly to the US?
Yes, a major African airline approached us; there was negotiation for us to have professional partnership. In aviation all over the world there is always partnership but the issue is what kind of partnership it is. Now, about the interlining or agreement or partnership with another airline you talked about, it is true we were approached; it is true we agreed to have partnership, it is true that we even went to sign a MoU with the airline. That was MoU that will precede the real agreement. But when it got to the real agreement, Air Peace disagreed. We don’t want to be receiving royalties from any airline even though it will enrich our purse without us flying, even though it will makes us have more money without flying, it is going to make us richer but where does that leave the employees of Nigeria? Where does that leave numerous Nigerians that are unemployed roaming the streets when we are taking royalties from another airline flying in my name to that country and we will remain behind collecting money, as CEO I am not caring because I am collecting money?
So We wrote them and said we will not shortchange my country, that we will not accept it. We will not allow anything that will make another country to come here and be flying in the name of any airline and there is capital flight out of Nigeria, which is not generating jobs for Nigerians.
We rejected it and I have a letter to it. So if we want to do partnership, I want it to be a level playing partnership whereby we do it in such a way that it will benefit our country.
So for me to do that kind of partnership to the US, Air Peace must first of all have the landing permit in the US on its own as an airline. Then when we start flying to the US then you can now bring in another airline. But anything other than that is an aberration. Nigeria is too big for that kind of negotiation, it is too big for that kind of thing.
Anything that will not benefit Nigeria and the Nigerian unemployed masses, Air Peace will not accept it.