Despite inconsistent government policies coupled with bureaucratic bottlenecks hindering the smooth operations of indigenous airlines, West Africa’s largest carrier, Air Peace, recently recorded another breakthrough.
This time it is not the expansion of its fleets as has been the case, rather the private carrier made a remarkable entry into the European air space after securing Foreign Carrier Operator Permit, FCOP, to fly to London.
This permit allows airlines from other regions to fly to Europe and Third Country Operator Permit (TCO-UK) that enables airlines to operate to UK.
The airline, founded in 2013 will now operate direct flights with its luxury wide-body Boeing 777 aircraft to these destinations.
While commenting on the milestone, Air Peace Chairman, Allen Onyema, stated that the airline has secured Foreign Carrier Operator Permit, FCOP, which allows airlines from other regions to fly to Europe and Third Country Operator Permit (TCO-UK) that enables airlines to operate to UK.
He said: “We obtained these permits that qualify us to fly to UK. Before you obtain these approvals, they will audit you very well. You have to go through stringent audit, which we passed. We obtained the permit last week.”
The airline also expanded its Asian footprints with the commencement of direct scheduled commercial flights into Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The inaugural flight, operated with one of the airline’s B777s, was airborne from Kano last Tuesday, with 231 passengers.
Air Peace, before now, had been operating charter flights to Saudi Arabia, airlifting Muslim pilgrims. But this inaugural flight officially kicked off its scheduled operations into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Onyema, described the entry into Jeddah as ‘another milestone recorded in the annals of Nigeria’s aviation history’, stating that Jeddah is the airline’s sixth international destination in just nine years of launching commercial flight operations.
He noted that with the entry into Jeddah, Air Peace has increased its presence on the Asian continent.
Our encounters – Onyema
Meanwhile, it would be recalled that in the last three years, the airline has been striving to commence scheduled operations through the route but has been hindered by several challenges ranging from infrastructural gaps, government policies, landing permits among others.
For instance, during the evacuation flights at the peak of the covid pandemic, Air Peace struggled to get a landing permit into Heathrow airport to help Nigerians.
However, after government intervention, the airline got the permit and tickets were sold out within two hours for a 364-seater aircraft with its Boeing triple seven, B777.
In response to the development, Onyema noted that the reason for the immediate sales was a function of pricing dynamics.
According to him, “It is because Air Peace understood the plight of Nigerians and fixed its fare at less than N400, 000, while another airline coming from there was taking about two thousand pounds from Nigeria.
“We charged Nigerians less than six hundred dollars to and fro. We went there and they tried to discourage us. They sent dogs after our aircraft to sniff at our pilots and at the end of the day, they stopped Air Peace from doing its walk-around on its aircraft, something that violates safety.
“The rule of aviation is that when you take off and your aircraft leaves the ground for just two minutes if that plane wants to land, before that plane can take off again, it must do a walk around because anything could have hit the plane in transit.
“We flew six hours into London but we were not allowed to go round our aircraft to know if it has been compromised. Thankfully, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, petitioned the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) over that.”
In reaction to this, Human right activist, Femi Falana, SAN, called for the immediate suspension of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic flight operations into Nigeria.
He stated that the suspension should be lifted only when Air Peace is allowed to also fly on the Lagos-London route in accordance with the provisions of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA, signed by Nigeria and United Kingdom.
He said: “Air Peace has proven it has the capacity to operate on international routes. The airline currently flies to China, Israel, India and South Africa among others using modern aircraft comparable to those of its foreign competitors.
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“If Air Peace is not allowed to fly to London, then British Airways and Virgin Atlantic should be stopped from flying to Nigeria. Air Peace has a fleet of modern long-haul and regional aircraft that can match those of other foreign airlines operating into Nigeria.”
Airline to struggle for relevance — Experts
Meanwhile, stakeholders have commended the airline on its milestone, stressing that Air Peace may struggle if government does not lend support.
According to a former military Commandant at the MMA, Capt. John Ojikutu, this is a good development for Air Peace. Securing this route as a private airline is never easy.
He said: “Air Peace flying to that route without government support will not provide for them the expected benefits. They will pay a lot of money as a private airline on that route.
“It’s sad that we have for too long not taken advantage of the location of Nigeria to be a middle hub for East and South Africa to the US and to some extent, the UK.
“Recently, South Africa Airways and Rwanda Air started planning flights to the US through some west Africa countries. Because we are not taking these advantage, other countries are taking them away from us. Has anyone in the administration of our government and the Agencies been sincere with the reasons for multiple destinations for the foreign airlines in Nigeria?
“All these marketing gaps in our commercial aviation are what the foreign airlines are tapping from us. These are caused by those in the administration of our government and the management of the agencies and I call it Institutional Corruption.
“Many continental and regional airlines are going to come so long we are what we are everyone for his pocket, institutional corruption.”
Also, the Chairman, West Link Airlines, Capt. Ibrahim Mshelia, stated that “Nigeria airlines have not been able to get connectivity to that route for a while, and Air Peace securing that route is an achievement.
“We have not been respected as regards to BASA reciprocity. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic get 21 frequencies to Nigeria, and we had none.
“The means that our governments have thrown us under the bus all these while.
“I believe that two things were responsible for the delay in reciprocity. In the case of Air Peace it is possible that they did not get the federal government support to fly that route.
“In Nigeria, we are not growing with the rest of the world. Those in government are not doing the right things. Our problems are too many and we’re not working on getting things right.”
FG yet to pay Air Peace $10m debt
While speaking on other challenges, Onyema lamented that Nigerian airlines cannot obtain dollars even from the CBN, disclosing that Air Peace paid CBN naira to obtain about $14 million dollars for the maintenance of its 15 aircraft at maintenance facilities overseas but that money has not been made available to the airline since the past six months.
He also recalled that the federal government owed Air Peace about $10 million and also owed other Nigerian carriers that operated the Hajj service, noting that these debts impair the operations of the airline and others.
Onyema therefore urged CBN to provide the foreign exchange so that Air Peace could bring back its aircraft that were ferried overseas for maintenance.
“We ferried 15 of our aircraft for maintenance overseas. We needed dollars to pay for the maintenance; so, we paid naira to CBN, which is equivalent of $14 million needed to pay and bring the aircraft back to Nigeria after the checks. We have not received this money. This is money we borrowed at 26 per cent interest rate but six months have passed and we are yet to get this money from CBN. The total debts we are expected to be paid to us from the CBN is $24 million. This is why we said that what we need is conducive environment and Nigerian airlines will blossom. If these monies are made available to us and other airlines, Nigerian carriers will do very well. Nigerian airlines have capacity, what we need is support from our government,” Onyema said.
Nigeria Airlines have capacity
Onyema further stated that contrary to what many in the industry think; Nigerian airlines have capacity, noting that for the first time in years Nigerian airlines are ordering brand new aircraft from the manufacturers.
He stated that Air Peace made firm order of 33 aircraft and purchase right of 17 aircraft, which brings the airline’s total order to 50.
“These include 15 Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 10, firm order of 13 Embraer E195-E2 and purchase right of 17 of the same aircraft type and firm order of five Embraer E175 and delivery of these aircraft would start early next year in addition to the five brand new Embraer E195-E2 already delivered.
“The jobs one small Nigerian airline provides are more than the jobs provided by all foreign airlines in Nigeria, so the federal government should deem it very important supporting Nigerian airlines,” he said.