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    Saturday, October 21, 2023

    Operators Fault New Six-Aircraft Fleet Rule for Startup Airlines

    Embraer Head of Customer Finance, EMEA, Basil Gygax (left); Chairman of United Nigeria Airline (UNA), Prof. Obiora Okonkwo; IATA Area Manager, West and Central Africa, Dr Samson Fatokun, and Chief Operating Officer of UNA, Mazi Osita Okonkwo, at the presentation of IATA’s certificate of membership to UNA, in Lagos, yesterday.

    For the umpteenth time, local airline operators have urged the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to reverse the six-aircraft fleet rule for both old and startup-scheduled carriers.

    The operators said besides the policy’s meddling with the business model of operators, it fails to account for limited infrastructure and manpower to service the added equipment.

    In a related development, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has presented United Nigeria Airline (UNA) its certificate of membership, with commendations on the airline’s feats in about two years of operation.

    Recall that the new Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulation Act 2022 had upped the minimum operating aircraft for start-up airlines to six from the initial two.

    Director-General of the CAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu, explained that the aim is to ensure that operators are more responsible in their operations, improve capacity and have enough equipment to service their schedule seamlessly.

    Chairman of UNA, Prof. Obiora Okonkwo, yesterday in Lagos, however, disagreed with the intendment of the new policy, which raises the bar of entry into the deregulated industry.

    Okonkwo, who doubles as the spokesperson of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) said an increase in fleet capacity without commensurate improvement in infrastructure would still not address the challenges of flight delays.

    He added that though flight delays and cancellations are regrettable, most of the causal factors are beyond the airline operators that are often blamed for chaotic services.

    While he commended the CAA for its safety oversight, “which has been very helpful to all,” Okonkwo said insisting on a six-aircraft entry or operating barrier would affect various business models of the operators.

    “Because I believe that the business model of an airline should be its prerogative. You may be surprised to know that there are Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) holders that are members of AON that own only a helicopter servicing the oil industry, and they are happy with that. It is their business model.

    “When you go to other parts of the world, there are operators that have two or three hoppers servicing one airport to another. They want to remain there, and they are not forced to grow. So, the issue is that the number of aircraft you have does not determine how fast you get to your destination. It does not solve the problem of delay. If there is VIP movement and you have 100 aircraft, all of them will remain on the ground. The problem of delay is often due to bad weather. There is nothing you can do about it.

    “Therefore, we think that as soon as all the relevant bodies are able to provide all the relevant infrastructure and create the right environment, this problem of delay will solve itself,” he said.

    Okonkwo said further that only two to three per cent of flight delays are traceable to the operators, “because every manager knows that you only make money when you sell tickets, they are utilised and your aircraft takes flight.”

    “We know from practical experience that the solution is not in the number of aircraft. Because if they think that we must have aircraft waiting at the airport to cover some passengers, that does not make any commercial sense. So, we believe that they should leave people to choose the number of aircraft they want to operate.

    “The minimum they have, which is three, is already good enough. I am not saying this because it affects UNA. No, we have already passed that threshold. It is a deregulated industry, and we want more people (investors) to come in and operate,” he said.

    Apparently in agreement with Obiora, the Managing Director of Top Brass Aviation, Roland Iyayi, challenged the regulators to look inwards to correct the unfriendly provision in the extant Act.

    Iyayi noted that the legacy carriers in the world today all started with less than six aircraft, most of which were leased.

    He said the new entry barrier would do the industry more harm than good. “There was a review, and it was imputed that (new) airlines will have six aircraft before they can have AOCs. I am standing here telling you that if you want to have a policy driven by the CAA on airline profitability, yet you are keeping me handicapped, then what is that?” Iyayi queried.

    IATA Area Manager, West and Central Africa, Dr. Samson Fatokun, while presenting the membership certificate to UNA, said the local carrier has achieved a great feat and surpassed expectations within a short period.

    Fatokun said by joining the IATA family, the domestic carrier is guaranteed full regulatory support, especially as it rolls out its regional and international operations soon.

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