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    Saturday, November 25, 2023

    Saudi, Air Peace Saga: It’s Aeropolitics, Experts Insist

    At the backdrop of the on-going Federal Government’s interventions and investigations into the entry rejection slammed on Nigerian passengers aboard Air Peace by Saudi Arabia some aviation experts have insisted that the action of the Saudi authorities was what they tagged ‘aeropolitics’.

    This comes despite the claim by Saudi authorities that the affected passengers procured their visas using wrong information.

    Recall that barely two weeks after the airline commenced direct flight from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia, the country’s authorities, cancelled the visa of all 264 passengers airlifted by Nigeria’s major carrier on arrival at Jeddah from Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano. When the Nigerian embassy waded in, the Saudi authorities reduced the number of passengers that would be rejected to 170 from 264.

    The Saudi authorities said the travellers who were deported did not meet the entry conditions and requirements. Their embassy in Lagos noted that the passengers submitted incorrect information to obtain categories of visas they did not qualify for.

    Experts react

    However, in a chat with Vanguard, aviation analyst, Olumide Ohunayo, said that Air Peace was a victim of aeropolitics.

    He stated: “This is because the airline  had over 280 passengers on the next flight but could only lift about 40 passengers, yet this visa category were used by passengers on other airlines going to Jeddah but those on Air Peace were slammed.”

    Also, Chairman of West Link Airlines, Capt. Ibrahim Mshelia, said: “There are aero politics in this development.

    “I know this may be my source of bias if you like. For me, there are always two sides to every argument and the true position I take is my side and which eventually is the truth on this matter.”

    Meanwhile, a former military commandant at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Group Capt. John Ojikutu, said: “Our international airlines need to develop Advance Pre-Passenger Information Screening System, APPISS, for the profiling of international passengers at the checking counter.

    “However, in the case of the Air Peace and Saudi Arabia visa issues, the foreign ministry must take this matter of visa up with the Saudi Arabia Authority while the ministry of aviation should begin to think of the designation of Nigerian airlines as Flag Carriers with the necessary government support as would be for a National Carrier.

    “Still, Air Peace and others to be designated Flag Carriers must find a way of using the APPIS to profile international passengers.

    “This is an online automated system that allows you to verify the passengers’ visa with the countries of destination embassies before he gets checked in on the airlines checking counter. Most of the foreign airlines especially the European Airlines, apply this system which was developed immediately after the 9/11.”

    Our ordeal – Air Peace boss

    Air Peace Chairman, Allen Onyema, has expressed dismay over the ordeal faced by Nigerians who were deported from Saudi Arabia at the point of entry last week.

    Onyema stated that the airline did not breach any rule of engagement in conveying the passengers to Saudi Arabia, rather, we got approval and clearance of every procedure required of it before taking off from Nigeria.

    He said: “The visas were valid as of the time the airline was taking off, we got approval to fly the passengers through the Advanced Passenger Information System.

    ”The Nigerian government said it’s carrying out an investigation. So let’s allow the investigation to take place.

    ”I don’t want to dwell on this. I want decorum and good diplomacy to prevail in this whole thing. I want justice and fairness, that’s all.”

    He further stated that what occurred was really unusual because “we followed every protocol. We are not in the business of issuing visas as an airline. Ours is to verify visas, get clearance through the Advanced Passengers Information System (APIS) and we did all that.

    ”But I also want to say something here, countries reserve the right to allow or deny anyone entry into its territory even after giving a visa.

    ”In this case, the Saudi Arabian embassy is not denying that the passengers had visas as of the time of leaving Nigeria. However, they are saying that they discovered that the passengers gave incorrect information in obtaining the visas,” he said.  ”By this information, the embassy is inadvertently exonerating Air Peace.”  ”Air Peace had no problems with the Saudi government. We are used to the Saudi air space. In fact, the Saudis didn’t waste any time to give us all necessary permits to operate directly to the Kingdom.

    “Saudi authorities have been very cooperative with air peace and they like the way we performed successfully during the Hajj season.”

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