• Latest News

    Saturday, April 13, 2024

    Nigerian Airlines Must Be United Against Foreign Carriers, Says Air Peace Chairman

    Nigerian indigenous carrier Air Peace recently broke the exclusivity hitherto enjoyed by foreign airlines on the London route with its inaugural flight to London Gatwick Airport on March 30, 2024. The airline has received glowing accolades for reciprocating the lopsided Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) between Nigeria and the United Kingdom. Expectedly, the participation of the local carrier on the route has been seen as disruptive by foreign airlines which have slashed their prices to stay competitive. Air Peace Chairman, Allen Onyema, believed that the foreign carriers were allegedly conspiring to send his airline out of the route using the tool of underpricing. He thought that the Federal Government and other local airlines must be fully involved in the Lagos-London route to defeat the aeropolitics of foreign carriers. The airline chief shared his incipient but piercing perspectives with Kayode Oyero  on Channels Television’s Politics Today during the week.

    Enjoy the excerpts of the interview:

    How has the experience been?

    I have to say congratulations to Nigeria, congratulations to the government of the day and all well-meaning people of Nigeria this country has been fleeced over time. I’m a student of Martin Luther King who said that unless you bend no one rides you. We’ve bent for them for so many years. This is the time for everybody to stand right so nobody will ride you. What we did in the last three weeks and what is happening now is an eye-opener to everyone that nobody can come and make your bed for you; we have to make that bed ourselves, and however, you make it so shall you lie on it. A situation where we allow this to happen for over 20 years now or so is unacceptable.

    When you say ‘Congratulations to Nigeria and Nigerians and to the government’. What do you mean? What benefit does it have for Nigeria and Nigerians?

    It’s no longer Air Peace; Air Peace belongs to over 220 million Nigerians. What Air Peace did two weeks ago is benefiting the entire population of Nigeria, benefiting the government of the day, and benefiting the people of the day. For example, people were paying 15 to 17 million naira for a Business Class ticket to go to the UK for a six-hour flight, paying about six million naira for premium economy for a six-hour flight before. It’s not unacceptable. Then you go over to Ghana, you go over to Lome, you fly cheaper, half more than half the price from Nigeria. You go from South Africa to the UK, you pay less. Now, the direct airlines were taking 17 million naira for business class, and six million naira for an economy seat. For those who are going indirectly, when you start going to Qatar, an eight-hour flight, you suffer some three-hour delay over there on a layover, then you go to do another eight hours to London just because you want to cut the cost. You go to Ethiopia, some five hours, you stay there for about three hours, you do another six hours or thereabout to the UK. You go to Morocco, you go to Egypt. Nigerians had even started going to South Africa, six hours down the line then you come and fly over Nigeria, nine hours. They were suffering, they were paying through their noses. Even the indirect airlines also cashed in on this because they were offering Business Class for eight million naira and Nigerians were like: ‘Oh, this one is cheaper’. They (foreign airlines) were offering economy for say four million or three million naira. Then Air Peace came on board. If not for patriotism and that nationalistic instinct in Air Peace, the principles of Air Peace, we could have done 10 million naira for Business Class and Nigerians would clap that Air Peace is cheaper. We could have cashed in on it.

    How much do you charge for Business Class?

    Four million naira.

    How much do you charge for First Class?


    And premium economy?

    Starting from N1.2 million. So, we brought it down. Remember the foreign airlines told you that it was because of the dollar, the exchange rate that they were selling so much. Apart from our people paying through their noses, another thing this did to the economy, this dollar problem was not Tinubu’s creation. I said it before now and I’ve proved it to the entire world, people were blaming President Bola Tinubu. It was a play of both internal and external conspiracies. These airlines were taking into the market a lot of money, chasing the dollar every day, buying at any amount.

    But they are always complaining that their money are trapped.

    It is no longer CBN now, they (foreign airlines) take their money from their commercial banks, go out there in the market buying the dollar at any rate and that was putting a strain on the naira. Now, Air Peace did this, crashing the price from 17 million to 5 million naira, dollar did not change. They were using the dollar as a reason for whatever they were doing to us, the dollar didn’t change overnight and now they are underpricing, advertising $350 just to frustrate Air Peace.

    That’s why I said ‘Congratulations to Nigerians!’ You don’t have to sell your house to fly to the UK anymore now that the dollar has come crashing. We’ve proved that if only we are patriotic in this country we can all do it. It’s not for the government alone to do, play your part. That’s why I’m saying ‘Congratulations Nigerians’ because this country we’ve achieved something collectively as Nigerians and the government has been supportive.

    Some experts have said you should not rejoice yet because we’ve seen other Nigerian-owned airlines who have gone through this route and were frustrated out of the market. The same strategy is being employed right now by some of the foreign airlines who have dropped their price so that people will now leave Air Peace and go to them. Are you aware of those tactics?

    Of course, it’s a very devilish conspiracy. All of a sudden airlines are underpricing, below the cost of one month, not up to a month. One other airline was advertising $100, another one $350. If you fill-up the entire aircraft and carry people on the wings, it’s not even enough to buy your fuel. Why are they doing that? Their governments are supporting them because Nigeria has been a cash cow for everybody.

    Their governments are supporting them to do this and take Air Peace out. The idea is to take Air Peace out and the moment they succeed in taking Air Peace out, Nigerians will pay 20 times over once again. It’s going to happen, if God forbid, they’re able to take Air Peace out because what is happening now is scary. Even in Gatwick, are we given 100% cooperation? On the first day, on the inaugural flight out of London, 24 hours to the time, they moved us to another check-in area other than the place assigned to us. The place they gave us the carousel was not working so when you check in people you need to manually carry the load to go 50 meters away to go drop it somewhere else just to delay Air Peace. No other airline faces that.

    When we got to Gatwick, they said no slot was available. When we pushed, they gave us scattered slots, today 3 pm. Tomorrow, 2 am. Who does that? So Festus Keyamo had to wade in, went to London with us and had to warn them. ’If you continue these stupid, foolish acts, the Government of Nigeria will surely retaliate’.

    So the Government of Nigeria solidly backs Air Peace?

    Of course, the Government of Nigeria is behind Air Peace but the government has to do more now that is evident, maybe an unofficial statement, because when you charge $350 per flight. I’ve said it before, fill up every seat, put passengers on the wings of the aircraft, you can never fuel that particular plane.

    One in a rare time we’ve seen the government supporting a private interest for the sake of Nigerians.

    Yeah, Bayo Onanuga, the other days told Festus Keyamo that if anybody tries to disrupt Air Peace operations from within, sack immediately. That gave me hope. So, the Government of President Bola Tinubu is behind. After the Sallah celebrations, I’ll be meeting with the government. It’s not just Air Peace alone, anything we do now is for the entire Nigerian aviation industry to succeed. If they take out Air Peace prematurely, this country will pay dearly for it, 10 times, billions will be lost. There will be another heavy strain on the naira. Remember: it’s only yours that can save. I invite other Nigerian airlines to join the fray; let them come, let all of us do international operations. Yes, international aeropolitics is very dirty but somebody has to pay the price.

    People say the London route is the most lucrative. No, it is not the most lucrative route; it has been the most lucrative because there was no competition and there was this unspoken alliance amongst airlines coming to Nigeria to charge any amount so it became very lucrative for them. Now that Air Peace has entered the fray, it is no longer lucrative for Air Peace, it is no longer lucrative for them because the fares have been so drastically brought down and their governments are supporting them to be able to do what they are doing now, targeted at taking Air Peace out of the market. So, we need our government to come out and see what they can do to support us. If it is the reduction of charges that we pay, the government should do it, their people are supporting them. We cannot be left to go in all alone.

    I know why they are all scared of Air Peace. Air Peace is in the UK, bonafide, we passed the TCO (Third Country Operators) audit so we are not just there doing wet lease, we are there bonafide as of right, we were audited, we passed their TCO audit which is very stringent, it’s all about safety. We passed it so we got that TCO approval which most airlines from Nigeria in the past never got so they depended on wet leases. And when you depend on wet lease, whenever they wake up and want to deal with you, they use the lessor to take you out. The cost of wet leasing is so high, that’s the reason Festus Keyamo went to Airbus the other time to see if Nigerian airlines could start getting leased aircraft. All these Airlines all over the world, don’t own their planes, give it to Nigerian airlines, we own our planes. I own all the over 34 aeroplanes I have bought, 100%. It’s not supposed to be so. All these big airlines you see all over the world, don’t own those aircraft. What they do is that they make orders from Boeing, Airbus or Embraer then a lessor, a financier comes in, pays for it and leases it to them, maybe for 17 years or 15 years, and they will be paying lease rentals back to them. At the end of the lease period, the lessor will take the aircraft back and maybe sell or renew the lease. So, it is very easy for them to build capacity but over here we have to cough out money just like you want to buy a house. The banking system in this country should come up and do real banking, not make money for the owners; they should come out and do real banking. When you go to Canada the banking has its Key Performance Indicators; it’s not about how many big men you attract to the bank or about how much you can bring into the bank. It’s about how many people you have been able to give loans to at the end of the year. They make society so easy for everybody. It’s different in my country.

    What do you think this government needs to do in terms of airline and aviation infrastructure that will help the sector thrive?

    The banking system and the financial world must be ready to develop this infrastructure. The present infrastructure is debilitating and discouraging but the most important aspect is this leasing that he (Festus Keyamo) went to France to look for. If he can succeed in getting Nigerian airlines to be able to access dry lease as against wet lease that will help the industry so much.

    What is your biggest fear about what you have put your hands on?

    Well, if it comes to the UK route, I know it’s not child’s play; it’s not easy to take food away from somebody and you expect the person to lie on the ground for you. They are already fighting back. We’ve always landed in the UK before the time. But what happens out of the UK? We’ve not left the UK on time because of operational issues, because we are being deliberately frustrated, different way they will frustrate you in all ways.

    Do you think government-to-government bilateral talks can resolve this?

    Of course, we are compiling a whole dossier of what has happened in the last weeks for the Federal Government of Nigeria to step in. They can use the ground handlers, they can even use the catering people. Sometimes, we will finish boarding and will be looking for ground handlers everywhere and when they come, no reason will be given. So, the government needs to know this.

    • Blogger Comments
    • Facebook Comments


    Item Reviewed: Nigerian Airlines Must Be United Against Foreign Carriers, Says Air Peace Chairman Rating: 5 Reviewed By: BrandIconImage
    Scroll to Top