Don’t Use Slots To Give Unfair Commercial Advantages To Foreign carriers Over Nigerian Airlines–Capt. Nuhu

* Capt. Musa Nuhu




Recently, the Director General of NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu in an interview with  Aviation Correspondents spokes on various issues in the aviation industry including the Emirates-Air Peace frequency crisis that snowballed into Nigeria-UAE Diplomatic row.  He also spoke on the dearth of inspectors at NCAA and how the agency is making efforts to address the matter. Excerpt.

Sir, can you tell us what  brought about the Emirates -Air Peace  frequency issue  that later became a diplomatic  matter between  Nigeria and UAE crisis

Under the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) pre-COVID-19, Emirates was operating two flights daily to Lagos, making 14 and another daily flight to Abuja, making it a total 21 flights weekly and under the same BASA arrangement, Etihad was making seven flights weekly to Nigeria, making UAE with 28 weekly flights into Nigeria, but unfortunately, because of the capacity of Nigerian airlines, only one Nigeria carrier out of the designated airlines was operating to UAE and was actually operating to Sharjah because it had difficulties getting slots and other things to operate into Dubai.

But, Sharjah is one of the emirates covered on the BASA.

Air Peace has been operating to Sharjah since 2018 or 2019 and it was doing three flights weekly. So, when COVID-19 came, all flights stopped and operations resumed a few months later and was also disrupted due to some protocols by the UAE, which the Nigerian Government felt was discriminatory and Emirates was stopped from operating into Nigeria.

It took negotiations for the flights to be resumed and after nine months, flights between the two countries resumed. So, Emirates sent a winter schedule, which was agreed pre-COVID 19; 14 to Lagos and seven to Abuja weekly. Air Peace went to Sharjah and wanted to resume only three flights weekly because of their capacity, but initially, the UAE GCAA claimed that Air Peace has been given two slots and kept telling us stories. After about a few days, they came out to give only one slot for Air Peace into Sharjah and claimed inadequate slots for their action. They said they cannot keep three slots for Air Peace, which has stopped flying into their country.

Meanwhile, Emirates has stopped flying into Nigeria, yet we still gave them the 21 slots they requested for and here we are, we are asking for three and they are giving us stories.

When you reported UAE to the Aviation Minister, Senator Hadi Sirika. What was the Minister’s reaction?

 I reported to the minister and the minister said if they are willing to give us just one slot, we should give them only one slot, which was exactly what we did. That is justice. In UAE, we have the GCAA and each of the Emirates has its own CAA. Later, the Dubai CAA wrote to Air Peace and told the airline that it has seven slots reserved for it at Dubai Airport. The CEO of Air Peace, Mr. Allen Onyema, showed the letter to the Minister and we said Air Peace is designated outside Nigeria based on the flight rules and Emirates is designated by the UAE Government under the BASA arrangement and we concluded that it is what we are going to do. We told them to write to Nigeria officially.

It is important to have all these officially. The Nigerian Government is ready to allow the operations start through the proper diplomatic channel. The Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs has written to the Foreign Affairs of UAE to confirm officially if the letter was from them. Then, we will see where we go from there. It is important to have this fairness, transparent and equity.

The government needs to protect Nigerian businesses and Air Peace is one of the designated carriers from Nigeria. If we allow other airlines to come and take all the juicy slots, we are shooting ourselves in the leg.

Has Emirates airlines stopped operating into Lagos?

 They have said Air Peace can operate to UAE, but we want it to be made available to us officially. Once this is done, their airline can resume operations as they requested.

When will Nigeria have a slot system that will address all these challenges?

Believe me, we are working on that and it is going to be tit-for-tat. Let me use an example and I am not saying that is what we are going to do, but just as an example. If a Nigerian airline is going to United Kingdom and they insist Nigerian airline must buy slots, then any British Airlines that is coming into Nigeria will need to pay for slots too. It is tit-for-tat. If you tell me a particular airline from Nigeria cannot go to Heathrow because you cannot get slots, then, their airline too cannot come into Lagos because of slot issues. If you tell me a particular airline from Nigeria must pay for instance, 100,000 pounds to operate to Heathrow, then, their own airline will have to pay same amount of money to operate to Lagos. It is going to be reciprocity.

We cannot hide under the issue of slots to give unfair commercial advantages to foreign airlines over Nigerian airlines. We had made mistakes in the past, we have learnt from our mistakes and we are going to correct the mistakes.

Lagos Airport was built for less than 300,000 passengers in 1979 and the airport is doing more than 8 million passengers annually now and you are telling them your airport is doing above capacity, Lagos Airport is doing far above 1,000 per cent capacity. It is no longer acceptable. No one should come here and give us stories.

Your assessment of aviation industry in 2021 and expectations in 2022

I must say I am pleasantly surprised with the domestic aviation industry. We certainly have recovered from COVID-19 pandemic. Not that we have recovered from the COVID-19 level, we have passed the pre-COVID -19 level. If you see the airlines from Nigeria, they have been getting clients. Right now, I have about 10 to 12 aircraft on wet lease to fill in the gap of the demands of the system. The industry has done fairly well. The domestic industry is going in a fantabulous rate. We have given a lot of Air Operators’ Certificates (AOC) and we still have about 15 in the pipeline. We are working on it. We have airports propping up all over the place and a lot of maintenance organisations coming up. For us to achieve the growth we have now, we (agencies, ministries, stakeholders and the media) should be doing something right that is building investors’ confidence in the system. The investors are willing to put their money in the system and grow the industry.

We will continue that way and hopefully, we want to get to a place where aviation plays very significant contributions to the GDP on a short and medium terms; at least 5 per cent. Also, the growth is a bit stretching the infrastructure. Sometimes, clogs are created here and there because the system has been stretched.

And the international scene is not too bad, we are recovering gradually and hopefully in early 2020 when are come out with the issues we are having, we should exceed the pre-COVID-19 level of aviation travel. Generally, it has been hectic and stressful for us at NCAA, trying to cope with the demands everywhere, but we will keep doing what we are doing to ensure the system continues to operate safely, orderly and organised manner.

COVID-19 protocol compliance

Generally, globally, people are getting COVID-19 fatigue. If you go out, you see a lot of people not wearing their face-mask, except in airports, airlines and other places where we keep educating people that COVID-19 is real and it’s growing into various variants. It is something we just have to consistently do and ensure compliance.

What is NCAA doing about the dearth of inspectors at the agency?

 We are working with the supervising ministry of aviation to see what we can do. We are seeking approval to employ more technical staff, which we have to do. There are due administrative processes, which we must comply with and follow. Even, if you are doing the right thing, there are due processes you must follow. We are working on it and we are making a significant progress.

Apart from the ministry and the minister that are supporting us, the Aviation Committees of the National Assembly through their Chairmen are supporting us. We have explained to them the challenges and the difficulties we are facing and they too have been assisting us in a way through legislation action to help us resolve some of the challenges we are facing. We are a government organisation and we must comply with the Public Service Rules in all we do.

Also, some of our ICAO standards and recommended practices documents said that “NCAA must be a competitive employer.” What that that means is that the salaries we pay our workers must be competitive in the industry, here. We are a government organisation and the industry is privately run, so, you can understand how our hands are tied, but we try and see how we can work through within the confines of the laws to close that gap so that we can attract more personnel to come and work with us.

New safety threshold handling rates

The issue of the handling rates was justified because for over 30 years, the handling rates were not adjusted and imagine, these ground handlers, they import a lot of their equipment using foreign exchange, just like the airlines use foreign exchange to procure their machines. What affects the airlines, directly affect these ground handlers and the ground handlers are a critical component for the success of the industry. We sat down, compare what we charge here with that of the other countries, but because of the devaluation of Naira and the non-increase of ground handling over the years, the increase looked very high.

The airlines complained. Then, we mediated into the issue, listened to their complaints and reduce the new rates with 25 per cent. We did this so that we don’t shock the system, but we can gradually fully increase. I just read something this morning, the ground handlers have come together and know that the competition is detrimental. They are working together now. I think if the ground handlers can work together, they should be able to implement the new rates. The handlers were undercutting themselves in the past.

We learnt that security agencies maltreated Asky  passengers who are  Nigerian  at Lome, Togo

The security agencies in Togo maltreated some of the Nigerian travellers who were stranded in that country, but before then, they alleged that the travellers entered the restricted areas at the airport. The airline has written us a letter, apologising to us that it will not happen again. We are just following up for them to sort things out. We are trying to sort out things. I am still talking with the CAA of Togo. The DG is a good friend of mine. We just lodged in our complaints officially so that the record will be there, but the airline has apologised. Whatever it is, we will be able to resolve it amicably. Our apologies to the Nigerian passengers who were maltreated.

Present weather condition (Dust haze)

Obviously, there is going to be delays and cancellations if the weather goes beyond safety limit, which is regulatory in nature, the airline is not to operate and if any airline operates illegally, even if it operates safely, but below the regulatory requirement, we are going to penalise it because that is risking the lives of the passengers.

I am sure none of the airlines will do that because they know the risk involved. We are talking about lives of human beings; no matter how desperate I want to get to my destination, I need to be safe and be alive. We have spoken with the airlines and they have responded positively. The pilots are professionals, I am sure they will do the right thing.

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