The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has accused foreign carriers operating in Nigeria of charging fares at prevalent parallel market foreign exchange naira to dollar rate and at the same time want to blackmail the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to exchange their revenue at the official market rate.
Speaking on Arise News Channel’s ‘The Morning Show,’ spokesman of AON, who is also the Chairman/CEO of United Nigeria Airlines, Prof Obiora Okonkwo said the CBN had indicated that there is scarcity of foreign exchange, urging foreign airlines to source for the greenback where domestic airlines also source theirs.
Presently, an economy ticket for a Lagos-London flight is between N1.2 million to N1.4 million. But earlier this year, the air fare was about N400, 000. Also, a one-way business ticket now goes for about N4 million, while return flight ticket is about N7 million.
Okonkwo said: “Domestic airlines source their dollars from the parallel market. If local airlines can do that, foreign airlines should also do that. They can go to other sources to also obtain their dollars. The CBN is already helping the airlines.
“Last two weeks there was huge money made available to foreign airlines, especially Emirates. We need this money. Manufacturers are getting very little foreign exchange as well. Nobody said foreign airlines can’t take their money out because their money is not confiscated.
“We understand what the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is saying. It has to protect member airlines, including our own airlines. We frown at the situation whereby you send desk officers of these airlines to go and negotiate with CBN.
“The foreign airlines can negotiate to pay their bills in naira to oil marketers and ground operation service providers, then they can use other sources of foreign exchange like Investors and Exporters’ window to obtain foreign exchange.”
Okonkwo however said there was no rivalry between Nigerian airlines and foreign carriers, just as he stressed the need to clarify misinformation in the media, emphasising the funds of the foreign airlines were never withheld by the CBN as some media reports had indicated. This, he said was aimed tarnishing Nigeria’s image globally.
He insisted that foreign airlines have adjusted their tickets, which have gone so high and more than double the fares charged travellers in other African countries such as Ghana, Ivory Coast and others.
According to Okonkwo, “airlines fix fares; IATA does not fix fares for airlines.”
He urged the federal government to step in and find out why the airlines charge Nigerian travellers higher fares compared to other countries in the continent, saying the AON would not want the foreign carriers to exploit Nigerian travellers.
“Everyone knows that foreign airlines charge exorbitant fares in Nigeria. I want the high fares to be part of the agenda government will look into. Government should review the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) with these countries and adopt the principle of reciprocity.
“If Air Peace is operating to UK, the fare will be around N500, 000 but foreign airlines are charging N1.4 million for six hours flight from Lagos to London,” he said.
Okonkwo stressed the need to support indigenous operators, saying “if they are operating international destinations the exploitation of Nigerian travellers would be curtailed and the huge amount of money repatriated from Nigeria will reduce because domestic airlines will keep the money earned in the country.”
Speaking in the same interview, the Managing Director, Flight and Logistics Solutions, Amos Akpan, said Nigeria signed BASA agreement with other countries and part of the agreement was that airlines could repatriate their earnings from Nigeria with exchange rate fixed by the CBN.
He said there was evidence that the airlines had made all their payments, including charges, taxes and services so they have to repatriate their revenue to fund their operations.
“Although this is not an issue limited to Nigeria because the global economy is diminishing, but this does not mean that Nigeria should not abide by the agreement it signed with these countries in BASA.
“I hope that government should meet with these airlines and assure them that they will be able to repatriate their money,” Akpan said.
He also acknowledged that there had not been equity and fairness in the BASA Nigeria signed with many countries, noting that many of such agreements were skewed in favour of international operators. He recalled that Emirates was given 21 frequencies to Nigeria but Air Peace and Nigeria had to battle to get three weekly flights to Dubai.
“British Airways operates 14 flights a week from Nigeria, but no Nigerian airlines reciprocates and flies to UK. Air Peace was not allowed to fly to London. Our government facilitates foreign airlines to fly to other airports in addition to Lagos, but ideally if they fly to Lagos or Abuja, Nigerian carriers should distribute their passengers to other airports in the country.
“If this is not resolved it will continue to create friction in the industry. The Ministry of Aviation should drive the process to protect our airlines. The federal government has already given waiver on VAT and aircraft spares to Nigerian airlines,” he said.