In this interview, the chief executive officer at African Aviation Services Limited, Mr. Nick Fadugba deplores the huge advantages foreign airlines have over Nigerian carriers and calls on the federal government to implement policies that will make the local airlines competitive. He spoke at the 23rd annual conference of the League of Airport and Aviation Correspondents (LAAC) held in Lagos recently.
What is your assessment of Nigeria’s aviation industry?
First of all I am very passionate about aviation in Nigeria; I believe we are not where we should be today, given our resources. There is no market in Africa that is comparable to Nigeria. Whether you are a market lady or a board chairman, we travel, we are a nation of traders. Many foreign airlines are coming to Nigeria making good profit, yet most Nigerian airlines, to the best of my knowledge are not making a lot of money. In fact some are quite poor, financially. So, we need to do better.
What have Nigerian carriers not done better in to be competitive?
You know the international aviation industry has changed dramatically since the days of Nigerian Airways. Today no airline can succeed working alone. Therefore I want to once again appeal to airlines in Nigeria to come together, to work together in operations, training, maintenance, we need to partner. Even if we don’t merge, we need to partner with one another. The average fleet size in Nigeria is a maximum of aircraft. Yet, we are competing with British Airways that has over 400 aircraft; Delta Airlines has over 500 aircraft. Even Ethiopian Airlines has a 110 aircraft. So how can small airlines compete? And I am not being disrespectful.
One thing that goes for the likes of Ethiopian and Kenyan airlines, even British Airways is government’s support in one form or the other. But Nigerian carriers do not have such luxury and it affects their competitiveness. What should be done in this regard?
If you don’t have a critical mass in terms of size, in terms of good management, in terms of fleet, in terms of good network, it is very hard to succeed. So we have the market in Nigeria; we are very fortunate but the fact is that our airlines are at the moment not of the size that can compete effectively against the big airlines coming into Nigeria.
I also want to appeal to the federal government, over the past 15 to 20 years since the demise of Nigerian Airways, and I regret the liquidation of Nigerian Airways, I did not believe it was necessary. Up till today I believe it was not necessary. Kenya Airways was turned around and it was in a worse position than Nigerian Airways at the time. So, we could have saved it but we didn’t. However, since Nigeria Airways was liquidated there has been no airline to reciprocate on bilateral air service agreements. So, foreign airlines gain a huge advantage over Nigerian airlines. But now we need to sit down, we need review the situation. Don’t forget an air route to Nigeria is like an oil block, it has economic value. We cannot just be giving them away free of charge. These days, people don’t like to pay for BASAs but the fact is until we have a stronger airline industry in Nigeria, we need to review the setup because all airlines in Nigeria including Air Peace are complaining that the system today is unfair, it is not in our interest. I also want to appeal to the government to support private airlines like Air Peace and many others.
There have been agitation for the establishment of a national carrier to balance the BASA deficit. What are your thoughts on the issue?
Of course, we want a national carrier but this should not be done to the disadvantage of private carriers like Air peace. Air Peace is launching long haul services to Dubai but they need support from government and from the flying public in Nigeria. I don’t see why Emirates coming into Nigeria from Dubai why they can’t partner with Air peace. If Air Peace can partner with Emirates to Dubai it is a win-win. So Emirates shouldn’t have the lion’s share of the business and it is the government that can influence that.