The wait is finally over as Nigeria, alongside others, ratify Africa’s Open Skies pact. WOLE SHADARE looks at the huge impact it would have on the continent’s aviation sector.
Difficult air connectivity
Flying from London to Athens is not generally considered a massive undertaking. It’s a given that the journey will be direct, take three-and-a-half hours, and Europeans will not require a visa. The biggest decision is likely to be which meal to select in-flight. Now imagine if the same journey was routed via Moscow – ridiculous!
Yet that is the situation when travelling across Africa, where convoluted flight itineraries are unfortunately the norm. Let’s take the example of a trip from Algeria to Cameroon, as the crow flies, a journey the same length as London- Athens. There is no direct flight.
The fastest route, via Istanbul, takes 24 hours and involves three separate take-offs and landings. The less time-economical route can take up to 30 hours – half the time it took the Virgin Atlantic Global flyer to circumnavigate the globe. Adding insult to injury, the flight from Algeria to Cameroon costs 80% more than London-Athens. This is truly a disturbing paradox. Sadly, the problems caused by an unconnected Africa are not limited to inconvenient travel schedules.
Far bigger are the opportunity costs to the economies of the continent’s 54 nations and the region as a whole. Trade and tourism is hindered and investment opportunities lost. And it’s not just about economics.
Aviation connects people. Africa would be a less fragmented continent with greater air connectivity. Africa is home to 12 per cent of the world’s people, but it accounts for less than 1 per cent of the global air service market. Part of the reason for Africa’s under-served status, according to a just-published World Bank study, Open Skies for Africa – Implementing the Yamoussoukro Decision, is that many African countries restrict their air services markets to protect the share held by stateowned air carriers.
This practice originated in the early 1960s when many newly-independent African states created national airlines, in part, to assert their status as nations. Now, however, most have recognised that the strict regulatory protection that sustained such carriers, has detrimental effects of air safety records, while also inflating air fares and dampening air traffic growth. Indeed, African ministers responsible for civil aviation themselves acknowledged this in 1999, when they adopted the Yamoussoukro Decision, named for the Ivorian city in which it was agreed.
It commits its 44 signatory countries to deregulate air services, and promote regional air markets open to transnational competition. The benefits of connectivity are clear. Europe’s air liberalization was not only a coup for the industry but also passengers.
In the short space of eight years (1992-2005), the 100 year-old industry witnessed a surge in activity. Passengers enjoyed 88 per cent more flight options and double the number of seats. Suddenly travelling by air became accessible to all, with a 15 per cent drop in ticket prices.
Eliminating physical barriers
The benefits of a connected continent are clear. So why do nonphysical barriers remain? While open skies pledges – 1988 Yamoussoukro Declaration and 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision – are being signed by most African countries, implementation has been unhurried and restricted. Protectionist policies favouring national airlines remain abundant. This is unhelpful.
The continent cannot take off economically while its runway is incomplete. Governments in Africa need to treat aviation as a strategic asset and not as an instrument of foreign policy. Africa’s past has long been defined by national insularity; its future lies in liberalization. Where better to begin than its skies?
How it was established
As a result of the enormous benefits liberalisation would bring to the continent, in 2015, the Assembly of Head of States and Government adopted the Declaration (Doc. Assembly/ AU/Decl.1 (XXIV)) on the Establishment of a Single African Air Transport Market and also issued a commitment (Assembly / AUC/Commitment/XXIV), to the immediate implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decisions towards the establishment of a single African air transport market by 2017.
Eleven African Member States championed the Declaration by signing the Solemn Commitment to actualise the Decision creating the single market. These Member States were constituted as a working group at Ministerial level (Ministerial Working Group) with responsibility to follow-up the implementation of the single market and spearhead the advocacy campaign to urge more Member States to join the single market. The African Union Commission was entrusted with the functions of coordination and facilitation of the process of operationalization of the Single African Air Transport Market. The 11 champion states that signed the initial commitment are namely: Benin, Capo Verde, Repub-lic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The solemn commitment is open for other states to join.
The current size of the Single African Air Transport market is comparable to the COMESAEAC-SADC Tripartite free trade area with 26 countries, a population of 527 million persons, a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $624 billion and per capita income of US$1,184.
Joining the Single African Air Transport Market is based on a variable geometry principle in accordance with Member State’s commitment to implementing the decisions/declarations of the Assembly.
Secretary-General of African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), Ms. Iyabo Sosina, at the sensitization workshop on the commencement of SAATM in Lagos last week enumerated the benefits of the scheme. Sosina disclosed that the 23 countries that have declared for single air transport market have a combined population of roughly 670 million, more than half of the population (57%) of the continent in 2015, stressing that their combined GDP amounted to $150billion in 2015. She noted that this could double to $300billion because of the enormous benefits it would bring to the continent.
The AFCAC scribe stated in 2015, 63.5 million international tourists were recorded in the continent and the 23 countries accounted for over 54 per cent of international visitors, hinting that the number of countries that have signed the solemn commitment offer significant single air transport market space in terms of traffic volumes and airport infrastructure. In 2015, Africa was reported to have handled 180 million passengers with over 56 per cent passing through airports within the current single market area, whilst airlines within the 23 countries accounts for more than 80 per cent of the intra- African traffic. She listed the 23 countries that have signed the solemn commitment that has increased from 11 as Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Cape Verde, Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon and Ghana. Others are Guinea Conakry, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.
Nigerian carriers kick
As laudable as the policy is, airline operators under the aegis of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) said they were not ready for SAATM implementation. Chairman AON, Capt. Nogie Meggison, who spoke on behalf of airline owners and investors, objected to implementation of the treaty. He questioned the win-win claims of open skies, saying the treaty is rather a subtle ploy to ensure Nigeria, with about 65 per cent of West African population, loosen up to the benefit of other smaller countries. He argued that the move cannot be in the best interest of Nigeria where there is no uniform platform for fair competition or adequate consultation with carriers.
His counterpart representing the Aircraft Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Mohammed Joji, added that Nigeria cannot be talking about sky liberalisation where local policies have not favoured local carriers to face their African counterparts. Joji reiterated perennial problems of foreign exchange, Value Added Tax (VAT), multiple taxation and high cost of aviation fuel, policy flip-flop among others that have collectively killed over 50 airlines in the last 18 years.
Not a few noted that there is potential for aviation growth in the region with the emergence of a middle class market that needed to be tapped for the growth of aviation in the region.
Threat amid runway risks
With every tragic high profile crash, the general public’s feeling about airline safety takes a punch. WOLE SHADARE writes
The recent incursion of Akure airport runway by cows that prevented Air Peace aircraft to delay landing for about 20 minutes has again brought to the fore the need to improve aviation safety through ensuring that airport runways are clear of obstruction.
A runway incursion is an incident where an unauthorized aircraft, vehicle or person is on a runway. This adversely affects runway safety, as it creates the risk that an airplane taking off or landing will collide with the object. It is defined by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as any occurrence at an aerodrome involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicles or persons on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take-off of aircraft.
While aviation has been getting safer of late, runway incursions by aircraft or vehicles remain a weak spot. After all, during each flight, the passengers literally put their lives in the hands of complete strangers.
Although general aviation accidents have been decreasing over the past few years, incursions with all dangers attached to them have been increasing at an alarming rate. It is merely a matter of time for these incursions to become tragic accidents. Last week Saturday, scores of cattle made incursion into the runway of the Akure Airport, in Ondo State, preventing an Air Peace flight, which left Lagos for Akure from landing immediately until they were dispersed by security men.
March 8, 2011, the Hawker 850 aircraft carrying the then Vice-Presidential candidate of ACN, Mr. Fola Adeola, experienced scenario of runway incursion by goats and sheep at Bauchi airport.
Sources at the airport said the incident, which has become a regular feature at the airport premises occurred around 12:00 am, causing initial disturbance to the airline and passengers, forcing the former to hover mid-air for some minutes.
“The herdsmen foraged into the runaway causing some disturbance and preventing the aircraft from landing around 11:30am. The incident lasted for about 10 minutes until Aviation Security personnel, (AvSec), arrested the situation,” a source at the airport told New Telegraph.
Rising to the occasion
The management Air Peace said that flight P4 7002 from Lagos had to delay landing into Akure Airport when the pilot-in-command sighted cows on the runway at about 12.15pm. “On being alerted by control tower, aviation security personnel of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN AVSEC) quickly intervened and cleared the runway. “The flight was eventually cleared to land after about seven minutes.
Our guests on board were all calm while the delay lasted. The aircraft departed for Lagos at about 11.06 with full escort from FAAN security personnel. Confirming the incident, Air Peace Corporate Communications Manager, Mr. Chris Iwarah said: “We confirm that flight P4 7002 from Lagos had to delay landing into Akure Airport today (Saturday) when the pilot-in-command sighted cows on the runway at about 12.15pm.
“On being alerted by control tower, aviation security personnel of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN AVSEC) quickly intervened and cleared the runway.
“The flight was eventually cleared to land after about seven minutes. Our guests on board were all calm while the delay lasted. The aircraft departed for Lagos at about 1.06 with full escort from FAAN security personnel.”
Last week’s incident is reminiscent of what happened in 2005 when Air France plane, with 196 people on board, ploughed into the cows as it touched down at Port Harcourt.
No-one on board was hurt, but the collision left seven cows dead and the runway was soaked with their blood. The embarrassment led to the Minister of Aviation at that time, Mallam Isa Yuguda to summon airport officials to explain the security breach.
Runway incursions are today one of the major factors affecting flight safety. In India, there are numerous cases of small accidents involving runway incursions every year, with the potential always present for a major disaster, such as the Tenerife airport collision on March 27, 1977, when two Boeing 747 passenger aircraft collided on the runway of Los Rodeos Airport (now known as Tenerife North Airport) on the Spanish island of Tenerife.
A total of 583 passengers died in that incident, making it the deadliest accident in aviation history. Even if accidents are avoided, incursions often cause costly flight delays.
Animals on the Runway
Animals on the runway are a particularly pervasive problem at many airports in India. There are numerous examples. In 2005, an aircraft taking off from Pune International Airport ran over a stray animal, which resulted in a two-hour delay for flights.
In 2008, an Air India aircraft narrowly escaped accident when it hit an Indian blue bull during landing at Kanpur Airport in Uttar Pradesh. Also in 2008, a Kingfisher Airlines aircraft hit a stray dog on the runway at the HAL Bangalore International Airport, resulting in the aircraft’s landing gear collapsing.
The aircraft skidded off the runway and its nose collapsed; four passengers were injured. Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan recently ordered an Airport Environmental Committee (AEC) enquiry into the recurring mishaps – hundreds every year – caused by stray animals on the runway at Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport in Nagpur.
Perimeter absence at most airports
The absence of perimeter fences at most of the country’s airports has always posed a challenge to FAAN because of the huge capital outlay required in constructing perimeter fences, some of which are as long as 40 kilometres, across the 22 network of airports across the country. Some of the perimeter fence projects commenced in 2014 while the remaining ones were expected to be executed in 2015.
Bushes around the runways, particularly, airports that are not busy like the Akure, Ibadan, Jigawa and many others that were built by state governments but forced down the throats of FAAN, do not give full view of the perimeter, to allow both the control tower, FAAN Fire and Rescue observation posts and aviation security patrol teams have a sweeping view of the entire perimeter of an airport from their duty posts.
Static observation posts are yet to be erected at strategic locations within the perimeter fence of many of the airports to forestall premeditated and inadvertent unauthorized access to the airside.
What will really put the fear of flying into the hearts of passengers is when they personally experience an incident on the runway. Safety first is at the core of flight crew and air traffic control alike, still runway incidents and accidents keep occurring.
Gulfstream G500 Jet launches in Nigeria
The all-new Gulfstream G500 business jet made its Nigerian debut this week, with Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation’s senior executives visiting Nigeria to give current and potential customers an opportunity to experience first-hand the new aircraft’s cutting-edge technology, unparalleled comfort and superior craftsmanship.
The Gulfstream G500 business jet was on display for private viewing at the ExecuJet Terminal of the Murtala muhammed International Airport in Lagos on February 16 and 17. At a networking event attended by senior leaders from diverse sectors of the Nigerian economy, Commercial Counsellor Brent Omdahl, according to a statement, reaffirmed the strong economic ties between the United States and Nigeria.
“The U.S. Foreign Commercial Service continues to facilitate long term business relationships between companies from the United States and Nigeria. We are excited to welcome this stellar group from the Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation to share their experience and expertise with Nigerian business executives,” Omdahl said. Private aviation is a growing industry in Nigeria, which is home to more than 20 Gulfstream business aircraft, most of them large-cabin, long-range jets capable of connecting companies and business owners with their corporate interests around the globe.
The Gulfstream G500, for example, can fly 8,149 km at nine-tenths the speed of sound, easily carrying passengers from Lagos to London or Moscow. At Mach 0.85, the aircraft can travel 9,630 km, linking Lagos with Caracas or Mumbai.
Long road to national carrier
Anxiety mixed with uncertainty could best describe the slow pace of work to establish a national airline. WOLE SHADARE writes
Can Nigeria pull this through? Many are very desirous of a national airline for Nigeria but the slow speed of actualising the dream is beginning to dampen the spirit of many who thought by now, the issue of a national carrier would have been put to rest.
Just last weekend, Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika rekindled hope that in the next couple of months, “we should be closer to having a national airline. He noted that the country was very close to getting a national airline.”
Luthansa project flops
The Lufthansa saga seriously looked as if the entire project had collapsed before it even took off, leading to insinuations in some quarters that the government was not serious about one of the key things it promised to do in 2015.
Lufthansa Consortium’s contract that was expected to mid-wife a national carrier was terminated with the government explaining that the decision was taken in the best interest of the nation.
The minister alleged that the firm changed the term of contract it had with the government by demanding that aside asking for 75 per cent of N341 million upfront payments, which he said was not in line Nigeria’s procurement law, also alleged that the firm wanted the money to be converted to Euros, which was also not acceptable to them.
His words, “What transpired at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, which I explained very clearly is that we substituted Lufthansa Consulting as part of the consortium to provide transaction advisory services for the establishment of a national carrier.
“The reason is very simple and clear. We thought that Lufthansa Consortium is an arm of Lufthansa Airline Group and this may compromise the process. They might be interested party latter in the day of this procurement and this may compromise the system. We want it to be transparent, as fair and equitable as it should be.
“They wanted about 75 per cent to be paid of the sum ab nitio and this is not in line with procurement laws. The contract was in Naira N341million but they wanted to change it Euros and this was not acceptable to us. This was neither in our request for proposal. What we did was there were many in the consortium; we substituted them with another company that is even fair, that is no appendage to any other company that might be interested. So, they are more of a neutral company to take over the place of Lufthansa “, he added.
Although, Lufthansa Consortium is yet to speak on the matter, a source close to the firm said it has a reputation that would not want to be tarnished because of the way the Federal Government went about the whole bidding process which was less than transparent.
Many, who spoke to New Telegraph, said the failure of flag carriers in Nigeria has made the government to look inwards with a view to making air transport easier for the teeming Nigerian public who have been short-changed over the years with bad services, unreliable schedule and many other customer related problems.
Many flag carriers have collapsed over the years. Many do not know where to turn to. While the lamentation continues, foreign airlines have perfectly filled the void and providing seamless air travel needs to very mobile populace.
While airline collapses have become commonplace with Aero and Arik going under during the past few years, the loss of flag carriers is a frequent phenomenon.
For sure, we ‘ve seen high profile bankruptcies; Arik and Aero immediately come to mind. But in both cases, the government worked hard to get them rescued.
Both Rwanda and Zimbabwe are good examples of why small countries need their own airlines. Big nation such as Nigeria needs it more than ever before.
With not enough space on the tarmac for a host of home-grown competition, countries need their own airlines to stimulate trade, boost tourism and in many cases, assert their sovereignty.
Conventional wisdom suggests that states have no business running airlines. Indeed, the past few decades have seen most major economies sell their flag carriers to other airline groups or list them on the local bourse-often keeping minority stakes for sentimental purposes. The results have been mixed, at best.
An aviation consultant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he also believes there’s a need for the governments to offer essential services to their citizens. In the case of countries with small populations or lacking strategic hubs, this also means underwriting the national airline.
Consultants might argue that this is wholly unnecessary, as other airlines will swoop down to soak up demand. But there is considerably more at stake than just ensuring every flight boasts 80 per cent load factor. On a good day, a national airline is an embassy with wings-transporting culture, cuisine, commerce and goodwill around the world.
Ethiopian Airlines is a flying example of resourcefulness and ingenuity. A flag carrier that instils a sense of pride when its tail is spotted on the runway of a far-off land; when it brings home the winning team or when it flies out of to evacuate citizens stranded in a conflict or disaster zone.
In an increasing globalised world, smart governments recognise the importance of having their flags fluttering on as many routes as possible. It is a mileage that certainly hasn’t been lost on Singapore, whose government owns the highly respected Singapore Airlines, or Dubai, home of Emirates. In both cases, these small states have made their airlines part of their national identity and growth strategy.
As governments around the world continue to tighten their belts, they also have the to remember there are some things you simply have to protect such as education, national security, banks and infrastructure are fundamental. An airline to call your own is also useful to get your citizens around the world and bring in visitors to invest and marvel at your achievements.
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