HeadlineForeign Airlines Resort to Aeropolitics as Air Peace Shakes up Lucrative London...

Foreign Airlines Resort to Aeropolitics as Air Peace Shakes up Lucrative London Route

April 14, (THEWILL)- On July 13, 2022, Air Peace made its inaugural flight operation to China, a 14-hour journey. Soon, it launched three other international routes to Mumbai in India, a 9-hours 14 minutes’ flight from Nigeria and then it expanded into Tel Aviv in Israel and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

But on March 30, 2024, the airline, which has been undertaking additional 160 hours’ daily flight within its home country Nigeria for the past seven years since it was founded, flew a fully booked Boeing 777 – a six-hour flight – into London Gatwick airport and all hell was let loose.

Of course, Air Peace CEO, Allen Onyema, beat his chest for what he described as “a six-hour flight that is a nonstarter, a piece of cake,” considering his growing local and international reputation as a Nigeria brand.
BEGINNING OF TROUBLE

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Narrating the airline’s experience on that maiden London flight, Onyema said operational roadblocks were erected to frustrate Air Peace. The check-in area was changed unannounced. Delay set in. Then the conveyor system from which passengers collect their luggage was not working and luggage had to be manually carried for a distance of 50 meters. At Gatwick Airport, no slot was available for a long time, a very frustrating experience for the airline’s management staff and passengers who were mostly Nigerians.

But Air Peace would have been mistaken if it thought it was going into a lucrative and competitive London route without a stiff challenge or resistance from old war horses like British Airways, KLM, Ethiopian Airlines and Virgin Airlines that have dominated the route for long.

“Defunct Bellview Airlines, Medview Airlines and Arik Air had their baptism of fire on this lucrative route before they all went burst,” foremost aviation expert and immediate past president of Aviation Round Table, ART, Dr Gbenga Olowo, told THEWILL last week. “So, Air Peace must be determined to make a difference.”

He reminded the airline of the need to understand ‘aeropolitics’ which is key in the international airline business and be prepared to handle it maturely while seeking government’s support.

As Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, SAN explains, however, the reason previous airlines on the London route did not survive was not because of the politics of the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement, BASA.

“It is about access to aircraft on favourable terms. We are going to pray for Air Peace and pray for Allen Onyema that he can sustain this. This is because he is doing this at great expense, even at marginal profit or loss to challenge and it is going to get better,” he said.

Nonetheless, the minister was frontal in his statement that the ‘aeropolitics,’ that forced the previous airline off the London routes was over.

“If they (the UK) go about it subtly, then, we will introduce it too,” he told Aviation Correspondents last week.

The Acting Director-General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Capt Chris Najomo, while speaking on Air Peace’s latest moves, provides insight to show that despite the rivalry, the groundwork for this recent aviation breakthrough was laid four years ago.

He said, “You wouldn’t believe it. The ministry has been following up on this development for four years now. In fact, the last meeting was when we went to London with the minister and Director, Air Transport Operations and other officials. We went there altogether to tell them how Nigeria is supporting this course. This is the outcome.

”We are so elated that this has come to stay. This is beckoning to all other local airlines to follow suit. We are waiting for others to follow suit. We have many good airlines, such as United Nigeria and Ibom Air, that can do it. Even Overland can do it. All they need is some encouragement. We will be ready to support them. “

FEARS

Minister of Aviation, Keyamo, said that Air Peace and other operators who want to embark on this international route must ensure that they have access to aircraft on dry leases. “If they don’t have it, we cannot sustain the route for a very long time,” he added.

Dr Gbenga Olowo, who is also president /CEO, Sabre Network Africa, supports this view but suggests that the Federal Government should ensure the addition of other flag carriers to Air Peace, which will make for collaboration and healthy competition.

Explaining further, Olowo said, “Nigerian airlines, including Air Peace, must collaborate or interline with other foreign airlines as passengers going beyond London constitute more than 60 per cent or more of the traffic from Nigeria.

“When you’re not a monopoly, the game changes and you endeavour to satisfy the customer non-stop. The foreign airlines will also be put in maximum check as their excesses could have untold economic disadvantages.”

Fortunately for Air Peace, it has already secured a partnership with Norse Atlantic Airways, a UK carrier, which can provide the necessary backbone in equipment.

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT IS KEY

Even so, without government’s huge support, sustainability on a regular basis may prove tough for Air Peace, as can be seen in the price war that ensued immediately the airline slashed the London fare for its passengers who have taken the offer seriously and booked the airline till September 2024. After that, what next?
Already, other airlines that used to charge N15 million for first class and N5 million for economy class have crashed prices to about N5 million for Business Class and N1.9m for economy. Should September come and Air Peace is unable to foot the bill, the fares will in all likelihood climb back to their former rates.

From what Onyema called ‘under-pricing and a devilish conspiracy’ that would deal a blow to the cost of operation in less than a month, but, which in actual fact is a healthy competition for his more established rivals on the route, it is clear, as he himself has admitted, that the Nigerian Government has to offer some form of support to it, “as the home governments of those airlines are doing for them.”

Keyamo, who disclosed that he expected competitive prices with the advent of Air Peace on the route, agrees with Onyema. He said the Federal Government would support local operators in accessing lease arrangements like what Air Peace is doing today. Nigeria, he revealed, is on a blacklist to get these dry leases and he has been trying to assure the world and aircraft manufacturers, like Airbus, that their assets would be protected in Nigeria.

“This is because what they want is whether we can allow them to take these assets when there are breaches of agreements. The problem they always face is that when they bring their assets into the country, and there is a breach sometimes, because of court injunctions and local politics, they can no longer take their aircraft away. It is a huge loss to them. What they want is that they should be able to take these assets away when there is a breach,” he explained.

BENEFITS

With Air Peace on the London route, there will be no problem of trapped funds, industry stakeholders, including the aviation minister, have said. Since Air Peace is a local company, the fear of repatriating the sale of tickets to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, no longer exists.

In other words, the massive repatriation of funds by foreign airlines that puts pressure on the Naira will be reduced greatly.

“This new development eases the pressure on the Naira because this is a Nigerian company that deals in Naira and buys in Naira,” said Keyamo.

Also, on the heels of this development, the minister has set in motion a plan to resolve a major headache for Nigerian airlines, which still have to go abroad whenever they want to service their aircraft.

According to the minister, one of the major objectives is to bring in the Maintenance, Repair Overhaul, MRO into Nigeria. That is very important, he said, because “it is the key to unlocking this industry.”

The Acting NACA D-G, Capt Najomo, who was on the Air Peace inaugural flight to London alongside Keyamo, his Industry, Trade and Investment counterpart, Doris Uzoka-Anite, and Foreign Affairs Minister, Yusuf Tuggar, as well as Senate Committee Chairman on Aviation, Buhari Abdulfattai, among others, disclosed that the agency had given the airlines on that route 21 frequencies to checkmate attempts by competitors to cripple the Nigerian airline.

He said, “The ‘aeropolitics’ following the Air Peace stride was expected. It has been there even when I used to fly Arik Air to London. Now because there is a Nigerian carrier on that route, we have given the airlines 21 frequencies. This is just the beginning. It will be there and they will try all sorts of ways to cripple them, but I want to use this opportunity to tell the FG to make a policy that Nigerians, government officials must fly Air Peace. That is my say here. I want the FG to tell Nigerians “Fly Air Peace to London”.

The Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, Mrs Olubunmi Kuku, gave the assurance that the necessary infrastructure – slots, check-in counter, security and landing aids – would be provided for Air Peace to remain competitive on the new route.

Other airlines have also been impacted by this new development. Chairman, United Nigeria Airlines, Prof Obiora Okonkwo, said the Air Peace move will ginger others, particularly his airline, to open international designation routes soon.

He said, “For us, this is more than a motivation. It is a certification that it can be done. So, I have no doubt that the next carrier that will come on board is United Nigeria Airlines.”

Okonkwo urged Nigerians to resist whatever international opposition by making Air Peace and other Nigerian airlines that will come on board their first choice airline before any other operator.

For the poster boy of this aviation renewal, Onyema, the real heroes for his airline’s current triumph are Nigerians passengers and President Bola Tinubu and his team of ministers who have created the enabling environment for him to make the bold move.

“This is the kind of support airlines are asking for. The Nigerian Government and the people have shown that this is a Nigerian project. Air Peace does not belong to Allen Onyema. It belongs to over 220 million Nigerians who are here and abroad and they have shown their love,” Onyema said.

About the Author

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Amos Esele is the Deputy Editor of THEWILL Newspaper. He has over two decades of experience on the job.

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Anthony Awunor, is a business correspondent who holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Linguistics (UNILAG). He is also an alumnus of the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria Kaduna State. He lives in Lagos.

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