The country’s aviation industry is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years following the signing of a liberal air transport treaty by Nigeria and 22 other African countries, MAUREEN IHUA-MADUENYI writes
With the formal establishment and inauguration of the Single African Air Transport Market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Sunday during the African Union Summit, there are projections that many more Nigerians and Africans, in general, will take to air travel.
Statistics obtained from the International Air Transport Association indicate that the implementation of the SAATM will boost passenger movement in Nigeria from the monthly average of 774,000 to 1,171,400, an increase of 51. 3 percent.
The SAATM, an open sky treaty that encourages the liberalisation of the rules and regulations of international commercial aviation to create a free market environment for airlines, is expected to pave the way for eligible airlines of the 23 countries to conduct their business into one another’s markets and fully operate the traffic rights provided for in the Yamoussoukro Decision.
A report obtained by The PUNCH from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority revealed that 11,221,617 passengers passed through the nation’s airports in 2017, representing a 26.3 percent drop when compared to 15,232, 597 in 2016.
Within the same period, 38 international and domestic airlines operated 61,822 flights in all the airports across the country.
The number of passengers airlifted by domestic airlines, according to the document, represented 53.2 per cent of the total volume of passengers ferried within the period in contrast with the 72 per cent recorded in 2016.
While the NCAA attributed the low passenger traffic to the takeover of Arik Air by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, which led to the airline cutting off all its international flights and reducing domestic operations by 50 percent, IATA, which alongside other international stakeholders encouraged the open air policy, said it would address most of the challenges associated with passenger movement.
The Regional Director, Member and External Affairs, Africa and Middle East, IATA, Adefunke Adeyemi, said Nigeria would be a major beneficiary of the implementation of the SAATM.
According to her, from a 12-country study carried out by IATA, there will be $1.3bn economic benefits of incremental Gross Domestic Product and 155,000 additional jobs through the liberalisation of the African skies.
She added that the benefit for consumers would be a 75 percent increase in direct services, savings on fares of 25 to 35 percent, time savings and greater convenience.
Adeyemi said, “Aviation is projected to grow by six percent year-on-year in the next 20 years, which means so much opportunity to tap into. For Nigeria, aviation plays an important role in the economy, over 80 percent of visitors to the country come in for business and there is still room for us to develop our tourism sector.
“The status quo is not working for Nigerian or African aviation, but the next 20 years are set to be exciting times for African and Nigerian aviation. The industry is forecast to show strong growth but these outcomes are not guaranteed so we must remain vigilant to those factors, which could derail this progress. Partnerships remain key to unlocking the potential in Africa and Nigeria to ensure these benefits can be realised.”
The Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, ahead of the inauguration of the treaty, had urged stakeholders to commit to its full implementation and operationalisation, adding that the country needed to leap forward to become an effective global competitor in aviation.
He stated that as one of the pioneer signatories to the Yamoussoukro Decision and one of the 23 states that had so far made solemn commitment to the implementation of the SAATM, Nigeria had constituted a national implementation committee to review all the subsisting Bilateral Air Services Agreements to be in consonance with the YD, adding that the process of domesticating it was currently at an advanced stage.
“Nigeria recognised the need to provide for enhanced traffic growth that will be an offshoot of the full operationalisation of the SAATM. Currently, some of the international airports are being expanded with the addition of new terminals; the government has also approved the concession of the major international airports in its efforts to reposition them for better service delivery,” the minister added.
While some stakeholders have given a nod to the treaty, airline operators are opposed it, saying that given the harsh environment under which they operate, the indigenous carriers would gain nothing from the SAATM.
The Airline Operators of Nigeria had asked the Federal Government not to go ahead with the implementation of the treaty, adding that doing otherwise would have grave consequences on the nation’s economy and the aviation industry in particular.
“We are concerned that the timing is not right as there are several unresolved issues and challenges being faced by Nigerian aviation that will ultimately undermine the perceived gains of this treaty that might be an illusion for our beloved country,” the Chairman, AON, Capt. Nogie Meggison said.
Aviation consultant and the Chief Executive Officer, Belujane Konzult, Mr. Chris Aligbe, however, said the global aviation industry was growing fast and Nigeria must grow with it.
He stated that policymakers, airline operators and other relevant stakeholders in aviation should look at the challenges in the industry and think of a way forward.
“Other African airlines will kill Nigerian airlines completely if we do not do this,” he added.