By Adekunle Williams and Solomon Asowata
Lagos – The Managing Director of Air Peace, Mr Allen Onyema, on Thursday said Nigerian airlines were opposed to implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) because of the absence of a level playing field.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Onyema made the assertion while speaking with newsmen in Lagos.
He said that currently, the treaty does not favour Nigeria because other countries use high charges to discourage Nigerian airlines from operating to their cities.
Onyema said when airlines from such countries come to Nigeria, they pay relatively less charges than what they levy Nigerian carriers.
The airline chief said what Nigerian airlines were demanding was observation of the principle of reciprocity by the Federal Government.
“When we say that this Single African Air Transport Market does not favour us, it is not because we cannot compete.
“It means that it does not favour us at this stage, except a level playing field is created.
“This is not only happening in Nigeria; when Emirates was eroding the US market, the airlines in America cried out.
“Their government did something about it and put policies that tried to stunt the spread of the Gulf airlines into America.
“This is in order to protect their own. So, we must try to protect our own in this country. If we don’t protect our own airlines, they will continue to struggle,” he said.
Onyema also spoke on safety in Nigeria’s aviation industry, commending the authorities for significant improvements over the years.
He attributed the feat to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority’s strict adherence to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recommended practices.
Onyema said the NCAA, in the last four years under the management of the current Director-General, Capt. Muhtar Usman, had improved the safety rating of the aviation industry.
He said that for instance, since the last accident involving Associated Aviation in 2013, there had not been any accident or major incident involving commercial airlines operating in Nigeria.
The airline chief said this accounted for Nigeria’s successive ICAO and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) audits with 96.4 per cent pass mark for safety.
“Talking about regulation, I think Nigerian airlines are well regulated.
“The NCAA is doing a wonderful job on that. It is not easy; sometimes you don’t feel comfortable with the way they are doing it, but they have to do it.
“The kind of regulation NCAA brings to bear on Nigerian airlines cannot be compared to any other; even in advanced countries.
“For instance, we had a bird strike on our first day in Kano and the pilot made air return back to the airport.
“We sent our British engineers to Kano to rescue the aircraft. Then we sent another aircraft to Abuja to go and airlift the passengers.
“Do you know that after the British engineers rectified it, NCAA insisted on being on the flight when we carried out a test flight? I was happy when I heard that,” he said.