What is peculiar about air transport in Nigeria is that it has one of the most lucrative international routes in Africa but these routes are dominated by mega carriers of the world, leaving less that five per cent to indigenous airlines.
This lopsided situation has lasted for decades and industry observers said there were many factors that have made this possible, which include government policy, aero politics, lack of capacity by indigenous carriers and their failure to meet global operational safety certification until recently.
In terms of government policy over the years, government has allowed multi-designation of foreign airlines, which operate from different airports in the country, thus discouraging possible code-share partnership with ingenious carriers. The Nigerian airlines, in the last few years, have met safety certification of the International Air Transport Association Operational Safety Audit (IOSA), which could enable them to operate to international destinations and partner with other international carriers.
It is under this reality that Nigerians appreciate the milestone achieved by the Nigerian airline, Air Peace, which started flight operation in 2014 and has been able to operate international destinations, including Johannesburg, Dubai and recently China.
Industry analysts observe that Nigerian carriers should be given government support in terms of backing their quest for international operations and adopting the policy of reciprocity so that when they are denied approvals to operate to some destinations, Nigeria would also reciprocate by stopping the countries’ airlines from operating on Nigerian routes.
The Nigerian Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika has received commendations for adopting this policy to protect Nigerian carriers.
On July 12, 2022, the Nigeria’s biggest carrier, Air Peace recorded its inaugural flight to Guangzhou China from the nation’s gateway, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
In her inaugural speech, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Air Peace, Mrs. Oluwatoyin Olajide said: “When we set out for the Air Peace trajectory in 2014, we envisaged an airline that would predominantly do two things: create massive employment for Nigerians and reduce the burden of air travel for Nigerians, and by extension, Africans, through the provision of affordable and peaceful connectivity across cities and continents.
“Now, we can confidently assert that Air Peace has kept to this vision of providing seamless connections and expanding existing network to accommodate the evolving air travel needs of the flying public. Today, we’re officially adding the continent of Asia to our network of continents, with the commencement of initial one-weekly flight to Guangzhou-China.
“If you have been following the growth of Air Peace, you will be familiar with the fact that the Chinese airspace is not new to us, as we’ve successfully operated several evacuation/special flights to the country at different times in the past, especially in 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown. So, we’re going into China, not as newcomers, but as an airline that is technically and operationally acclimatised with the Chinese terrain.”
Olajide also said that the flying public, especially those that fly the Guangzhou route, should expect best-in-class flight experience, which is characteristic of the Air Peace brand.
“We are not stopping with Guangzhou, as India is next and Israel is in the works. Also planned for subsequent launch are Malabo in Equatorial Guinea and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We will continue to grow our network as well as modernise our fleet strategically. Air Peace currently boasts of a network of twenty domestic routes, seven regional routes and two international destinations, including Dubai and Johannesburg,” she said.
She commended the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, the Ministry of Aviation, the Chinese government, the airline’s partners, and other stakeholders for making this possible.
“We promise to work harmoniously with all relevant aviation actors to ensure this new route is maximized,” she added.
Elated by this development, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, Hon. Nnolim Nnaji, applauded the management of Air Peace on the commencement of direct flight between Nigeria and China.
He noted that the commencement of direct flight to China by Air Peace would bring a huge relief to Nigerians and citizens of other African countries who travel regularly on business trips to China and stressed that Nigeria and indeed Africa shared huge business and cultural ties adding that the direct air link will further strengthen such relationships.
He also commended Air Peace “for mustering the courage to begin the long haul flight at the time the entire airlines globally were just struggling to overcome the enormous negative impact of COVID-19 on the aviation sector.”
Olajide also noted that the airline’s inaugural flight was historical because it left Nigeria with almost full load but noted that China is still observing restrictions due to COVID-19 and expressed optimism that as the restriction eases, more people would travel with the airline.
“What we have seen so far is encouraging. As China opens up, there will be more passengers,” she said.
Industry stakeholders said that if more Nigerian airlines operate international destinations they would be able to access forex, remarking that one of the major challenges of Nigerian carriers is that they sell their tickets in Naira while cost of aircraft maintenance, spares, training and other services are denominated in foreign currency.
They also commended Air Peace and urged the airline to do everything possible to sustain the operation of its international routes so that Nigeria would at least benefit from the lucrative Nigerian operations and also put a stop to the huge money taken out of the country by foreign carriers.