Nigeria to deploy diplomatic retaliatory air treaty regime on foreign carriers which countries insist Nigerian carriers must buy slots at their airports before granting approval for flights, according to the head of the nation’s aviation agency.
The new regime, which he described as ‘tit-for-tat ‘ has become imperative because some countries were deploying the slot allocation systems at their airports as a ploy to undermine Nigerian carriers, the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Musa Nuhu has said.
He said Nigeria would not tolerate a situation where such countries hide under the cover of airport slots to give unfair commercial advantage to foreign carriers.
He said United Arab Emirates (UAE) , carrier – Emirates Airlines would not be cleared to resume flights into Nigeria until civil aviation authorities in the Arab Nation officially communicated the extra flight frequency granted to Air Peace.
“Believe me, we are working on that and it is going to be tit-for-tat. Let me use an example and I am not saying that is what we are going to do, but just as an example.
“If a Nigerian airline is going to the United Kingdom and they insist that the Nigerian airline must buy slots, then any British Airlines that is coming into Nigeria will need to pay for slots too. It is tit-for-tat.
“If you tell me a particular airline from Nigeria cannot go to Heathrow because you cannot get slots, then, their airline too cannot come into Lagos because of slot issues.
“If you tell me a particular airline from Nigeria must pay, for instance, 100,000 pounds to operate to Heathrow, then, their own airline will have to pay the same amount of money to operate to Lagos. It is going to be reciprocity.
“We cannot hide under the issue of slots to give unfair commercial advantages to foreign airlines over Nigerian airlines. We had made mistakes in the past, we have learnt from our mistakes and we are going to correct the mistakes.
“Under the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) pre-Covid-19, Emirates was operating two flights daily to Lagos, making 14 and another daily flight to Abuja, making it a total 21 flights weekly and under the same BASA arrangement, Etihad was making seven flights weekly to Nigeria, making UAE with 28 weekly flights into Nigeria, but unfortunately, because of the capacity of Nigerian airlines, only one Nigeria carrier out of the designated airlines was operating to UAE and was actually operating to Sharjah because it had difficulties getting slots and other things to operate into Dubai.
“But, Sharjah is one of the emirates covered by the BASA. Air Peace has been operating to Sharjah since 2018 or 2019 and it was doing three flights weekly. So, when Covid-19 came, all flights stopped and operations resumed a few months later and was also disrupted due to some protocols by the UAE, which the Nigerian Government felt was discriminatory and Emirates was stopped from operating into Nigeria.
“It took negotiations for the flights to be resumed and after nine months, flights between the two countries resumed. So, Emirates sent a winter schedule, which was agreed pre-Covid; 14 to Lagos and seven to Abuja weekly.
“Air Peace went to Sharjah and wanted to resume only three flights weekly because of their capacity, but initially, the UAE GCAA claimed that Air Peace had been given two slots and kept telling us stories.
“After about a few days, they came out to give only one slot for Air Peace into Sharjah and claimed inadequate slots for their action. They said they cannot keep three slots for Air Peace, which has stopped flying into their country.
“Meanwhile, Emirates has stopped flying into Nigeria, yet we still gave them the 21 slots they requested for and here we are, we are asking for three and they are giving us stories.
”I reported to the minister and the minister said if they are willing to give us just one slot, we should give them only one slot, which was exactly what we did. That is justice. Then, UAE wrote a letter to the Nigerian Minister, but as I am talking, the minister has not officially received that letter, but that letter was given in the social media.
”To me, that is disrespectful to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If a Minister of a country is writing to the Minister of another country, it must be through the diplomatic channels of communication – government to government, but they put the letter in the social media for the whole world to see and my minister has not received that letter officially.
“So, we cannot be reacting to a supposedly official letter in the social media. It is very wrong.
”Dubai CAA wrote to Air Peace and told the airline that it has seven slots reserved for it at Dubai Airport. So, the CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, showed the letter to the Minister and we said Air Peace is designated to outside Nigeria based on the flight rules and Emirates is designated by the UAE Government under the BASA arrangement and we concluded that is what we are going to do. We told them to write to Nigeria officially.
“It is important to have all these officially. So, the Nigerian Government is ready to allow the operations to start through the proper diplomatic channel. The Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs has written to the Foreign Affairs of UAE to confirm officially if the letter was from them.
“Then, we will see where we go from there. It is important to have fairness, transparency and equity,” Nuhu told The Nation in an interview.