Unfavourable Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) that allow foreign airlines access into the local market is costing the Nigerian economy and her ailing aviation sub-sector billions of naira yearly.
The loss, in excess of over N200 billion, follows the perennial inability of the nation’s flag carriers to reciprocate and compete with their international partners on the BASA routes. Consequently, the local air travel market, second largest in Africa, keeps losing while its foreign counterparts and their home countries are the better for it.
The Guardian’s investigation reveals that the imbalance is even worse off in the deals between Nigeria and her neighbours. Sadly, while the nation’s flag carriers are denied entry, the reverse remains the case with flights from these countries, moving from one airport to another.
Indeed, the situation consistently depletes the foreign exchange reserves in favour of other economies. With a large population, a comparative advantage at that, the industry has kept losing potential revenue that ordinarily should have boosted its paltry 0.4 per cent contribution to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
BASA, otherwise called Air Transport Agreement (ATA), is an understanding between two nations to allow international commercial air transport services with their territories. It dates back to the Chicago Convention of 1944.
BASAs cover the basic framework under which airlines are granted bilateral rights to fly two countries. The frequency, designated airlines of the signatories, origin, intermediate points as well as traffic rights, type of aircraft and tax issues are normally covered by Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs).
Figures from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) confirm that there are at least 90 of such agreements as at December 2016.
Nigeria’s notable partners include United States, United Kingdom (UK), France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Qatar, South Africa and Ethiopia.
Others are Netherlands, Italy, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Togo, Ghana, Liberia, Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire as well as new entrants – Seychelles and Bahamas – among others.
Besides U.S., UK, South Africa and Ghana where Nigerian carriers like Arik, Air Peace and Med-View significantly reciprocate with flights operations, returning the same business gesture in others countries has been very difficult, if not impossible.
These airlines fly multiple routes and frequencies in Nigeria without any reciprocation. Lufthanza flies from Port Harcourt, Abuja and back to Munich, Germany. Air France does Abuja, Port Harcourt and back to Abuja before heading for Paris. Yet, the airline undertakes another leg from Lagos to Paris.
Turkish Airline has about four destinations in Nigeria. Ethiopian Airlines flies to all international airports, and has just added Enugu. Asky also does multiple frequencies to Abuja and Lagos daily. Emirates, Qatar and Etihad do more than 28 frequencies weekly.
Delta does about 10 frequencies too weekly. As at the last check, only Saudi airlines can now airlift Nigerian pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for Hajj operations.