Nigerian airlines are not enthusiastic about any rapid implementation of the Single African Air Traffic Market (SAATM). This was made clear at the recent 27th Annual African Aviation Summit (Air Finance Africa) by national industry association Airline Operators of Nigeria CEO Noggie Meggasin.
The SAATM, popularly known as ‘Open Skies’, was formally adopted by 23 African countries, including Nigeria, in January. The Nigerian government’s decision to adhere to the agreement was taken despite opposition to it by the country’s airline industry. Currently, all Nigerian airlines are private-sector operations.
“We, as operators in Nigeria, believe Open Skies in Africa will bring benefits,” he affirmed. “But we can’t put the cart before the horse.”
There were many important issues that had to be addressed first. These included visa restrictions that hampered the ability of Africans to move around their own continent (and so constrained African air travel markets). Other issues included widely, even wildly, varying landing fees and tariffs around Africa. He highlighted that a Nigerian airliner landing at Abidjan, in Côte d’Ivoire, had to pay landing fees some 15 times higher than what would be paid by an Ivorian airliner landing at a Nigerian airport. He doubted that the Ivorian airliner paid the same fees as the Nigerian when it landed back at Abidjan.
The Nigerian operators felt that the current African air transport set-up discriminated against them. Airlines from other African countries could fly to five destinations in Nigeria, while Nigerian airlines could, in many other African countries, fly to only one destination in return.
In discussion, it emerged that Ethiopia, and its highly successful State-owned national carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, was a particular irritation. Although the Nigerians admired the success of Ethiopian Airlines, they believe, that it benefits from the unfair support of its government, including measures to make it difficult for other airlines to compete with it on routes to and from Ethiopia.
He asserted that Ethiopian Airlines flew in and out of Nigeria, made money from Nigeria, but had made no investments in Nigeria and employed almost no local staff. He cited, as a contrary example, UK (private-sector) flag carrier British Airways, which had invested in South African private-sector airline group Comair and had interconnected schedules with its African partner.
“We want value to be added,” affirmed Meggasin. “Ethiopian – I wish them well, but they should . . . grow Africa and not just Ethiopia.” As for the SAATM, “[i]mplementing it is not the same as signing it now.”