What is your thought on consumer satisfaction and the safety of airlines?

Like every other sector of the economy, airlines are in trouble and have impacted on them. If there is no expendable fund, they won’t go flying. The fares have risen tremendously and the airlines with their costs too. The airlines themselves in terms of consumer protection have not done what they should do. They blame everybody except themselves. For so many years, there has been talks of having arrangements within themselves, interline so that if you cancel their flights, they should be able to take me on another flight but they don’t want to do that.

Is that not putting the airlines in competition?

Which competition, that you cannot take passengers and put in another airline and that is the approach globally. They have not learnt. They complain about everybody; yes, there are challenges outside of them, but there are intrinsic challenges coming from them which they are not about to address including corporate governance. They quarrel with you when you tell them about interlining, you tell them look at your schedule when they are down to two or three aircraft and to make sure they operate properly, they will not listen thinking you are just criticizing them for nothing.

Is it not possible for the regulator to step in?

Apart from safety, the consumer rights in our country have been abused by our domestic and foreign airlines. I think the NCAA has been doing something about it and see to it that these things are put in place. This is impacting negatively on them. Some people say stop foreign airlines from going to many destinations so that when they bring passengers, our airlines can take them. Our airlines are not in a position to offer that kind of service of interlining with foreign airlines because they can’t interline with themselves. A foreign airline who brings in passengers and you cancel the flight, that foreign airline, there is what we call carrier liability, the liability of you disappointing the passengers. Today, when they cancel flights, you wait two weeks or one month before you get your refund. In the US and other places, it is instant, you give the passengers their money immediately. If you fail, the passengers can sue.


What about the FCCPC as the protector of consumer rights?

That is the overall consumer right. I love the situation where the FCCPC is a referral institution. Let NCAA take care of the issues in aviation. NCAA is known by ICAO because all these laws come from ICAO. FCCPC is an omnibus agency and has shown that it has teeth to bite. It has a lot to do but if it goes to every sector it will be overloaded that it will begin to lose strength but it should stay as a referral institution so that whenever there is a failure, it can now be referred to FCCPC because FCCPC has a tribunal. I think that is what should happen in this situation.

What is your take on the drop of Nigeria in the recent International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) rating?

No country wants to drop when such audits are conducted because it will first give an impression that standard is dropping but it doesn’t make our airspace unsafe. All that it means is that when you notice a gap, all we need to do is to quickly close the gap. It is a drop, yes but we should not be dropping that way.

What do you have to say about NAMA’s insistence that Nigeria’s airspace is captured by total radar coverage?

The fact of the matter is that it is a safety audit; arguments to and fro is not necessary. What is necessary is for us to take the result and work to improve the situation. If we were at 96 percent before, let us stay at 96 percent even if we don’t go higher because 96 percent is very high compared to 90 percent. There is a gap, we have noticed it, we should close it rather than go about with this argument.


What then should be done to get back to at least 90 percent?

I wouldn’t know the exact details of what to be done but normally when such audits are conducted, they tell you the areas of deficiencies, areas to work on. All the agencies involved, NAMA, NCAA and FAAN will take these areas and close them. It happens everywhere but when you don’t accept the situation, we will be living in self denial, we must address the issue and get back to where we should be.


Airlines falling short of expectation and the problem of infrastructure in the sector generally. What is the problem with airlines?

Infrastructure challenges are there. Like I said, there are external factors and others. When you operate in a manner that you are not in a relationship with your partner at the domestic level, there is no way you will not be disappointing passengers, it is even worse when you are doing international operations. What we are operating today is what I will call stoneage operations. There are five levels of operation in the airline industry. The two areas that the world has become a global village is in telecommunication and airline industry and if you key into that globalised level; you are flying point to point, your market is constricted, you cannot make any money and you will be experiencing loses and that is what has happened. Nigeria Airways when it was chased out of the IATA clearing house from 1986 to Bellview, Arik, Medview and presently Air Peace.


So, where is Nigeria?

Nigeria is at the BASA level what I will call stone age level. When the airline industry started, they started with point to point as far back as 1933. 1947, IATA created the platform for interlining and codeshare. Nigeria Airways until it was removed from IATA clearing house in 1986 because it defaulted in payment did point to point. Arik, Medview, Air Peace point to point. When you are operating point to point to London, you only have about 30% of the whole traffic going to London because it is only those stopping in London that you can carry. Those going beyond London, that market is not for you. And of that 30% that is going to London, there are still some of them that are frequent fliers on Virgin, BA, you can’t get them. You cannot operate successfully with point to point operation.


How can we move away from point to point operations?

Let me tell you how to move away and that is the point to point is interlining arrangement that came in in 1947. That is the second level. I told you if you are not operating at the level of person you are interlining, there will be a liability. If you fail meeting your obligation, the other airline might be because you can sue an airline from anywhere it is taking off from. The third level is associate of a global alliance member. That happens when an alliance member invests in your airline like KLM invested in Kenya Airways, like the beleaguered Nigeria Air with Ethiopian Airlines. Ethiopian Airlines is an associate of global Alliance member and become an affiliate of an alliance member and the final level before you become an alliance member. There are three global alliances; One World is led by British Airways’ and American Airlines. There is a Skyteam and the largest is Star Alliance where you have Air France-KLM, Delta.


First year of minister?

I am a diehard optimist but even as a diehard optimist, I have a little bit circumspect. I say that it is too early to use one year to judge anybody but if you see the trajectory, where that person is going, you can say ok, we will be there. I think that whatever missteps, gaps or whatever has done will be corrected in this second year. If that happens, we will move forward.

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