AVIATIONLINE: Domestic airlines in Nigeria are like patients with terminal ailments, they hardly live beyond 10 years. How can their life span be elongated?
CAPTAIN DELE ORE:
There is the price war. These are the things that will kill any airline eventually. As long as the aircraft lies down all night waiting because there is nowhere to go. Is it that there is nowhere to go; is it that there is nowhere to go or no concerted efforts are made to make sure they operate all night. No! Any aircraft that is sitting on the ram here is not making money. It is even spending money on the maintenance because there are some parts of the aircraft that will be running not by the flight hours but by the date on the spare part/aircraft. And of course, if you don’t have a concerted effort to have aircraft operating all night, then you are losing money. If security is the problem then you cannot attract people to come here in large number. The people who are not attracting large patronage will sooner or later they will fold up.
There are calls for the abrogation of the Open Sky Agreements, that they are inimical to the growth of domestic airlines. Do you agree?
CAPTAIN DELE ORE:
Open Skies Agreement, I think, was signed, in the year 2000 or thereabout; during the time of Honourable Minister KemaChikwe. That makes it nearly 15 years ago now. Shortly after it was signed the Aviation Round Table, ART, analysed the implication of that. We called on government to try and abrogate it immediately because it would not augur well with any Nigerian carrier. And every year, on the anniversary of the signing of the Open Skies Agreement, we had always come out with a statement, until recently when no one was listening anymore and we felt there was no need wasting our energy. It took the Philippines 22 years to abrogate it when they realised that it was not doing them any good. And it will take Nigeria that length of time because it was constructed in a language that it is very impossible not to default. If you want to give notice for extension, notice for amendment, notice for termination, it has to be done on the anniversary of one particular event and to be deposited in one particular place, and all that. I am telling you it is complicated and Nigeria will not be able to keep to deadline and the thing will continue to run. We must seize the opportunity now.
What actually is in this Open Skies Agreement? Open Skies really is to allow for a designated carrier of a particular country to come with no restricted frequency, to be able to operate with no restriction also in the skies, the type of aircraft they are using and the other party should be able to reciprocate to that country. Then you now ask… take the Open Skies Agreement with the United States. I think by now about four of the United States carriers are coming here.
AVIATIONLINE (Cuts in):
We have Delta and United Airlines are the ones coming now.
CAPTAIN DELE ORE:
Oh, yes, as at now, I think two or three of them are still coming. At a time we had three of them. Now you have only one Nigerian airline going to the US. The term of the Open Skies Agreement allows the American carrier to do what we call carbotage; that is domestic trade. You know what we call carbotage especially in the maritime shipping lines are not allowed to do coastal trading and internal works, and all that.
Article VII of the Chicago Convention stipulates that member states should not allow carbotage in their territory. Carbotage is just domestic operation. That is exactly what we have allowed the American carriers to do; to come, arrive in Lagos, from Lagos to Port-Harcourt, Port-Harcourt to Abuja, if they have the capacity; Abuja to Kano, then from Kano to Hong Kong. That is exactly what we signed away. That is what we call carbotage. Despite the fact that the Article VII of Chicago Convention says we should not do it, it is there in the agreement; in the Open Skies Agreement.
AVIATIONLINE (Cuts in):
Does it mean that we don’t have people in the Ministry who can interpret all these things to government before signing any agreement with another country?
CAPTAIN DELE ORE: My voice, my face and everything that stands for Aviation Round Table, ART, the Ministry doesn’t like to hear it. So, if I say they don’t have qualified people, I will say, no! They have. But do we have people who are not selfish who will act in the best interest of the country rather their own interest? We don’t have. We have heard stories of people, to this agreement they just add $5.00 per passenger. There are others we heard who had accepted gifts of vehicles (Volkswagen and Prairie brands) for themselves and their children and they signed away these things to the detriment of our country and our children yet unborn. So, we have them. But do we have those, who, legitimately will speak for this country and the best interest of this country?
But things are about to change. Once they hear that the leadership, what they call body language, has changed now, they will do things differently. But how do we right the wrongs of the past? To go ahead and renegotiate and give notice of all these things is very cumbersome. Which airline or organisation has benefitted from the Open Skies Agreement? The answer is: none. The Open Skies Agreement, you may want to know, allows foreign carriers to come to Nigeria, they are not bound to employ any Nigerian. They can set up here in Nigeria their own handling companies to the detriment of NAHCO, SAHCOL and PAHCOL. They are not bound to even consider…, they can do self-handling, they can do everything by themselves, and they don’t need Nigerians. Now you will say these should be reciprocated when the Nigerian carriers go there. We don’t have the capacity; otherwise why is Arik going only to one point there? That’s all. They are not allowed, to go to New York, from New York to Washington, from Washington to Chicago, from there to Atlanta, or something like that. No! I don’t even know whether they give them any other point than New York. As at now, I think there are two or three of them still coming. We have Delta and the United Airlines coming now; at a time we had three of them. Now you have only one Nigerian airline. The term of the Open Skies Agreement allows the American carrier to do what we call carbotage; that is foreign carriers should not engage in domestic operations. It is similar to carbotage in maritime whereby foreign shipping lines are barred from engaging in coastal trading and internal works. Article VII of the Chicago Convention stipulates that member states should not allow carbotage in their territories. Carbotage refers to domestic operations. That is exactly what we have allowed the American Airlines to do: arrive Lagos, from Lagos to Port-Harcourt, Port-Harcourt to Abuja, if they have the capacity, from Abuja to Kano and from there to Hong Kong. That is exactly what we signed away. That is what we call carbotage. Despite the fact that the Article VII of the Chicago Convention says we should not do; it is there in the agreement; in the Open Skies Agreement.
AVIATIONLINE: Spending of BASA funds
CAPTAIN DELE ORE:
And we are fully aware that the funds were just taken off from the BASA fund that was in the Central Bank of Nigeria, in a special account. Section 75 of the Civil Aviation Act 2006 is very clear on how BASA fund should be disbursed. I will quote: “it only can be spent on aviation development upon requisition by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA to the National Assembly which will then appropriate it for the purpose. If you have not followed that process it is a criminal thing to draw from the fund. The Civil Aviation Act is the basic law for aviation in Nigeria. If you don’t follow it and you draw the power from the Constitution. Anything you do that is not in conformity with this law is a criminal act. Until the BASA fund was exhausted, then they started looking into other funds from the parastatals and they were consuming it. And they went to China to obtain loan: $500 million. You can go on and on like that. I think they are trying to pass the debt to FAAN. Whatever it is, since FAAN is owned by all of us and we are only passing the debt to our children unborn.
So now, we want to ask that question: should the project (the remodelling exercise) continue? The answer is: yes; provided you now look into all the anomalies. There must never be an abandoned project because we have wasted so much money on it.
But we want to recap: before we continue we must know how much we have spent, where we get this money from, who approved it, and what process did we follow? And while doing that, we must probe the system, the quality of work done and who supervised it? And then you can say while we are not abandoning, we are doing this or that; the one we can continue, let us continue. Otherwise I do not say they should abandon the remodelling or they should not abandon it. It is conditional; that no project should be abandoned but we must go ahead to find out what, when, how, who did what and at what cost and we must bring the people to book. It is not just enough to even recover our money; we must send them to jail.
Do you want the incoming Minister of Aviation to continue with the airports re-modelling project?
CAPTAIN DELE ORE:
This is the simplest question. I have a feeling that yet if you have a Minister that is from our industry, he doesn’t need to go round again for familiarisation. He sits in his office and he knows what to do and then he doesn’t have to depend on those high ‘chiefs’ and ‘wise men’ that misadvise the last ten ministers in that ministry. They are still there. So if they are not merging the ministry with another, I believe that they merge it with Transport. And then, whoever is our man, the aviation person, who is the technical person, should go and read it. There can be a merger of aviation, rail, road and shipping, and all that. Once you have a strong regulatory authority and you have a Minister that will have no right to go and be interfering unduly with the regulatory authority, we would have a perfect system. I want to say here that what the Minister should be looking at first is Section I of the Civil Aviation Act 2006 which is very clear about what the role of the Minister should be. The Minister’s job is simply policy formulation. The Minister is not to take policy and camouflage it to become policy regulator and lord. No. That is illegal; ICAO says we should not do that. Having looked at the policy if there are portions we need to take out, especially certain funny documents like the 2013 policy, we should not hesitate to take them to the dustbin and throw them away. Because it is not only illegal, it violates so many issues of our law. Policy is not a regulation; like safety and economic regulations; they must be separated from policy. Secondly, you must look at the manpower needs of the industry because the industry will die a natural death. We must do something about the manpower needs. In future there are certain machines, like soft end machines, that are sophisticated but which we don’t have Nigerians who have the expertise to repair them. Otherwise you will find out that our engineers, pilots, Air Traffic Controllers, etc, soon will be Philipinos, Indians and all that. You will go on board of a Nigerian aircraft and you will find that they are all white faces. That scenario will erode safety because there are some places where our boys, when they just look down they will say that that is Kukuruku Hill, we should not be at so and so height. A foreigner will not know. A Nigerian who is familiar with the terrain will just look down and say: “ah! We are 10 miles off track O! We are supposed to be at so, so, place O or at so, so side of this place O! When they see River Benue and River Niger they will be able to recognise them easily. Then they will look out for the Niger Bridge, Jebba, Bida, and so on. So a local boy knows a lot of things that these foreigners don’t know. Then, our security; these foreigners, there are a lot of them; just there with their camera and other gadgets. I know some of these countries, when their nationals are married to our daughters, they are here on assignment. They must look at that regarding manpower. It is very essential. And then, this idea of getting multiple designation and multiple entry points for these airlines. Already these airlines are putting our domestic airlines out of business. By the reason of the multiple designation, foreign airlines are now doing domestic operations. For instance, when Ethiopian Airlines flight comes from Addis Ababa, lands in Enugu, from Enugu to Abuja and then to Kano. The same thing with those Middle East carriers, some of them come in here 20 times a week. You allow them to go to Abuja and everywhere. This type of thing causes jeopardy for our domestic airlines. Government must do something before the domestic aviation is killed.
AVIATIONLINE: Thank you for your time and for granting us the interview. Thank you, sir.