Since after the demise of the Nigeria Airways Limited (NAL), which hitherto dominated the West and Central Africa air travel market, competing with Ghana’s and Cameroon’s national carriers, these sub-regions, known as the West Coast, have remained an open market. Now competition is rife in this market, which Nigerian airlines ought to play dominant roles because over 60 per cent of passengers in this market are Nigerians, whose population is in excess of the total population of the rest of West Africa. THISDAY gathered that all the national carriers that existed in the countries that dominated these sub-regions in the past had all gone under, prompting international and regional carriers to dominate the market. In the past, travellers in these areas were competed for by NAL, Cameroon Airlines, Ghana Airways and Air Afrique. But as the population continued to grow and these national carriers ceased operations, this created a vacuum in these areas, which made it possible that at a time anyone travelling to any of these destinations would have to first travel to Europe first before connecting flights to such destinations. So international carriers like Air France, KLM, Lufthansa and other European carriers and later Ethiopian Airlines became the dominant carriers into these regions. Informed sources disclosed that after the demise of NAL, Nigerian airlines stopped playing major roles in this market and that vacuum attracted new carriers including old and new operators who were aware of the lucrative market of the West Coast.
Before it went under, Virgin Nigeria generated much of its revenues from its West Coast operations as it became the dominate carrier in the area, which Aero Contractors hitherto dominated. Before Virgin Nigeria’s dominance, Bellview was a major competitor in the market, but now the Nigerian carrier that seemed to play major role in the market is Arik Air. But South Africa Airways (SAA), Ethiopian Airlines and other African carriers have seen the huge West Coast market and want to play significant role in the market. The strategy is to create other carriers that be stationed in the region. Ethiopian helped to establish Asky in Lome and it is using the airport as sub-regional hub to target Nigerian passengers to even international destinations. Taking a cue from ET, SAA is eyeing to play significant role in the same market. This has left the Nigerian carriers in the lurch. Will they be able to compete with these new airlines for the West Coast? Travel expert, Ikechi Uko told THISDAY that the huge population of Nigerian travellers are the target of these African airlines and with the open sky from Africa, which would be ratified and adopted next year, the market would be open for every player in the continent. Uko, who is the organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market said that Nigeria should support its own airlines, just as Ghana, Ethiopia, South Africa and other nations are supporting their airlines to be competitive by removing obstacles on their way through policies to enable them thrive and succeed. He said that to enable Nigerian airlines to compete effectively in the West Coast market, government must have to support the Nigerian carriers; just as other nations in the continent are supporting theirs, noting that while Nigeria is still dawdling, Ghana is opening up its economy and taking advantage of the Nigerian population by enabling its airlines to partner international carriers to dominate the market in the sub-region. Ethiopia from East Africa has started competing effectively in West and Central Africa with Asky and using Lome to attract Nigerian passengers who would now leave Lagos and Abuja to travel with ET via Lome.
“Ghana has opened up their economy, they are liberalising everything according to the agenda 2053 of AU. So they are giving 5th freedom rights to a lot of airlines out of Accra. They have started the visa-on arrival for all Africans and already most of those international organisation which have NGO in West Africa are choosing Ghana for their headquarters. But the strength of that economy is still very small compared to even Lagos State. So we can create the environment that benefits our own people. Now South African Airways has fifth freedom right and they fly from Accra to Washington and most of the passengers you will see there are from Nigeria. Ethiopian airlines is starting a flight from Lome to New York and most of those passenger are from Nigeria. Ghana has given fifth freedom right to Air Maroc to fly from Accra to everywhere, they have also given to Egypt, Kenya Airways to do some of those West Coast routes. “The passengers in West Africa are out of Nigeria. So we are not saying we should stop other airlines, the negative argument of stop other airlines from flying and don’t give right to other airline is a negative argument. Instead of doing that open up competition, then support Nigerian carriers to win the fight. There is no need stopping multi-destination and the rest of them, that deprives the passenger benefits because that is monopoly. But what you could do is you open up then you help your own airlines and give them an advantage. And that advantage could be waivers , subsidies , could be lower fees as Nigerian carriers,” Uko said. He said the government has to bring a basket of benefits to now transform these small carriers into real flag carriers.
“You don’t call airlines flag carriers just by mouth, there have to be a basket of benefits that we will give to them that and would enhance their capacity. THISDAY also learnt that Nigerian travel agents seeing the potential market from other airlines operating from Ghana have in response to demand, started being tickets from these airlines in Accra for their clients. In other words, the market in the West Coast is being taken over by other airlines outside West African, using Ghana and Lome, Togo as hubs at the detriment of the Nigerian carriers. Uko noted that Accra is already playing the role of a hub in West Africa because “most the business class passengers are from Nigeria. And in the last one week I can tell you how many Nigerian travel agencies have asked me for contacts in Ghana, they want to start selling tickets to Ghana. I can tell you this that I have made such connections for people”.