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Tourism cannot thrive without a national carrier – Ikechi Uko

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nigeria_airwaysThe organiser, Akwaaba African Travel Market, Mr Ikechi Uko in this interview with ’WALE OLAPADE spoke on the importance of a national carrier to boost tourism in Nigeria and sundry issues. Excerpts.

Regulatory issues

THERE are regulation issues and problems in Road Safety than in aviation, so, I expect the new Minister of Aviation, Mr Osita Chidoka to do well. I hope he doesn’t get trapped in the politics of the industry, he should see it as a national call and the reward of doing well is very high the consequence of making small errors is equallyenormous. He should probably make use of his best opportunity to see that he gets a good tenure. I believe he is coming with good pedigree and I expect him to do well.

Ongoing projects with the change of baton in the aviation sector.

I do believe that there are evil people in Nigeria and they might not know that they are doing evil, to some of us who have to travel frequently, if anyone says that there is no need to improve the quality of our airports, that person hates Nigeria or probably such person does not live in Nigeria. There is a crying need for a facelift. In the last six years, I have travelled and I have seen three countries with fantastic airports. I have seen Egypt, Addis, South Africa and Kenya in the last two years there has been an improvement and last month they started opening a part of the airport. Why is it that Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa and with largest number of travellers think we do not need improvement in our airports facilities? I do not understand this. I would actually see them from a negative point of view because this country needs excellent facilities and we need to have one of the best airport facilities in the world because we are the largest travellers. Therefore, Chidoka should please ignore anti progress elements, but rather concentrate on getting the projects completed and make sure the quality meet sinternational standard.

International capital flights and national carrier

I have always been an advocate of a national carrier because I have seen the benefits. Maybe fortunately or unfortunately I have dealt with the African airlines that are mostly government-owned and I know that the national carrier provide capacity that no airline can provides. The amount of training that the national carriers do in Africa is enormous. Capacity enhancement is one of the biggest problems we have because an airline will think of bottom-line; “I don’t want to train pilots for other people to poach on them or train an engineer for a Middle Eastern carrier to pay them twice.”

But if you have a national carrier, this will be seen as national development. So there are some things that are beneficial to the national carrier, there are some rights the national carrier will have, which I think are missing. There is a gap in the Nigeria aviation environment because we do not have any airline protecting our national pride. In case Nigeria says we do not want a national carrier, can we empower Arik to be our national carrier? We need a national carrier to represent Nigeria. I haven’t seen any reason Nigeria shouldn’t have any national carrier.

Synergy between aviation and tourism

Aviation doesn’t have any problem about data. Their data is most times almost correct. Almost because there are some discrepancies in the figures in the three agencies that are supposed to collate. The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has its own figures and Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority  (NCAA) which is the regulator. Apart from that, aviation  ..but for me, what I think the new Minister of Aviation should do is the fact that tourism flies on the wing of a national carrier and Nigeria needs one to become a tourism destination. The minister should go ahead to make sure Nigeria have a national carrier to drive tourism patronage.

On professional heading the aviation sector

I actually read about a similar story that said that some unions are complaining that other unions do not have right to close down the airspace. So if unions do not agree among themselves with who is relevant and who is not, I wonder what will happen if you appoint one of them to head the aviation ministry. Ministers are political appointees representing the interest of the president; they are messengers of the president, legislative is one, executive is another and judiciary, they just represent the interest of the president and he can appoint anybody. And when we talk about professionals, can we look at what they do in America where we copied our bureaucracy. Do they appoint professionals as it is to head those industries? What they need is a good manager, somebody who could do the job very well. Yes, for the Director-General of the NCAA and AIB of NAMA, we need a professional, but for a minister, this is a political appointment because his job is politics and to supervise what everyone else is doing. He is not expected to fly an aircraft neither is he expected to maintain a plane. I do not buy that idea. I would be happy that we have a professional but if they give us, all we need in the industry in Nigeria is to have competent managers; people who can do very well.

New minister’s port of duty

He should complete the airports because they are falling apart. He should make sure that the jobs are completed and ensure that our airports are passengers-friendly. But I can understand the security situation in Nigeria, in the process of removing bottleneck, they add more. The minister should think about economic regulation and support for the airlines. For now, I will advise he concentrates on the airports.

Complaint over international airlines operating domestic routes.

I always believed before that multi destination cannot be a good thing, but I asked myself a question, before Ethiopian airlines started flying to Enugu, how many airlines were flying to Enugu? We only had two or three airlines. Are those airlines having less passengers for the past one year that ET has been flying? There is a need, if there is no need, there will be no product. If we have a national carrier that is robust and strong, we can actually challenge anyone on the route because it would now be in its own interest and the interest of Nigeria to protect it. But, because we do not own these airlines and Nigeria doesn’t normally support what it does not own, Nigerians as a people do not support Nigerians against foreigners. It is a bad habit, because you do not own these carriers, so you don’t see the need to support and protect them. If we have a national carrier, it will be everybody’s job to protect the carrier. One of the fallouts of not having a carrier is the multi-designation. So if you stop them, I know people from the South-East want flight into Enugu.   So it is Nigerians that are asking these people to come and if Nigerians who want this business to think are preventing us from having a national carrier, then they might as well allow people to get the best services needed.


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