Politics

Airpeace: breaking the cartel of costly air travel abroad.

By Tahir Ibrahim Tahir Talban Bauchi.

The exploitation of Nigerians, unabated, in very high costs of air travel abroad, has gone on for years, with Nigerian air travelers paying three times the amount other travelers from neighbouring African countries pay. Even South Africans pay far cheaper than what Nigerians pay, despite the shorter travel time from Nigeria to countries like the UK. For over seven years, there has not been a single indigenously Nigerian airline that has made the trip to the UK, the USA and other European countries. We are forced to patronise foreign airlines at exorbitant costs. This constitutes a heavy burden on our foreign exchange, as those airlines repatriate their funds in foreign exchange, usually at a cheaper CBN exchange rate. It amounts to huge importation costs as we pay in naira, and they are ‘re-imbursed’ in dollars. Arik and Medview are some of the local airlines that have tried to ply the UK routes but have been frustrated by sharp and unfriendly practices by the host countries, whose airlines enjoy the best of business and hosting environments in Nigeria.

On Saturday, the 31st of March, 2024, a maiden Airpeace flight, a Boeing 777 aircraft landed at Gatwick Airport in London, United Kingdom, bringing an end to the over 7 years of hostilities against our domestic airlines. A passenger posted on his social media handle that he was able to purchase an Airpeace ticket from Lagos to London for 761 dollars, as against a British Airlines ticket of 1580 dollars. With this new development, Nigerian passengers now pay a total of N1,200,000 for return economy seats with Airpeace for which British Airways used to charge N3,500,000. With Airpeace, N4,000,000 is charged for return business class seats, for which foreign airlines used to charge N15,000,000 or more. The very sharp drop in prices implemented by Airpeace has had the market spin on its head, as other airlines are struggling to compete with the 66% decrease in the cost of air travel to Europe. British Airways is now as low as N2,000,0000 for a return economy ticket. There are signs that Qatar Airways is working on reducing its airfare to London, to as low as under a million. Airpeace flights to the UK have been over subscribed to as far as September, causing the airline to open up more slots in view of the unprecedented patronage.

The Federal Government has played a huge role in all of this, enabling a conducive and friendly business eco-system. Airfares had become inflated to well over 400% of their previous charges in the last two years, most of it exploitative. The recent clearing of all FX backlogs by the CBN, has allowed foreign airlines to recover their funds, which was one of the factors they hinged their high costs on. As the exchange rate of the naira and the dollar drops, it is envisaged that most of the foreign airlines will drop their fares too. This also depends on the IATA, International Air Transport Association platform exchange rate, as most of the airlines quote the prices on that basis. Airpeace stands at a vantage point here as the airlines’ fares are charged in naira for direct flights, as against some airlines that would have stop overs in their host terminals.

The Federal Minister of Aviation, Festus Keyamo, SAN, must be commended for this feat, at a time like this, when inflation and high costs of living are burning through the fingers of Nigerians. He fought tooth and nail to make this possible, with countless visits to the UK and France, to be able to negotiate a fair deal for not only Airpeace, but all indigenous Nigerian airlines. The countries whose airlines have enjoyed the patronage of Nigerians at very exorbitant prices, have failed to honor the BASA, Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreements between their countries and Nigeria. They had resorted to all kinds of practices that undermined the efficiency of Nigerian airlines plying the same route their airlines enjoy. From catering services, to baggage conveyors, and other cargo haulage hiccups, to very distant and hostile terminals for arrivals. Festus Keyamo has done a lot to iron out all these challenges, and most importantly, restore the route for our domestic airlines. Leasing of aircraft is another thorny issue that has been to the disadvantage of local airlines due to what they term as ‘country threat’. The Honorable Minister has had to take a trip to France to assist our airlines in getting a dry lease which is cheaper and more manageable, than a wet lease which is cut-throat, difficult to manage, with marginal profit. His trips abroad have paved the way for cheaper airfares for Nigerians, as well as more and improved routes for domestic airlines. It is safe to say that his experience as a SAN have helped him navigate the nitty-gritty of Aviation politics around the world. This huge crash in foreign travel airfares for Nigerians is indeed a hope renewer and a great achievement by the Honorable Minister.

Tahir is Talban Bauchi.

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