The Bilateral Air Service Agreements between Nigeria and other countries around the world have risen to 92, just as there are indications some state governments are mounting pressure on the Federal Government to bring in foreign airlines into their states.
Information obtained from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority on Thursday showed that the air agreement recently signed between the Federal Government and the Republic of India had brought the number to 92.
The Federal Government last year also signed air agreements with Algeria, Congo, China, Qatar and Singapore.
A BASA is an air transport agreement between two countries and it liberalises commercial civil aviation services between the concerned nations by allowing designated airlines to operate commercial flights, covering transportation of passengers and cargoes.
However, over the years, stakeholders have lamented that most air agreements between Nigeria and other countries have been one-sided as Nigerian airlines have been unable to reciprocate the agreements.
The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, said many of BASAs had been reviewed to create opportunities for domestic carriers.
He, however, noted that the opportunities remained largely unutilised at about 10 per cent due to limited capacity.
Apart from agreements with countries outside the continent, Nigeria also has an open skies treaty known as the Single African Air Transport Market with about 27 other member states of the African Union as well as other potential signatories.
Currently, 25 foreign airlines operate flights into Nigeria; some daily, from multiple destinations. While only one Nigerian airline operates internationally, one or two others operate on regional routes.
Analysts in the industry said BASAs were supposed to create opportunities for Nigerian airlines to expand their operations but that the reverse had been the case as foreign airlines were rather increasing frequencies and further suppressing domestic carriers.
They noted that while some of the agreements had been beneficial, especially to Nigerian businessmen, others had barely provided an avenue for foreign airlines to feast on Nigeria’s market.
Aviation analyst and Chief Executive Officer, Belujane Konsult, Mr Chris Aligbe, said many of the agreements had not been reciprocated since they were signed.
Aligbe said, “Only one has been opening routes but how many BASAs can one airline reciprocate? We need formidable airlines, at least three of such because our market is open to foreign and regional airlines to scoop from, and we can’t respond.
“The only way we can do that is to have formidable airlines, which is why we need a national carrier. Some people are crying foul about the situation and asking the government to renegotiate BASA; the same people are against the establishment of a national carrier. But that is what we need.”
He explained that without a national carrier, foreign airlines would continue to exploit the country.
Aligbe said state governments had also become part of the problem as they put pressure on the Federal Government to bring in foreign airlines into their states.
He said this had encouraged foreign airlines to keep asking for multiple designations in Nigeria rather than negotiate for code-sharing where local airlines would partner with them to airlift passengers from different airports to one airport, where the foreign carrier would airlift the passengers to international destinations.
The Director of Research and Strategy at Zenith Travels, Olumide Ohunayo, stated that in principle, reciprocity remained one of the cardinal points of BASA.
He said for Nigeria to adequately reciprocate the BASAs, there was a need for strategic planning.
“In planning, we don’t just go and scrap existing BASAs. What we can do is to provide a market and an environment that will strengthen our airlines and encourage investors to participate so that we can have airlines that are strong enough to start the process,” he said.
According to him, BASA is not an issue that should be responded to spontaneously without obeying the gestation period.
“I don’t believe a national carrier will immediately reverse the problem we have with BASAs. If we rush a national carrier and immediately put it on international routes, we are going to have an airline in debt in the next five years. That was what happened to Virgin Nigeria,” he added.
He stated that international routes should not be operated based on vengeance.